Best Place to Become a Peak Cross-Country Skier 2002 | Frisco Nordic Center | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword

Best Place to Become a Peak Cross-Country Skier

Frisco Nordic Center

Americans cheered not just Olympic medalists, but those overachievers who ventured where no American ski or blade has gone before. In the latter category: the American men's Nordic relay team, including Coloradan Matt Dayton, whose fourth-place finish brought the team closer to a medal than ever before. For years, Dayton's family has run the Frisco Nordic Center, which offers 43 kilometers of groomed trails for potential Olympians. While the Daytons can't guarantee international glory, they can give you plenty of room to roam.

Best Colorado Peak Performance at the Olympics

Mt. Wilson

John Williams's American Journey, a CD on the Sony Classical label, was released in conjunction with the Salt Lake City Olympics; it's kicked off by "Call of the Champions," the official theme of the Winter Games, and the disc features the Olympic insignia on a cover distinguished by a snow-covered mountain. However, the lovely scenery pictured is Mt. Wilson, a crag that can be found in Colorado (near Telluride), not in Utah. According to an article in Salt Lake City's Deseret News, officials from Sony mistakenly believed the photo depicted a portion of the Wasatch Range, but Internet gossips were able to prove otherwise. Give that mountain a gold medal.

Summiting Colorado's fourteeners -- the 55 peaks that rise above 14,000 feet -- has become so trendy that the Saturday crush up a Front Range trail can sweep a hiker along, boots barely touching the ground. So even if you aren't Sir Edmund Hillary's nephew, you can bag two peaks in one day by heading to Grays Peak and Torreys Peak, mountains named for a couple of Harvard dons. Located three miles south of Exit 221 on I-70, the 14,267-foot Torreys is linked by a saddle with Grays, just three feet taller. Depending on the season, it's a fairly easy hike and a fine way to double your bragging rights.

Erik Weihenmayer, the first blind climber to conquer Everest, has teamed with the American Hiking Society to promote outdoor hiking, even for folks with allergies and disabilities. His namesake trail on Lookout Mountain is an easy walk for almost everyone, making Weihenmayer the perfect poster boy in the campaign to get folks off their butts and into the great outdoors.

For sheer accessibility and versatility, it's hard to beat Genesee Park, Denver's first -- and largest -- mountain park, just off of I-70 at Exit 254. Created between 1912 and 1937, this park has all the outdoor amenities, from grills to softball fields, as well as the most-gawked-at section: an elk and bison enclosure. Also noteworthy is the Braille Trail, with signs in Braille and waist-high guide wire.

Folks are passionate about their parks. City Park-lovers rave about the zoo, the museum and strolling in the fall. Pro-Cheesmanites cite the glories of their turf; others tout locations along Cherry Creek. Some whisper of undiscovered gems. Well, nobody's going to claim that Washington Park is undiscovered; after all, according to the Denver Department of Parks and Recreation, Wash Park has the most heavily used rec center in the city. Since that center restored its Sunday hours and last year's road rehab smoothed the way, this landmark keeps gathering accolades just as its beloved squirrels gather nuts.

We didn't need to read Sunset magazine to recognize that Denver has the country's best riverfront. But a visit to the South Platte River wasn't always a day at the beach. Over a century ago, it was "a miserable yellow melancholy stream," according to Mark Twain. "I wouldn't leave it out at night. Some dog might come along and lap it all up." And three decades ago, before the Platte River Greenway Foundation started cleaning up the riverfront, the stretch of the South Platte running through metro Denver was a noxious mess. Today, though, miles of walking/biking/running paths course along its pristine banks, leading you on an urban adventure under viaducts, past arenas and ballfields, and right into the heart of the Central Platte Valley. There, the Platte now anchors a stretch of parks ranging from the Denver Skatepark on the north end to Bee Hive Park on the south, near the new stadium. And thanks to some new public art, we even have a ship's mast reaching out of the valley toward downtown.

Rock Canyon may seem a bit far afield, but any beach bum worth his grain of sand is no stranger to committing a full day to a cool dip. And hey, it's closer than the coasts. On this beach, at the base of the 200-foot-tall, 10,500-foot-wide Lake Pueblo Dam, swimmers can enjoy their own private lake and swim beach. Huge cottonwoods rim the entire swimming area, offering protection from the scorching southern Colorado sun. Still, slather on the sunscreen before you wet yourself wild in the lake or on the water slide and bumper boats. Hot dogs and cold drinks are available for the picnic-challenged.

Desert Reef also happens to be Colorado's only beach club, an exotic little outpost at the end of Fremont County Road 110 that's a fresh air -- and bare-ass -- haven. The private club has over 200 members, but non-members can make a reservation to visit the ninety-acre resort. There they can enjoy the geothermal greenhouse, frolic in the clubhouse, bask in the 101-degree natural hot-springs pool -- and pop their eyes out over views that include not just beach-lovers in the buff, but the Wet Mountains and Sangre de Cristos, too.

No joke: After 54 years as a skier-only mountain, and as one of the last five resorts in the world to ban snowboarding, Aspen finally surrendered to the inevitable last spring. On April 1, Aspen Mountain was opened up to snowboarders, welcoming the next generation of sports enthusiasts. What's next -- affordable housing?

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