BEST COLORADO OLYMPIAN 2006 | Gretchen Bleiler | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword
Sleek and blond, she looked lovely in her February 2004 photo spread for FHM Magazine, and she clearly had a ball as an honorary starter for this year's Daytona 500. But 25-year-old Gretchen Bleiler, a native of Ohio who's lived in Aspen since she was ten, is at her best in the half-pipe, throwing spins, flipping and getting good air. Prior to the 2006 Winter Olympics, she suffered a nasty black eye while perfecting her signature move, an inverted spinning trick called, ominously, the "crippler" -- but that didn't keep her from winning silver in Torino, one of four medals won by American women in the snowboarding events.
Against all odds, the University of Colorado football coach survived the scandal-plagued departures of the university president, the chancellor and the athletic director, but in the end, Gary Barnett also had to take a hike -- not because he was a male chauvinist pig, or because he looked the other way while his program wooed recruits with sex and drugs, but because he'd done the one unforgivable thing in college sports: lose. In the last two games of 2005, Barnett's hapless Buffs were blown off the field by Nebraska and Texas with a combined score of 100-6. That -- and that alone -- triggered the coach's long-overdue firing in mid-December. Of course, the $3 million settlement that Barnett got from CU is likely to cushion his fall.
Sure, it's fun to go to Avalanche or Nuggets games -- as long as you've got a wallet the size of Stan Kroenke's. For those of more modest means, DU's men's and women's basketball teams offer plenty of bang for your buck. The teams are improving, and they play in a gorgeous venue, Magness Arena, yet ticket prices begin at just $6 and top out at $11 for women's games, $15 for the men's. And groups of twenty or more receive a $3 discount per seat. As a bonus, DU offers up such freebies as thunder sticks at many games and launches T-shirts into the stands any time a player on the home team sinks a three-pointer. This is how to net a good deal.
Since 1968, the Boulder Outdoor Survival School has offered wilderness-based life-changing experiences to people around the world. But the life that BOSS may have changed most is that of Josh Bernstein, who today is the outfit's president and CEO. BOSS has become the go-to source not just for individuals, but also for publications and moviemakers looking for survival experts. Last year the History Channel tapped Bernstein himself to host Digging for the Truth, which became the channel's top show. Bernstein became such a celeb that not only did he have a spread in the debut issue of Men's Vogue last fall, but he's now the star of a comic book, "Josh Bernstein and the Search for Shangri-La: A Digging for the Truth Adventure," which is billed as the first in a series. The adventure continues.
Denver Forestry keeps a list of champion trees, the largest examples of their species found in the state. Of the 73 champs rooted in Denver, 25 can be found at the Denver Botanic Gardens, another 17 in the city's parks system. The tallest of all is the American Elm located by Cheesman's east entrance at Ninth Avenue, adjacent to the road. Just a few inches under a hundred feet, this baby is too hefty to hug, so just stand back and admire those big shoulders.
Round a lush bend on the Bear Creek Greenbelt trail and you'll find yourself smack-dab in the middle of a thriving prairie dog town. Little heads pop up and out of burrowed holes that dot the wide, open meadow; elsewhere, the cheeky varmints stand still as statues, hoping not to be noticed. This is one of the delightful surprises that make the 340-acre Greenbelt the best urban nature fix in town. Although the 'belt occasionally dives under a busy surface street, most of its approximately two miles of paved and unpaved trail winds around little ponds and through swaths of grassland; horse trails hug the mossy banks of Bear Creek, which flows beautifully in the spring. Start at the Stone House, wander east, and let yourself pretend that the trail goes on forever.
The Urban Farm, located on a reclaimed corner of the former Stapleton Airport, is one of the city's hidden treasures. It's a real farm with all kinds of animals -- cows, sheep, goats, chickens, a gorgeous hog the size of Kansas and lots of horses -- where urban kids can get a feel for rural life and learn to ride, too. The Farm also offers fabulous birthday parties, complete with a tractor-drawn wagon ride to visit the animals, a ride around the ring on a handsome pony, and a free hour for cake and games in the farm's arbored garden and big red playhouse. What little kid wouldn't love to feed hay to a llama, rub a palomino's nose or stroke the silky-soft coat of a rex rabbit? The parties are pure child's play and a boon to the farm, which uses the fees to help feed and care for its residents.
The Denver Kickball Coalition started as a drunk-Sunday league on the fields of Morey Middle School, but over the past four years it's grown into a sporting powerhouse. Today the league has a draft, numerous teams with crazy names and even crazier uniforms, bachelor auctions to raise money for charity, and cutthroat competition. Although the original Commish, Joe Phillips, headed for L.A. last year, he left the group he founded in the capable hands of Marc Hughes. There's still lots of boozing before, during and after games, which means spectators and players alike will enjoy a sporting good time.
Golden Goal works as an indoor soccer facility for the simple reason that it lets you play. While some indoor joints assault you with snack bars and gear shops, promotions and spam e-mails, Golden Goal merely ushers you past walls lined with outdated soccer posters, leads you onto one of the facility's two playing fields and lets the games begin. The turf is the state-of-the-art stuff you can wear cleats on, not the flesh-hungry carpet that ripped your childish skin. The referees are typically players, or ex-players, who call the bad fouls, but they generally let the game go on. And if someone's friend who wasn't on the team the week before shows up for a coed-league game, nobody says a thing. In operation for a little over a year, the facility is open to everyone from four-year-olds to forty-year-olds, seven days a week, from eight in the morning to around midnight. With plans to add basketball and volleyball leagues in the near future, Golden Goal is sure to get busier. But for now it remains a place where future Ronaldinhos and washed-up Tony Meolas alike can leave it all out on the field.
Like just about everything else at oh-so-hip Belmar, the rink couldn't be just a rink. This slick facility, complete with a rental kiosk housed in a refurbished, 31-foot vintage Airstream trailer, proved to be enormously popular with visitors to the shopping center this winter, and also served as the site for such loony, Belmar-style retro events as the Dated Holiday Sweater Skate Night. As if that weren't enough, all skating and rental fees went to Jeffco schools. We can't wait to start skating on thin ice again next season.

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