Keystone Resort
Keystone Facebook page

If there's anything more embarrassing than face-planting off a rail in front of a full chairlift, we don't want to make that mistake, either. The truth is, the intimidation factor cannot be overstated when it comes to terrain parks, and so we fully appreciate the lengths to which Keystone Resort keeps going to help riders and skiers get better the right, and easy, way. Enter A51, the name for the resort's six terrain parks in one sixty-acre area, with lines that lead from beginner to expert, all served from one dedicated lift. With 116 features and more on the way, the park offers extra-small, small and medium features — a variety of pipe sizes, along with boxes, barriers, rails, ramps, tubes, tables, jibs and jumps — plus a staggering selection of big ones, with each skill level smoothly transitioning to the next. Start extra-small on Easy Street, then head to I-70 and the Alley, with their slightly larger features. By the time you hit the hardest area, Main Street, you'll be ready to go pro.

Readers' Choice: A51 Terrain Park

Aspen/Snowmass

If you're looking for a double-diamond run that will scare the ski pants off you and possibly make you weep, S1 is the one and only. The second in the series of north-facing (and thus snow-holding) steeps known as the Dumps, S1 flows from International off Ruthie's lift (you can also link runs to access it from the Silver Queen Gondola, which allows you to check it out to the right on your way up). This shorty is so vertical that it feels like you're standing on top of an eighty-story building, albeit one covered with rocks and lined with tight, tight trees. You have two choices here: Take the blind rollover and hit the air to drop in, or curl up in a little ball and hope some other crazy person finds you.

Readers' Choice: Pallavicini

Vail Ski Resort
Courtesy Vail Facebook page

Most ski areas struggle at some point with the flow of skiers and snowboarders, and the sheer size of the 5,289-acre Vail means it has bigger problems than most. What makes the popular resort stand out, though, is its willingness to address the issues, and a big schuss in the right direction was the upgrade of the Chair 11 lift on the front side to a faster six-pack. The revamped Northwoods Express — the resort's tenth new lift in eleven years — debuted in December, and it immediately had the intended effect of shortening lift lines and wait times for folks trying to access Vail's intermediate and expert terrain, as well as helping everyone move more efficiently through to the Back Bowls and Blue Sky Basin. It also means getting to the area's namesake trail quicker: the popular and super-wide Northwoods run, a beautiful blue with a moderate pitch and plenty of space for big carving, with access into the trees that border both sides.

Readers' Choice: Northwoods Express (#11)

Sunlight Mountain Resort
Courtesy Sunlight Mountain Resort Facebook page

Considering that a pair of wooden skis or a snowboard from Meier — handmade in Colorado, btw — is going to set you back at least $700, Sunlight's deal is pretty sweet. For that same $700 ($600 for snowboarders), you get the skis (or snowboard), plus a single-day lift ticket (which usually costs $65) to a ski area famous for its 67 mostly intermediate trails, free parking and no lift lines, plus a day pass to soak away your sore quads at the lovely Iron Mountain Hot Springs (regularly $20), with its seventeen pools of varying sizes and temperatures and enviable mountain views. Don't need new sticks? Spring for the Slope & Soak four-pack for $249, a bargain that gets you access to either the Iron Mountain or Glenwood hot springs.

Readers' Choice: Epic Pass

Dinosaurs roamed the volcanic buttes formed 65 million years ago in Golden — and there are still traces of them everywhere. The first T. rex specimen was discovered on South Table Mountain, and if you're interested in playing paleontologist, hop onto the Camp George West trailhead for 4.1 miles of low-key scenic hiking with panoramic mesa-top views and plenty of dinosaur tracks for those who are looking. Just remember to stay on the trails, as undesignated paths degrade the mesa ecology.

Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge
Courtesy Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge Facebook page

Less than fifteen miles from downtown Denver, the free and open-to-the-public Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge offers a fresh-air escape on nearly 16,000 acres of grassland, wetland and woodland that more than 300 species call home. You're not going to see them all while wandering the ten miles of easy, flat trails — the meandering 1.8-mile Ladora Loop Trail is a good introduction — but definitely seek out the herd of more than eighty bison and keep your eyes peeled for coyotes, deer, bald eagles, burrowing owls and a plethora of prairie dogs. Folks come here just to fish the small lakes and ponds for largemouth bass and northern pike in an area that attracts a lot of migrating waterfowl as well as a staggering variety of birds, and the floating boardwalk leads to a more tucked-away and quiet space with viewing benches. Time your visit for sunrise or sunset to get the best photo ops, complete with the Rocky Mountains and the Denver skyline.

Readers' Choice: Chautauqua Park

Sometimes it just feels good to spend a night under the stars, but the commitment required to do a multi-day hike can be exhausting. Red Deer Lake Trail, in the Indian Peaks Wilderness just north of Nederland, is just right: a 14.2-mile out-and-back that sits comfortably in the intermediate skill range, with waterfalls, meadows and elk and moose sightings as rewards along the way. The final payoff of the lake itself sits at slightly above 10,000 feet (net gain: 717 feet), with plenty of secluded backcountry campsites. You'll wind up leapfrogging the day-hikers for the first few miles of the four-wheel-drive Buchanan Pass Trail that connects to the Red Deer path, but most of them fall away at the big switchback that veers toward the St. Vrain Glacier. The killer views include several of the Indian Peaks, including Sawtooth, St. Vrain and Mount Audubon, and fly-fisherfolk will find trout in the lake and Middle St. Vrain Creek along the way. A $5 permit per group is required for camping through the Boulder Ranger District.

Readers' Choice: Castlewood Canyon State Park

Indian Peaks Wilderness

fs.fed.us

Rifle State Park Complex Facebook page

Camping in Colorado is always fabulous, but there's something extra-magical about Rifle Falls, a lush, 48-acre park located thirty miles northwest of Glenwood Springs. Skip the site's thirteen drive-in RV and tent campsites, and opt instead for one of seven walk-in spots laid out alongside East Rifle Creek. All campsites have a table, fire pit and bear-proof storage boxes, and some have electrical hookups, too. For all you glampers out there, restrooms and water pumps are available near the parking lot. The best thing about this campground is an easy-to-moderate hiking trail connecting campers to a seventy-foot triple waterfall overlooking limestone caves. For a longer trek, follow signs to the fish hatchery. Pets are allowed in the campground but must be on a six-foot-or-shorter leash. Rifle Falls is open year-round, and reservations can be made up to six months in advance when camping between April 1 and October 31.

Boulder Reservoir
Brandon Marshall

Landlocked Coloradans are always on the hunt for a beach that feels, well, beachy. With its wide swath of soft sand and much-appreciated amenities — bathrooms, a water fountain, and a small but well-stocked cafe that serves crispy French fries — the lake-like setup at the Boulder Reservoir makes for a nice day at the shore, especially on the much-less-crowded weekdays. Friendly lifeguards patrol during beach hours (10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily), and you can rent kayaks, canoes and SUPs to explore beyond the cordoned-off swim area, which also allows rafts and floaties. Swim out to the floating decks for a little peace and quiet and to watch the herons, pelicans and ospreys that call the rez home. There's a $7-per-person entrance fee, and alcohol in non-glass containers is allowed.

Readers' Choice: Arapahoe Basin

While some people treat river rafting as if it were an amusement-park ride that they just strap into before someone hits the switch, savvier adventurers understand that it's an outdoors experience fraught with unpredictability that could put you way outside of your comfort zone. The good news is that Colorado offers quite a few rafting experiences with miles of flat water that are just right for first-timers, and this section of Clear Creek fills that bill. Just thirty miles west of Denver, the put-in at Idaho Springs for the Gold Rush segment winds through a historic mining valley for a two-and-a-half-hour float that never gets more challenging than Class III rapids, with most of the seven miles sitting solidly in the Class II range. Kids as young as six can go with the flow here, and this gentle introduction is so enjoyable that rafters of all ages will be begging for big water as soon as they hit dry land again.

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