IN COLORADO, we don’t spend much time discussing which nightclub has the best chance of rubbing shoulders with big-name celebrities. In fact, to most of us, the word “celebrity” brings to mind only two things: 1) an old Denver bowling alley our parents still talk about, and 2) John Elway. Here in the Centennial State, we prioritize adventure and craft culture. Maybe it’s the 14,000-foot peaks or the locally made spirits, but our priorities are a bit different.
Here are 12 facts of life you’ll only understand if you’ve been to this incredible state.
1. Sleeping in on the weekend is the quickest way to get left behind.
How are you going to get a prime back-in parking spot for the tailgate party if the lot’s already full? Coloradans are up and at ‘em bright and early, and Saturday morning is no exception. Maybe it’s our ranching history, but out here early risers always seem to end up with the best of everything: the best weather, the shortest lift lines, the quietest trails…
2. The best conversations center around adventure.
Ask a Coloradan about their favorite powder stash or which brewpub has the crispest pilsner, and prepare for one enthusiastic discussion. Almost all of us have a favorite mountain biking trail, or a camping spot that’s guaranteed to be empty even on the Fourth of July. This knowledge, gained from years of exploration, is worth more than gold. In Colorado, knowing the nooks and crannies of your town and the surrounding landscape is practically the greatest bragging right a person can have.
3. The distillery scene is on-point.
We’ve long been known for our craft beer. And as the trend for small-batch, locally produced spirits picks up steam, we also get to experience amazing, hand-crafted liquors no matter where we are in Colorado. For example:
- Wood’s High Mountain Distillery in Salida makes an incredible rye whiskey. Getting to know the distillery’s cocktail menu is one perfect way to spend a lazy mountain town afternoon.
- Pedal into bike-friendly downtown Durango to get the party going at Durango Craft Spirits. This small distillery on Main Avenue produces vodka and, for adventurous types, the notorious Mayday Moonshine.
- Montanya Distillers in Crested Butte is known for its silver and gold rums. They’re made on-site and are absolutely perfect in summer cocktails.
4. There’s fruit and veggies…and then there’s Colorado-grown fruit and veggies.
The hot days and cool nights of summer on the Western Slope of Colorado make for ideal farming conditions. In fact, this side of the state produces some of the best fruit, vegetables, and wine in the country.
If you’ve never tasted Olathe sweet corn, get to the nearest King Soopers in mid-summer and pick up a few ears. The area around Paonia produces amazing fruit — cherries, berries, and peaches grown at altitude have a flavor that just can’t be matched by growers at lower elevations. And the Avalanche Cheese Company in Basalt, near Aspen, churns out some top-notch goat cheese.
5. Two wheels are better than four.
Whether getting down the mountain or across town, Coloradans like to go by bike. Events, races, and parties centered around cycling happen throughout the year, and in summer, many of the well-known ski resorts open their lifts to mountain bikers. Check out:
- Winter Park Resort is home to the legendary Trestle Bike Park, with 40+ miles of mountain bike trails open to the public. Expect to see some of the sport’s best honing their skills for summer competitions here.
- The Colorado Classic Bike Race (August 10-13) will see 18 world-class teams from the US and abroad compete in the most exciting pro bike race in the country. The men’s laps total 313 miles across four stages — in Colorado Springs, then Breckenridge, with a finale in Denver — with 20,000 feet of intense ascents. Women compete in two stages featuring 5,800 gruelling feet of climbing. Billing itself as “one big party,” the Denver leg of the Colorado Classic also kicks off the awesome Velorama Festival, featuring Wilco as Friday night’s headline act.
- The Pedal the Plains bike race (September 15-17) hits eastern Colorado towns and prairies for a three-day ride through ranch country’s wide-open fields and historic communities. This year, stops (involving lots of bands, beer, and locally grown food) will take place in the towns of Kersey, Keenesburg, and Brush.
6. Great skiing doesn’t have to be downhill.
For those willing to explore, Colorado has the most diverse and thorough collection of alpine and cross-country terrain in the country. Take the Nordic Center at Eldora Mountain Resort, where there’s 25 miles of cross-country trails that are equally as beautiful and challenging as anything found on the mountain slopes.
Local tip: Eldora, just outside the sweet little mountain town of Nederland, is much quieter than the state’s larger ski resorts, and nothing short of incredible come winter.
7. Festival life is the only life.
Music just sounds better outside. Add a dose of altitude, a pint of craft beer, and the culture of the mountains, and you’re ready to experience the state’s summer concert season:
- ARISE Music Festival in Loveland (August 4-6, 2017) will see Atmosphere, Ani DiFranco, Tipper, and dozens more give massive performances. Expect yoga classes, dance and spiritual workshops, and community events — the festival aims to positively impact the lives of attendees and locals alike, not just provide another reason to party.
- The 27th Rocky Mountain Folks Festival in Lyons (August 18-20, 2017) will bring names like Gregory Alan Isakov and Elephant Revival together with other international and local acts for the biggest bluegrass party of the summer.
- Jazz Aspen Snowmass (September 1-3, 2017) is an incredible way to end the summer, and the lineup is much more diverse than the festival’s name suggests. The Roots, Maroon 5, and Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats will all perform at Snowmass Town Park.
8. Getting away from it all is easy
Southern Colorado’s San Luis Valley is just the place for a spiritual awakening. The massive peaks, the sprawling desert of the valley floor, the unique towns dotting Highways 285 and 160…it’s otherworldly. Alamosa is the region’s cultural hub. With its small-town atmosphere, college-town lifestyle, and desert vibes, it makes a great base for exploration.
9. Sunglasses should always be close at hand.
It’s sunny here. Like, really sunny. That beautiful weather is part of the reason why Coloradans just can’t get enough of the outdoors. In fact, our idea of a “rainy day” typically refers to a balmy afternoon of sunshine interrupted by a quick rainstorm to cool everything off. By happy hour, the sun’s back out and the mountains are in full view once again. Yep, time for patio drinks!
10. Traveling by train is the way to go.
Numerous scenic railways climb the peaks of the Rockies and push through wide open river valleys. Take the Georgetown Loop Railroad — it’s a narrow-gauge railway that runs along mountainsides and through terrain that feels far too epic to be safely traversed on tracks just three feet wide. The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, running since 1881, and the Leadville Colorado & Southern Railroad are equally awesome.
11. Sometimes, all it takes to bring a town to life is…you.
Colorado felt the heat of the gold (and silver) rushes as hard as anywhere in the nation. When the pan-your-way-to-riches opportunities of the 1800s fell away, the livelihood of the towns they inspired went with them. These days, ghost towns are a regular sight in our hills.
Those willing to venture out on an old Forest Service road can breathe their own life into these once-thriving communities. Head into the Collegiate Peaks and check out St. Elmo, the structures of its Main Street mostly still intact. It (almost) looks as though it could serve as a functioning village even today.
12. You may hear words that don’t quite make sense…
Coloradans have some unique slang that seems to have been formed as a result of the English language’s lack of ways to properly describe monumental outdoor experiences. As you’ll quickly learn, the stoke level around here is high. If someone asks if you like to shred the freshies, just say yes. And remember that, so long as no one calls you a “gaper,” you’re doing just fine.