I had not skied in Colorado since Army training with the Tenth
Mountain Division in 1944. To a young man approaching his twentieth
birthday, the drama of it all didn't quite sink in until I reached
Camp Hale where we trained in the mountains for two years before
leaving for combat in Italy. Eight to 10 hours a day on wooden skis
with kandahar bindings would be, I believed, like play, similar
to the life of a ski bum of today. It was much more strenuous than
I anticipated and it turned out to be an important part of my youth.
Last winter during a stopover in Denver on the way to Grand County,
Colorado, a district about the size of Delaware, I had a chance
to review that indelible time with the help of the curator of the
archives of my army unit, which are housed in Denver's main library.
Fifty-three years later, I was back in the state with my wife for
a February holiday in a locale about a one and one-half hour drive
west of the "mile high" city. The major centers in the
eastern part of the county are Grand Lake, Silver Creek, Granby,
Frazier and Winter Park and the adjacent ski areas, all of which
have expanded the possibilities of what one can do in the snow.
So in a sense this was another learning experience as we moved from
one mountain to the next and participated in a melange of winter
activities that were not limited to downhill skiing.
|Horseback riding, C Lazy U Ranch (Credit: Edwin Fancher)
Our first night was spent at the inn that is part of Silver Creek
Resort and on that evening we were shuttled to Annie's Ranch in
nearby Frazier for a wagon ride. Sitting on traditional hay and
covered with blankets, we were pulled through an original 1860s
homestead by two huge Belgian horses. Snowflakes fell lightly from
the starlit sky, adding a rom-antic touch to the outing. Just as
we were beginning to feel a bit chilled, we reached a warm old barn
where we were served a hot dinner catered by Carvers Bakery Cafe
in Winter Park. There was lots of food, but the quality was mediocre.
Stumpfiddle Annie, an irresistibly ebullient lady, saved the evening
when she joked and sang old-time Western songs, accompanied by a
guitar and a one-man band made up of a washboard with various appendages.
An outhouse substituted for a proper rest room. Nevertheless, everyone
seemed to have a good time.
Silver Creek Resort does not have the cachet of Vail or Aspen,
but its excellent beginning and intermediate slopes have the advantage
of being uncrowded. Although there are some advanced runs, I was
told that those who wanted a greater challenge might try nearby
Winter Park. Guests can also snowboard or participate in two innovative
sports, snowbiking and parabolic skiing.
Snowbiking has been popular in Europe since 1949, but Silver Creek
is the first and only area in the U.S. to introduce the bikes and
to offer a school. The rider sits on a bicycle seat mounted on a
frame with a small ski where the front wheel would be, places his
feet on two mini-skis for balance and steers using a handlebar.
It's simple to learn, instruction takes about five minutes and few
riders fall after the initial lesson. For non-skiers, it is a good
introductory activity and might even be an inspiration for beginners
when they discover how much fun snow sports can be.
|Snowbiking, Silver Creek Resort
(Credit: Edwin Fancher)
Parabolic skiing is also taught here. This new system
features the use of shorter skies, which are slightly wider at the
top and bottom and narrower near the bindings, somewhat like an
hour glass. The design, which borrows from the racing experience,
makes for a much simpler technique than the traditional Arlberg
one. It's easier to learn to ski using this method and, hence, ideal
for novices. Because it is less tiring on the leg muscles, it is
also attractive for older people.
The 5000-acre Snow Mountain Ranch/YMCA of the Rockies, four miles
from Silver Creek via a free shuttle bus, has an extensive system
of groomed trails for snow-shoeing, an activity requiring no special
skill, and for Nordic skiing. The Y attracts visitors who wish to
hike on their own or join a guided nature tour through the forest.
Because the town of Grand Lake is located next to Rocky Mountain
National Park and Arapaho National Forest, it is the major site
for snowmobiling in the state. One-story wooden buildings housing
restaurants, bars and colorful shops line the main street and front
onto a planked sidewalk giving it the look of the 1880s cowboy West.
At both ends of the half-mile thoroughfare, the village is blanketed
by establishments that rent snowmobiles and organize escorted rides.
Racing through the countryside and fields--there are 150 miles of
groomed trails--is a very thrilling experience, but it is not for
the faint-hearted. Last winter the "Denver Post" published
an article about the accidents, particularly in Grand Lake, caused
by unregulated snowmobiling. Certainly those who are not very accomplished
in this skill or familiar with the terrain should not attempt it
Most people head to dude ranches in the warmer weather, but some
of them, as we learned, enjoy horseback riding in winter, too. When
the temperature drops, the C Lazy U Ranch in Granby hosts about
80 guests. During our visit, I saddled up and went out on the property's
snowy trails where I sighted a herd of elk foraging for food. But
trail riding is not all that this deluxe hostelry offers during
the colder months. The daily schedule includes sledding, snowshoeing,
tubing, dog sledding, ice skating, ice hockey, racquetball, sleigh
rides, trap and skeet shooting and downhill, cross-country and telemark
For those who love the outdoors and are eager to try new sports
in a variety of settings, Grand County might just be the place for
this year's vacation in the snow.
Annie's Ranch, P O Box 171, Winter Park, CO 80482. Tel. 970-726-4923.
Snow Mountain Ranch/YMCA of the Rockies, P O Box 169, Winter
Park, CO 80482. Tel. 970-887-2152, 303-443-4743.
The Inn at Silver Creek is next to the slopes, making it convenient
for skiers. This 342-room property does, however, have a motel-like
quality about it. Since it caters to a family crowd, noisy children
and teenagers are frequently in the corridors and public spaces.
The dining room, Paul's Creekside Grill, was being remodeled when
we visited. It features a California bistro-style menu and serves
three meals a day.
C Lazy U Ranch has an AAA Five-Diamond and Mobil Five-Star rating,
the only guest ranch in the country with both designations. Although
this stylish facility is Western in character and architecture,
it is also charming and luxurious. The two-level main lodge, built
of logs, houses impressive and comfortable living and dining rooms,
both of which have large stone fireplaces. Lovely guest accommodations
are in nearby separate structures.
Morningstar Ranch is an eight-room cozy B and B, which was recently
redecorated to give it a homey country look. The young owners, Karen
and Dave Zink, are in the business because they enjoy hosting people.
Cross-country trails, groomed by Dave, begin 30 feet from the front
The Inn at Silver Creek, P O Box 4222, Silver Creek, CO 80446.
Tel. 800-926-4386, 970-887-2131. A studio unit with a fireplace,
sitting area, kitchenette and whirlpool bath is about $100.
C Lazy U Ranch, P O Box 379, Granby, CO 80446. Tel. 970-887-3344.
Winter rates, including three meals and all activities except downhill
skiing, begin at $115. www.clazyu.com
Morningstar Ranch, P O Box 930, Winter Park, CO 80482. Tel. 800-875-9739,
970-726-4895. Rooms with shared baths are $79 including breakfast.
On your way to one of the winter sports areas in Colorado, you might
want to stop in Denver, a city that is undergoing a cultural and
an architectural rejuvenation. "The face of downtown has been
completely altered in the last five years," said one of the
natives. "People now live in the vicinity and the volume of
activity has increased considerably."
Indeed, as we strolled about we saw many pedestrians enjoying the
street life, centering on the Soho-like Larimer and Writer Squares
and the 16th Street Mall. With the exception of free buses, which
run often, the mall is closed to traffic and is lined with shops.
The squares are filled with boutiques selling unusual jewelry, clothing,
art and furnishings; and restaurants, housed in renovated Victorian
Public libraries are not often high on tourists' lists of things
to see. However, the design of this three-year old building is so
unique that it is highly recommended. Michael Graves, one of the
architects on the project, was responsible for the dramatic circular
room that holds the Western history collection and that was built
with beams imported from the Northwest.
With its 9,000 seats in eight auditoriums, the Performing Arts
Complex covers four city blocks and is the nightly venue for symphony,
opera, plays and dance recitals. Denver also has an art, a natural
history and many small specialty museums.
Denver Public Library, 10 West 14th Avenue Parkway. Tel. 303-640-6206.
Tours Monday to Saturday, 11 a.m.; Sunday, 2 p.m. Call for reservations.
Denver Performing Arts Complex, 14th and Curtis Streets. Tel. 303-893-4100;
outside Denver, 800-641-1222.
The hands down choice for lodging in the city is the venerable Brown
Palace Hotel, which opened in 1892. The Renaissance-style atrium
lobby, a favorite gathering place for lunch and tea, rises eight
stories to a magnificent stained-glass ceiling. Cast iron grillwork
panels ring the balconies on each floor. During World War II soldiers
from the 10th Mountain Division used the balustrades to rappel as
they might from a mountain cliff. A reenactment took place in 1992
during the hotel's centennial celebration. The clubby atmosphere
of the lobby extends into the Churchill Bar, which has a customized
humidor with a large selection of fine cigars. The theme of the
premier restaurant, Palace Arms, is Napoleonic and some of the antiques
date as far back as 1670. On display in the casual Ship Tavern is
a collection of sailing vessel models and other nautical memorabilia.
The main dining room, Ellyngton's, just received a facelift and
is the town's gathering place for power breakfasts. The food is
The Brown Palace, 371 17th Street, Denver, CO 80202. Tel. 303-297-3111,
800-321-2599. Rates begin at $195. www.brownpalace.com
More United flights go in and out of Denver than any other airline.
In addition to Denver, United Airlines' hubs are San Francisco,
Los Angeles, Honolulu, Washington D.C. and Chicago, making it possible
to fly directly to and from those cities to Denver, as well as from
other selected cities in the U.S. United's seats are roomier and
more comfortable and the food is better than on some other national
carriers. 800-241-6522. www.united.com