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February 22, 2014, United States

On A Colorado High

Colorado’s lofty perch and contrasting climes make it a hotspot for both winter sports as well as summer fun. By Tay Suan Chiang

Tay Suan Chiang

THERE must be something about the air in Colorado. On a visit last autumn, nearly everyone we met came to Colorado for some reason or another, fell in love with the state and decided not to leave. The exception was our coach driver, who proudly declared, “I was born and grew up in Denver, a Denver Broncos fan all the way,” referring to the football team.

It’s not hard to see why people have chosen to uproot themselves to live in one of the four states that make up the heart of the American Southwest. New Mexico, Utah and Arizona make up the remaining three.

The eighth biggest state in the United States, it is known for its varied geography, from arid plains and deserts, to granite rock formations, and lush forests. It is also home to Independence Pass, which is the highest paved pass in North America, at 3,687m above sea level. The Rocky Mountains run down the middle of the state, and to top it off, Colorado promises 300 days of sunshine annually.

For international travellers, Denver, the state capital, is often the entry and exit point out of the state. At one mile or 1,609m above sea level, it’s one of the highest major American cities, hence its Mile High City nickname. A night or two is sufficient to get a feel of Denver, you want to save yourself for the more fun stuff outside Denver. The city is compact and the best way around is on foot, although there is a bicycle-sharing system. Pay US$8 for a 24-hour membership, and you can pick up and drop off bicycles across town. Or if you are at the 16th Street Mall, the mile-long pedestrian promenade lined with cafes and shops, there is a free shuttle bus that takes shoppers up and down the street.

Denver runs a fairly known public art programme, where 1 per cent of public funds used for building construction must be set aside for public art. Don’t miss the quirky works which include a 12m tall sculpture of a blue bear that peers into the Colorado Convention Center, which has become a city icon. Walk past the drainage holes along Curtis Street, and you may hear the sound of a train or the flush of a toilet. Don’t worry, it is only part of a sound installation. And if you do make it to the Denver Art Museum, which has an extensive collection of Native American art, do make a stop at the bathrooms. American artist Jim Green makes the sinks sing, through hidden speakers.

Napa Valley of beer

Beer brewing is big in Colorado: in 2010, it ranked first in the nation in gross beer production, earning itself the nickname as the Napa valley of beer. A night out could start with craft beer sampling at the Denver Beer Co, which first started as a home brewery in 2011, but is now the place to go for a pint.

Denver has always been known for its steakhouses, not only beef, but also bison. But the culinary scene is more than that. Denver’s best-known chef has got to be Jennifer Jasinski, who won the Best Chef Southwest medal at the James Beard Foundation Awards, known as the Oscars of the American food industry. Her Rioja restaurant is Mediterranean-inspired, and the pan roasted Petaluma chicken with jalepeno-corn bread pudding and crispy chicken skin chips is a crowd favourite.

Colorado’s biggest attraction has to be Aspen. It is hard to imagine that the town only got its reputation as a ski destination from the 1940s, when Aspen Mountain was developed into a ski resort. The former silver mining town, so named because of the abundance of aspen trees in the area, boomed during the 1880s, but fell into decline when the silver market collapsed.

Ski season in Aspen runs from late November to April, with four mountains to choose from. Locals and experts head to Aspen Mountain for its steep glades and bump-runs, big-mountain enthusiasts gravitate towards Aspen Highlands because of the challenging terrain, beginners tend to start off at Buttermilk and families love Snowmass.

But even if you don’t ski or snowboard, it is worth a gondola ride up to Aspen Mountain to soak in the sights, and stay warm with a cup of hot chocolate.

Outside of ski season, other outdoor activities include going on road and mountain biking trails, fly fishing, and horseback riding. The town also prides itself on its vibrant arts and culture scene, so much so, that locals say Aspen brings the arts and culture of the big city to visitors sans the honking horns. Key events on the calendar include the Aspen Ideas Festival, a gathering of some of the brightest and most innovative minds in the world, Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, Jazz Aspen Snowmass, and the annual Aspen Santa Fe Ballet.

The town is friendly for all seasons, but you may want to skip the low season from mid-October to mid-November. Shops and restaurants are known to be open one day, and suddenly close the next till ski season begins. While the town of Aspen is world renowned, neighbouring town Breckenridge has plenty of charm too.

Gold miners used to flock to this town, but today, the town has been taken over by outdoor lovers. Skiers take their pick from four peaks which vary in difficulty. Non-skiers may find delight in going dog-sledding or riding snowmobiles through the forests.

A local saying goes: “We came for the winter and stayed for the summer.” Non-wintry activities include whitewater rafting, hot-air balloon rides, and biking. You can do similar stuff at Aspen, but we hear its much cheaper to do so in Breckenridge.

Mountains aside, Colorado is home to some amazing rock formations. One of which is Red Rocks Amphitheatre. This 9,000-seat arena was carved out of massive red sandstone rocks, creating the only naturally occurring, acoustically perfect amphitheatre in the world. Red Rocks has played host to The Beatles who played here during their first US concert in 1964, to other big names such as Sting and U2.

Outdoorsy bounty

Even on non-concert days, Red Rocks is a hotspot for fitness fanatics who burn calories running up and down the 69 rows of benches, at 1,950m above sea level. Another attraction for the geologically inclined is the Gardens of the Gods Park, which has been voted the #3 park in the world by TripAdvisor users. The 535ha park has 91m-tall towering sandstone rock formations. Hiking can be done in the park, as well as rock-climbing. For those less inclined to walk, there are guided jeep and Segway tours.

If you are a fan of the Olympics, there is also the US Olympic Training Centre to check out. Daily tours are available, giving you a peep at where 200 athletes from the fields of swimming, gymnastics and fencing, among others, train. The souvenir shop doesn’t allow you to buy a gold medal, but hey, you can buy some cool Team USA merchandise.

So if you tire of going to the West and East coasts of the United States, perhaps it is time to consider heading inland. Just remember to pack your trainers and plenty of outdoor gear.

Heritage hotels hark back to storied past

Time-travel to the 1800s to early 1900s when you stay in Colorado

HOTELS set in historical buildings abound in Colorado. Those who like a bit of heritage with their travels, may want to head back in time at these properties.

The Brown Palace
321 17th Street Denver Colorado 80202
www.brownpalace.com

SOME hotels lose their shine and look their age after a few decades of operations, but not the Brown Palace Hotel & Spa. Much of Denver has changed since the hotel’s opening in August 1892, but The Brown Palace still retains its grandeur and grace.

The 241-room hotel is named after Henry C Brown, a real estate entrepreneur who came to Denver from Ohio.

Back in the late 1800s, people from all across the United States were still flocking to the West, seeking their fortunes in gold and silver. Brown saw the opportunity to build a hotel in Denver: people would always stop in the city, regardless of whether they were settling down or passing through, and they would need a place to stay.

Brown spared no expense building his hotel, spending US$2 million, a huge sum back then. It was designed in the Italian Renaissance style, using Colorado red granite and Arizona sandstone for the building’s exterior.

Inside, there is an atrium lobby with balconies rising eight floors above ground, surrounded by cast iron railings with ornate grilles. Onyx was imported from Mexico for parts of the hotel, no wood was used for the floors and walls, and the hotel was hailed as the second fire-proof building in the United States.

The hotel’s original artesian well still exists. Located 720 feet underground, it continues to provide water to every faucet in the hotel.

Since 1905, nearly every US president has visited the hotel. While on their tour of the US in 1964, the Beatles stayed here too.

According to hotel trivia, the Brown Palace saw a great surge in applications for housekeeping by young girls. One of its four suites is named after the band. The interiors of The Beatles Suite may not be overly posh, but there are hints of the Beatles presence including a jukebox in the living room, and Beatles memorabilia on the walls. It comes as no surprise to hear that the hotel has some special guests from days of long ago. Each October, the hotel’s historian leads guests on tours through some of the hotel’s more hair-raising hauntings.

The Broadmoor
1 Lake Avenue, Colorado Springs, CO 80906
www.broadmoor.com

THERE are plenty of stories of people who made it big in the midwest in the late 1800s and early 1900s and one of them is Spencer Penrose, a Philadelphia entrepreneur who had made his fortune in gold and copper mining.

Penrose had earlier bought The Broadmoor Casino and Hotel, and had ambitious plans for it. With the objective of creating the most beautiful resort in the world, he imported artisans from Italy and other European countries to create the ornate mouldings and paintings which adorn the interior of The Broadmoor as well as the elaborate exterior detailing.

Stepping into The Broadmoor is much like going to a resort in Tuscany, back then something that was seen in the US, but today, is still just as impressive.

The hotel’s architectural and design features include a spectacular curved marble staircase, dramatic chandeliers, Della Robbia-styled tiles, handpainted beams and ceilings, a carved marble fountain, and a striking pink stucco facade.

Besides US presidents, the hotel has also played host to numerous entertainment and sports personalities. In keeping with the times, amenities have been added on to the hotel, including a spa, golf course and convention facilities. Guests can choose to stay at one of its 756 guest rooms, 124 suites, 44 cottage bedrooms, or two brownstone apartments.

Back in its early days, The Broadmoor was known as the “European alternative”, and many visitors came for the clean, mountain air, said to relieve symptoms of tuberculosis and other bronchial maladies.

These days however, no one would bat an eyelid, if you choose not to stay at the hotel, but to have Sunday brunch at its Lake Terrace dining room. The old-fashioned buttermilk griddle cakes with melted butter andVermont maple syrup are worth the ride there.

The Mining Exchange
8 S Nevada Avenue, Colorado Springs, CO 80903
www.wyndham.com

IT is not difficult to guess what this hotel building was used for previously. The Mining Exchange, was once home to the Colorado Springs Mining Exchange to promote regional mining companies and their stock, in the 1920s. According to archives, the Exchange trading room was two storeys high, with a brass railing that separated the public area from the trading floor.

But as mining ebbed in importance to the region, the building opened to other businesses including law, architectural and oil companies.

Three years ago, American businessman Perry Sanders bought over the building, got rid of tenants, gutted the building to its core and restored it to its original grandeur. In 2012, The Mining Exchange opened, under the Wyndham Group.

The old trading room still exists, but part of it has been converted to form ballroom space. The Exchange’s main vault still stands in the hotel lobby, becoming a photo spot for hotel guests.

Smaller vaults are on the remaining floors, and they no longer keep money, but have been converted into storage space for the hotel’s housekeeping department.

Old brick walls, much of them original, can still be seen in the hotel’s 117 rooms. TSC

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