Best Small-Town Rodeo 2016 | The Rooftop Rodeo | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword

Estes Park is a charming backdrop for a rodeo that does feature professional competitions but in reality retains far more of its small-town feel than not. The 89-year-old event runs July 6-11 this year, and in addition to the usual bareback bronc riding, team roping and barrel racing — and, of course, mutton bustin' for the young'uns, along with a "cash catch" where kids have to grab $5 off sheeps' butts — the Rooftop Rodeo runs a parade complete with royalty, trick riders and clowns, as well as prizes for the best float and marching band, and a real hoedown dance to live music, which may result in some participants needing to stop in at Cowboy Church on the final day. In addition, the rodeo offers an up-close look at the animals, the competitors, and a lot of manure during a Behind the Chutes tour, an add-on to the regular rodeo ticket that's worth it just to chat with the cowboys and cowgirls. Yeehaw!

Colorado can't get enough of its warm-water mountain retreats, and last year Glenwood Springs was graced with a new, unique getaway: Iron Mountain Hot Springs. This sixteen-pool oasis gives soakers a spectrum of multi-temperature relaxing options, with naturally heated waters ranging from 99 to 108 degrees. Cool off with a swim in the large freshwater pool, or continue the tranquil journey in the bubbling whirlpool. A trip to this geothermal wonder can easily be an all-day affair, with the on-site Sopris Cafe offering sandwiches, pizza and frozen yogurt along with a full-service bar (you can have drinks delivered to a pool) and plenty of patio seating so you never have to leave. Whether it's the middle of winter or a warm summer evening, Iron Mountain Hot Springs is a mini-resort made for unwinding year-round.

Team Pain's concrete crew was at it again this year, adding a field-trip-worthy 15,000-square-foot skate park at Loveland's new Mehaffey Park to a Colorado portfolio that now includes thirteen of the state's finest skate spots. The City of Loveland Parks and Recreation Department started consulting with local skaters on the design three full years before the official August 2015 grand opening, and collaborated with Fort Collins-based landscape architecture and environmental planning firm Logan Simpson to integrate it into the 64-acre, $13.6 million park. The skate park itself is a beauty, with a large flow section, a street course with several innovative rails and ledges, a self-contained bowl with stairs in the shallow end and pool coping all around, and a very cool snake run winding around a feature designed to look like a giant tree stump.

Readers' choice: Denver Skate Park
Keystone Facebook page

Keystone's A51 terrain-park system — a repeat Readers' Choice winner — is made up of six terrain parks targeted at helping skiers and snowboarders work their way up to its biggest features. Start on Easy Street, a beginner-friendly lap through smallish jumps, rails, boxes and other features, then head to the Park Lane jump line under the Peru lift, a dedicated terrain-park chairlift that means your biggest hits will get you hoots and hollers from above, while your biggest misses could land you on Jerry of the Day. There are larger rails, boxes and jumps in the "intermediate" I-70 zone, and skatepark-style jib features in the Alley, all meticulously groomed by staffers who actually ride those features and know what's good for you. By the time you're landing tricks on the enormous three-jump set on Main Street, just below the top of the chairlift, your season video edit should be in good shape.

Readers' Choice: Copper Mountain

For a just-barely inbounds experience, obsess over forecasts to get yourself to Steamboat on a powder day, then make your way ASAP to the Morningside lift from the back side of the resort. Look for the radio tower to your right as you unload. Take a deep breath — you'll be well above 10,000 feet of elevation by this point — and then point for the tower. Ride down to the gate for Christmas Tree Bowl (drop in here if it's untracked and save the walk for later), then unbuckle and start the brief hike to the summit. From there you'll have several options, all of them down steep and lightly gladed chutes punctuated by several cliff-drop line options, and all on terrain that you won't believe is an actual run. No Names, North St. Pat's and East Face are all excellent — and essentially all the same run — but No Names has the best name and is the easiest to return from once you're out of the steeps and in danger of getting bogged down in the flats. Alternately, keep hiking for a few more yards and take a selfie for your mom by the skull-and-crossbones side-country warnings.

Readers' choice: Drunken Frenchman, Winter Park

Some of the biggest airs in the history of snowboarding were launched from the 22-foot halfpipe in Vail's Golden Peak Terrain Park in March, when the Burton US Open rolled through. In the men's contest, Shaun White actually soared above the 25-foot measuring stick, executing a lofty backside air that managed to be as impressive as any of the more technical spins farther down in his winning run. In the women's contest, fifteen-year-old Chloe Kim sent her own massive backside air far down the pipe, gathering speed for back-to-back 1080s. Vail's pipe crew kept it in top form for weekend warriors all season, grooming the walls to competition specs every Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Not quite ready to send your own tricks fifty feet above the flat bottom? Try warming up on the smaller pipe — also on Golden Peak, but featuring less-imposing thirteen-foot walls — to build up some confidence.

The biggest shot fired in the season-pass wars for the 2015-2016 ski and snowboard season was the news that Vail Resorts would be offering the Epic Schoolkids Colorado Pack, free passes to all elementary-school students in Colorado in grades K-5, expanding on the School of Shred hook-them-while-they're-young program previously offered to fifth- and sixth-graders. The Epic Schoolkids pass is good for four days each at Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Vail and Keystone, with restrictions around the holidays, and includes a free rental and first-timer lesson package for one-time use. Registration for the 2016-2017 Epic Schoolkids passes began on March 28; be sure to sign up before the season gets under way, because it's a limited-time offer.

Plainly put: If you're buying lift tickets at full price at the window, you're a sucker, and it's probably costing you damn near $200 a day. But if you plan ahead, skiing and snowboarding in Colorado can actually be kinda-sorta affordable, especially as multi-mountain collectives continue to band together to compete for season-pass sales. For the 2016-2017 season, our favorite is the Rocky Mountain SuperPass Plus, a $499 unlimited season pass to Copper Mountain, Winter Park and Eldora Mountain Resort that also includes six days at Steamboat, three at Crested Butte, and three at Alaska's Alyeska Resort, plus seven (restricted) days each at five international ski areas. Better yet, each adult pass comes with one Kids Ski Free pass good at all of the same destinations for kids twelve and under. Prices go up after April 5. Pro tip: Use all six of those Steamboat days (window ticket price for the 2015/2016 season was $149) to get your money's worth.

Keystone Facebook page

Keystone's Independence Bowl, Erickson Bowl and Bergman Bowl are all technically inbounds, and may all be served by chairlifts in the distant future. For now, though, you can either hike to them or splurge for a ride — and a guide — with an all-day trip from Keystone Adventure Tours. The tours run from January through April, but only when the snow is good; you'll actually get your money back if the guides don't think they can get you into the fresh tracks on expert terrain you've been dreaming of. The tours run from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., cost $275, and include powder-ski demos in case you need them (you will), a gourmet lunch served in a cozy yurt on Independence Bowl, and a lift ticket in case your legs still have enough left in them for some chairlift laps after playing in all that snow (they won't). Afterward, raise a toast to your guides and your eleven new best friends. For a cheaper taste of snowcat chauffeur life, try the Outback Shuttle, a $10 ride to Keystone's Outback Bowls from the top of the Outback chairlift, which gives you a perfect view of what you're missing across the way.

Denver-based director Josh Berman teamed up with co-director Freedle Coty for the annual installment of Level 1's ongoing project to document the best skiing in the world. Small World won Film of the Year and Best Female Short (for Tatum Monod) at the 2015 iF3 International Freeski Film Festival in December, following its world premiere at City Hall nightclub in September. Other iF3 nominations included Best Female Freeride Performance (also for Tatum Monod), Best Crash, Best Shot and Best Editing. Sami Ortleib and Mitchell Brower were each nominated for Rookie of the Year honors at the iF3 for their roles in the film, and Brower took the nod for Best Jib at the annual Powder Video Awards, also in December. If the iTunes version won't cut it for your permanent collection, stop by the storefront at the Level 1 Productions headquarters in RiNo to pick up a copy on DVD or Blu-ray.

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