Best Of :: Sports & Recreation
How many major cities can offer a stroll in the tundra, 12,840 feet above sea level? Only one. High on Mount Evans, Summit Lake is the jewel of Denver's century-old mountain-park system, offering spectacular views to photographers and a highly manageable trail for youngsters and elders. Summer this high in the Rockies is all too brief, but that's all the more reason to enjoy the drive (the U.S. Forest Service charges a fee for access) and the brilliant wildflowers.
It may seem counterintuitive to give this honor to a player who's just recently returned to the ice after a long contract holdout and accompanying drama. But Ryan O'Reilly is that good, and getting better. Last year he scored more goals (eighteen), registered more assists (37) and notched more points (55) than he did during any previous season, and if there were statistics for a will to win, he would have led the Avalanche in that category, too. Given these achievements, we don't blame him for waiting to skate until he was offered a salary commensurate with his talent — something that didn't happen until he forced the issue by signing an offer sheet with the Calgary Flames in February. Kudos to Avs management for matching that deal — because we wouldn't want to see O'Reilly wearing any other squad's sweater.
In early 2012, Folsom Custom Skis shifted from its full-custom focus to add some shelf-ready stock skis, and moved its operation from Denver to Boulder to help handle increased manufacturing demands. The gamble has been paying off nicely: Folsom's new Rapture skis, with camber underfoot and rockered tips and tails to power through powder, earned a 2013 Editor's Picks nod from Freeskier magazine and topped the publication's list of the best "microbrew" and independent-brand skis of 2012-2013.
There's a long tradition of local surfboard shapers carving boards that are custom-cut for their local breaks, and Silverton's Venture Snowboards has taken the cue, inviting guest shapers into the shop and encouraging them to go nuts. Some of the wilder resulting prototypes, like Silverton Mountain owner Aaron Brill's Swallowtail Bomber and big-mountain backcountry legend Johan Olofsson's Powder Pig, have been getting extremely limited-edition releases through Venture's experimental Shape Shack division. The best of them, like Olofsson's big-mountain Odin — Backbacker magazine's 2012 Editor's Choice pick — have been making their way into the permanent Venture lineup. Our vote for the next graduate is the true-twin Skylar Special, a freestyle/big-mountain hybrid shaped by Silverton Mountain guide Skylar Holgate, with graphics by artist Shanna Duncan.
With all due respect to Peyton Manning, with whom we're absolutely thrilled to share a state, Von Miller is the member of the Broncos who most exemplifies the future of the franchise. His incredible speed, which has quickly turned him into one of the NFL's most feared pass-rushers, deflects attention from the sort of strength and power that allows him to be an every-down player instead of a specialist. And his enthusiasm for the game, marked by sack dances that range from the silly to the incredibly silly, is downright infectious. We look forward to watching him wreak havoc for many, many years to come.
Larry Eustachy is a master at maximizing talent. His collegiate coaching history is littered with teams he's taken from perennial cellar-dwellers to NCAA Tournament appearances. He didn't begin in as big of a hole when he took over the Colorado State University job, but once again, he's taken a team of quality upperclassmen with middling athletic ability to the top of the Mountain West conference. And in late March, Eustachy took the next step, leading the Rams to their first NCAA Tournament victory since 1989.
George Karl has been around for a minute: This season, he passed Larry Brown to become the sixth-winningest coach in NBA history. But despite his veteran status and numerous well-documented health issues, he's not phoning in his efforts. His current Nuggets squad is filled with talented players but no superstars — yet somehow, he's managed to mold them into a cohesive unit that's turned the Pepsi Center into a house of horrors for visiting outfits. Of course, fans won't be satisfied if the Nugs flame out in the first round of the playoffs, as they've done so many times in the past — nor should they be. But if anyone can help this fast-break crew adapt to the half-court post-season style, it's Karl.
There's a noble reason behind the Denver Zoo's breeding program, which produces some of the most effing adorable baby animals we've ever seen. For instance: The Amur leopard, a species of spotted, blue-eyed leopard native to Russia, is nearly extinct due to poaching and trophy hunting, but by pairing a male and female Amur leopard, lighting a few candles and playing some Marvin Gaye, the zoo is hoping to help bring the species back. Last April, they succeeded in the cutest of ways when mom Dazma and dad Hari-Kari became the proud parents of a male baby leopard that the zoo named Makar.
The Denver Zoo is much like a meddling mother when it comes to love. It's constantly bringing in potential mates for its most eligible bachelors and bachelorettes under the auspices of a "species survival plan" — the animal equivalent of your parents inviting the neighbors' unmarried son over for supper and then commenting about how a grandchild or two would be nice. The best of the zoo's matches this year involved Chewbacca, a red panda with an adorable face and the bushiest tail you've ever seen. Originally from Detroit, Chewbacca has one mission in Denver: to make babies with Daisy, the zoo's female red panda, because the world needs more adorable faces and bushy tails.
Tucked away in Boulder's north end, this modest two-acre retreat has much to recommend it, pooch-wise — including separate fenced areas for large and small dogs, great surrounding scenery, and a less chaotic vibe than larger parks or the sprawling off-leash areas at the reservoirs. Recent upgrades at Foothills Community Dog Park, including shelters and water lines, make this an even more ideal retreat for you and your Boulder-ready, bandanna-wearing canine.
Vail celebrated its fiftieth anniversary this season — as well as the 25th anniversary of the day snowboarding pioneer Jake Burton persuaded the ski area to allow snowboarders on the hill — by hiring Snow Park Technologies to build the longest and steepest 22-foot superpipe on the international competition circuit. Olympic gold-medalists Shaun White and Kelly Clark took top honors at the U.S. Open — surprise, surprise — but the real winners were the locals who got to ride it all season.
Talk about a no-brainer. John Grant Jr. isn't just the most valuable player on the Mammoth. He's been the most valuable player for the entire National Lacrosse League for two consecutive seasons. And that's appropriate, since he set a new single-season points record (116!) despite missing a couple of games due to a fractured sternum — an injury that no doubt caused him a great deal of pain even after he was cleared to play again. Now that he's back to full health, can we expect even greater things from him? That'd be tough in light of his achievements over the past couple of seasons. But it'll be fun watching him try.