THE COMPLETE GUIDE TO COLORADO ; the State of Colorado Contains Nearly Three-Quarters of All the Serious Mountains in the US. the Rockies Have Played a Huge Part in Shaping the Image of This Rectangular Block of Land, but It Is Also Home to Huge Tracts of Prairie and Deep Desert Canyons. Simon Calder and David Orkin Explore the Highs and Lows of the Eighth-Largest State
Simon Calder and David Orkin, The Independent (London, England)
A STATE OF BLISS?
Certainly, if you love the high life. Colorado is America's mountain state, attracting skiers and hikers, rafters and snowboarders. It is the eighth-largest state in the union, but possesses a majority of the territory over 10,000ft on the US mainland. But Colorado has plenty more to offer than just the Rockies. To the west of the mountains is a region of desert canyons, while to the east lie the wide-open prairies, home to ranches, farmers and cowboys, roamed by herds of antelope and watched over by gliding birds of prey.
Once the snow melts on the lower mountain slopes, there is plenty of magnificent nature to explore. Colorado has 10 national parks, monuments and recreation areas, over 30 state parks and 11 national forest areas. Six states surround this rectangular territory - Nebraska, Wyoming, Utah, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Kansas. The state has 54 peaks that rise higher than 14,000ft (the highest is Mount Elbert at 14,433ft), and over 1,140 peaks over 10,000ft.
WHERE DO I START?
Denver, known as the Mile-High City because of its altitude (officially 5,280ft). Colorado's state capital claims over 300 days of sunshine each year and is home to many museums, most notably the excellent Denver Museum of Nature and Science (001 303 322 7009; www.dmns.org) which displays and explains the natural wonders not just of Colorado Rockies, but of the earth and universe to boot. It opens 9am-5pm daily, admission is $9 (pounds 5.30).
The best area to get a feel of this lively and sporty western city is LoDo (lower downtown), the area roughly between 14th Street, 20th Street, Wynkop and Larimer. Here you'll find great galleries, bookshops, micro- breweries, restaurants and bars - check to see if your visit coincides with a concert at the Red Rocks Amphitheatre out at Morrison (001 303 640 2637; www.redrocksonline.com), which is one of the best open-air music venues in the US.
The place to stay, if your credit card will stretch to it, is the Brown Palace Hotel (001 303 297 3111; www.brownpalace.com), which opened in 1892: guests have included President Eisenhower and The Beatles. The hotel's Palace Arms restaurant has a good reputation. If you're heading into the mountains, take a couple of days to get used to the height. Altitude sickness can be a problem, and Denver's thin air gives you a chance to acclimatise.
THE BEST SKIING?
Colorado has close to 30 well-developed ski areas known for their unrivalled powder snow. Most British visitors head for resorts within easy reach of Denver, which usually means those close to Interstate 70, the main highway that runs west from the capital through the heart of the Rockies to Utah. The big names are Vail and Aspen. The former is virtually on I-70 and is the country's most popular ski resort as well as its largest, with over 5,000 acres of skiable terrain, 174 trails and 33 lifts. You wouldn't call Vail charming or historic but it offers fantastic apres- ski and it's incredibly fashionable: the resort got a huge boost during Gerald Ford's presidency - he owned a house in Vail and spent many of his holidays there.
Aspen, on the other hand, has a great range of slopes, and is also a genuinely historic ski town. Less well-known resorts - which tend to be further from Denver and I-70 - include Telluride, one of the country's best-preserved Victorian towns; Crested Butte; Steamboat Springs; and Durango. Other popular resorts include Copper Mountain, Keystone, Arapahoe Basin and Breckenridge - which has fabulous trails for skiers of all abilities. Close to the capital, Winter Park is also a good, accessible choice. The ski season normally runs from the end of November through to Easter.
Tour operators specialising in winter sports in Colorado include Ski Dream (0870 350 7547; www.skidream.com), which offers a week's holiday based at the Wyndham Peaks hotel in Telluride, for pounds 999 for departures until 11 December. …