Best Sports Mascot 2016 | Thunder | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword

Colorado has its share of costumed mascots — men or women inside animal ensembles that would fit in nicely at the next Furries convention. But the state is also blessed with quite a few real animal mascots: Ralphie the buffalo at CU Boulder, Cam the ram at CSU, and Thunder, the Arabian horse that celebrates scores and more for the Denver Broncos. The team is actually on its third Thunder at this point, and seeing the magnificent creature pound across the gridiron is among the greatest thrills involved with being a Broncos fan. Thunder got nearly as big a reaction at the post-Super Bowl 50 victory parade as did Peyton Manning or Von Miller, and appropriately so.

Readers' choice: Rockie

The Drive is among the most addictive sports-talk shows in town, and chemistry is the reason. At least once a show (and often more than that), Darren "D-Mac" McKee will say something that will make you smack your forehead — but his willingness to offer bold proclamations plenty of others would keep to themselves is key to his oddball charm. Former Bronco Alfred "Big Al" Williams is equally opinionated, and his takes on the Broncos, the CU Buffs and plenty of other outfits and athletes on the current scene are informed by his deep knowledge and a zest for life that's second to none. Together, they make a helluva team.

Readers' choice: The Drive

Anyone who's seen the Mile High Tumblers perform at events like Denver Nuggets games can testify to the thrilling nature of their aerial stunts: crazy twists and turns executed with and without the aid of mini-trampolines. But even better is the concept behind the spectacle. Thanks to founder Ozell Williams, who first made his name locally as a cheerleader for the University of Colorado Boulder and an Olympic athlete specializing in the rings, MHT serves as a youth program in which college-agers act as mentors for students in the early years of high school. Their goal: to reinforce positivity and build life skills while defying gravity. Williams is changing Colorado for the better, one flip at a time.

Just three bucks gets you through the gates at Lakeside Amusement Park, which is all the money needed to enjoy a late summer night's stroll through its gorgeous grounds. Drop a few more dollars and get your thrills from the historic wooden Cyclone roller coaster, the daring dips of the Spider or the most famous of the landmark's jittery delights, the Wild Chipmunk. Kids get a miniature version of the amusement park all to themselves, complete with a baby coaster and tethered kiddie motorboats. End the night with a calming ride around the lake on a scaled-down but fully functional steam train, and catch a glimpse of the park's neon at night — a lovely reminder of a simpler time. Being in business for more than a century proves that Lakeside Amusement Park knows how to make fun affordable for everyone.

Hyperspace Facebook

When Xyla DuVal opened Hyperspace in June 2014, it featured mostly vintage arcade consoles, including a functioning Space War machine, the first stand-up video game. Through the summer of 2015, the arcade was open only for special events, including electronic dance nights and live experimental-music shows — and then it went on a long hiatus. Now Hyperspace is back, though, with a regular schedule and a $10 all-you-can-play fee. No charge for the classic combo of geek-tech culture and weird music in a layout reminiscent of early-'80s strip-mall arcades.

The 20th Street Gym isn't fancy — which is all the more reason to take advantage of this rec center in the city. All of the average gym amenities are here — indoor pool, weight room, cardio equipment — and are paired with a schedule packed with pickleball games, pottery classes and Pilates. Almost as historic as the building itself is the gym's boxing program, offering kids and adults of all skill levels a chance to be trained by professionals and compete in the ring. The soaring windows and wooden rails of the grand staircase are reminders of the gym's antiquity, but it's the no-BS workouts and knowledgeable staff of teachers and trainers that bring the 20th Street Gym into the 21st century.

No private gym can compare with the affordability and accessibility of a Denver Parks and Recreation membership, with its dozens of recreation centers and indoor and outdoor pools in the metro area to choose from. Starting at one dollar for a single visit and topping out at $369 for a year's worth of unlimited access to every center, the city's prices are hard to beat. Financial assistance is available, too, along with discounts for seniors and persons with disabilities, and the city's My Denver card gives free memberships to kids ages five to eighteen. In addition, many classes — from boxing fitness to circuit training — are free once you're a member. The best part? You don't even have to purchase a membership to take advantage of Denver's parks system: Workouts in any of the city's dozens of green spaces are free, year-round.

If you want a quick pickup game or some easy 3-on-3, it's tough to beat one of the dozens of indoor gyms in Denver or popular parks like Sloan's Lake and Washington Park — but when it comes to working on your long-range skills, it's time to try rooftop shooting at 1125 17th Street. You might have to befriend a resident of the adjacent apartment building that owns the court (or find a way to sneak up there, which we would never tell you to do), but after you hit a few 3s in solitude while downtown Denver conducts its business twenty feet below, you'll be on top of the world — or at least the 5280.

Denver is well known for its views of the Rockies, but turn the other direction and we've got a skyline that's well worth gazing at, too. Barnum Park, named after developer P.T. Barnum (yes, that P.T.), takes the cake when it comes to the perfect glimpse of our rapidly growing downtown. Perched high above the madness that is the Sixth Avenue/I-25 interchange, this simple park sits unhindered — no cranes or new development can get in its way — and gives park visitors a full panorama of the Mile High City. What's more, the surrounding highway and Federal Boulevard thoroughfare have created an immovable transit moat around this fortress of green space, making Barnum's look at the city safe from future obstruction. In Denver, any place free from the optical hindrance of towering construction projects is priceless; lucky for us, Barnum Park — and its view — is always free.

In truth, kids just want something to climb on, but parents didn't like it the last time the Cherry Creek mall gave its indoor play area a makeover: The switch from the beloved breakfast-table layout of giant-sized eggs, bacon and pancakes to a fully branded Warner Brothers cartoon-character theme was never a popular move. But when the mall pulled a switch again last November, no one even batted an eyelash. Who wouldn't like Dinosaur Gulch, a fun collaboration with the Denver Museum of Nature & Science featuring climbable dino sculptures — a favorite theme in almost every toddler's heart — that are as educational as they are a blast to scramble over? One prehistoric pat on the back for all!

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