Best Of :: Sports & Recreation
Basketball isn't an individual game — or at least not at its best. But the addition of a single player can make an enormous difference, as Chauncey Billups proved when he joined the Nuggets early this season. In a matter of days, the Nugs were defending better, sharing the ball more often, passing up contested shots to get their teammates better ones, demonstrating discipline rather than a lack thereof, and generally playing like a team. Granted, he's not a miracle worker, as a late-season skid has demonstrated. But he's improved the Nuggets more by his own excellent example than even the biggest fans in his home town might have dreamed.
While tourists in Oakleys and Prada jumpsuits sip champagne cocktails on the cutesy sidewalk cafes of Vail Village, locals — and Denver day skiers — head to the parking garage après ski. La Cantina isn't exactly a restaurant. Sandwiched into a public foyer and hallway, next to a locker room and below the bus stop, it feels like the guys piecing together your massive burrito and plate of nachos are squatters, ready to pack up their grill at a moment's notice when security comes round. But in a place that's all frills, this no-frills, satisfying grub complemented by free chips and salsa (though tips are encouraged) is a refreshing change of pace. Plus, if you were willing to shell out the $25 it costs to park in the garage all day, you can conveniently drop off your gear and change out of your boots before chowing down.
For wide open, empty blue groomers, Breckenridge's Peak 7 used to be the place to go because it took a little work traversing cat tracks to get there, thus deterring big crowds. That all changed this season with the opening of a new Peak 7 base development — Breck's first since 1971. Peak 7 is now the first stop on the BreckConnect gondola, which means lift lines. But what's bad for Peak 7 has been great for Peak 10. A lot of the skiers who start their day at Peak 7 won't ever make it past Peak 8, let alone to Peak 10. Even on Presidents' Day weekend — one of the busiest resort holidays — the Falcon SuperChair serving some of the best groomed blue-black steeps Breck has to offer was loading skiers into chairs before they had time to loosen their boots or pull out their maps.
It's been a lost season for the Avs — the rebuilding year that the team's brain trust has been trying to avoid for quite a while now. But all hope is not lost, thanks to a core group of young players boasting an enormous amount of upside, with Wolski chief among them. He's big, durable and prolific — as good at scoring goals as he is at assisting his fellow skaters. He's kept company with veterans Ryan Smith and Milan Hejduk among team points leaders throughout 2008-2009, and he's honed his skills to a fine edge in tie games, earning the nickname "King of the Shootout." May he keep finding the back of the net for a long time to come.
There's no boardwalk, no waves, no surfers and almost no sand, but the tiny riverfront stretch down the hill from Commons Park is a peaceful way to grab a little serenity in the midst of a busy city. Close your eyes and listen to the Platte River as it trickles (or rushes after a rainfall) over the rocks and concrete at the base of the pedestrian bridge. Sit back and check out the dog lovers as they let their pooches swim around in the muck, or the tai chi types while they show off their moves. You can even chill a couple cans of your favorite beverage in the water. If you don't mind the grime, pick up a piece of driftwood, a little shell or a rock and skip it across to the other side. Oh, and don't forget the sunblock; after all, Denver beaches are a mile closer to the sun.
Cyclists in the know understand that Salvagetti is like the People's bike shop: low-key, attitude-free and street-level. The folks there fix bikes, talk bikes and simply love bikes, and they see no reason to take the fun out of buying and riding bikes. Most important, at Salvagetti, biking is community, and that's why it organizes all manner of group bike treks and bikerly events, from bike-in movie screenings in the alley to hands-on demo rides where you can try on the merchandise for size. But its sweetest cycling gathering is a morning pleasure jaunt on selected Sundays, beginning in spring and continuing through the deepest fall, with a restaurant destination where riders can fill up on pancakes and good coffee and then ride it all off again.
In all actuality, the Colorado Birding Trail is more a conglomeration of key birding sites throughout the state than a physical trail. But the concept — sponsored by the Colorado Department of Wildlife, Colorado State Parks and a flock of birding organizations — has an interactive home on the Internet, where nature lovers can piece together an itinerary that will take them to the best places on the eastern plains to view plovers and prairie chickens or figure out where in the Rockies they might be able to find MacGillivray's Warblers or Flammulated Owls. An ongoing project-in-progress, the website will eventually grow to include avian hot spots all over the state, from the Comanche Trail in southeastern Colorado to Grand Junction. Train your binoculars on the trail.
Sometimes we need the added pressure of a financial investment to force a good workout. The threat of public humiliation doesn't hurt, either, and boot camp just sounds cooler than aerobics class. At Genesis, the pain doesn't come cheap, but the instructors are experts at kicking your butt. The POWER Boot Camp is four weeks of daily (you get your weekends off at least) heart-pumping, muscle throbbing hour-long circuit workouts. No two days are ever alike, as the instructors rotate. Our personal favorite is the classic-rock-loving Iraq veteran Jon, who refuses to open the door or turn on a fan during class, as if fresh air had calories. Walk into his gym and you're likely to embark on the impossibly tough "1200." That's 400 sit-ups, 400 squats and 400 push-ups divided into 20 sets of 20. Miss a class and you'll start the next one with 25 push-ups. Sound easy? How about running suicides after you've run up the hill at Riverfront Park holding a medicine ball over your head? Or sprinting uphill on a treadmill without tripping and flying off the back? Jillian Michaels has got nothing on these guys.
More lounge than lanes, Lucky Strike at the Denver Pavilions isn't exactly your father's bowling alley. You won't find a soulless, big-box complex swarming with greasy-haired '50s Neanderthals, all hooting at women. Instead you'll find an intimate, plush, club-style room filled with the kind of sophisticated, trendy, urban young men used in cigarette ads. They'll be hooting at women, too, only with a pinkie ring and a martini, not a league button-down. A word of caution: You get what you pay for. Lucky Strike isn't for the budget-minded bowler — but if you can pick up that 7-10 split with Big Lebowski swank and swagger, then you want to roll here.
A left tackle? Are we serious? Hell, yes, we are. Every football expert worth his jock strap knows how important the job is and identifies Ryan Clady as one of the Broncos' three top offensive building blocks, along with quarterback Jay Cutler (unless he gets traded) and receiver Brandon Marshall. But unlike the latter pair, the former Boise State standout hasn't staged any public pouts or produced a rap sheet gaudier than his on-field stats. He only garners positive headlines, as when he finished third in the voting for the 2008 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award — an astonishing achievement for a lineman. And if he stays healthy, Clady's got the talent to anchor the squad and receive Pro Bowl honors for a decade-plus. Top that, Jay and Brandon.
It seemed like a desperation move: After every other Denver Broncos running back went down with injuries, the team moved Peyton Hillis, a hardheaded rookie fullback, to tailback. Some said he was too slow, others said he was too big. But wouldn't you know it? Hillis ended up being too damn good for defenders to bring down — at least until he went down with an injury himself, proving that the 2008 Broncos were paying for some untold karmic mistake (drafting Maurice Clarett, perhaps?). But Hillis also proved that wherever he contributes in 2009, he'll be a deserved fan favorite.
The decision by Denver Nuggets management to deal Allen Iverson to the Detroit Pistons early in the season could have resulted in catastrophe — especially considering that defensive leader Marcus Camby had previously been jettisoned in a salary dump. But thanks to a big assist from Chauncey Billups, who's proved to be the real answer for the team, coach George Karl managed to fuse the players at his disposal into a unit far more cohesive than the one that chalked up fifty wins the year before. Later in the season, when Carmelo Anthony refused to come out of a game, Karl didn't throw a fit; he simply benched him for the next one. He should get an award for that alone.