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Grand County, Colorado

A Melange of Winter Activities

I had not skied in Colorado since Army training with the Tenth Mountain Division in 1944. To a young man approaching his twentieth birthday, the drama of it all didn't quite sink in until I reached Camp Hale where we trained in the mountains for two years before leaving for combat in Italy. Eight to 10 hours a day on wooden skis with kandahar bindings would be, I believed, like play, similar to the life of a ski bum of today. It was much more strenuous than I anticipated and it turned out to be an important part of my youth.

Last winter during a stopover in Denver on the way to Grand County, Colorado, a district about the size of Delaware, I had a chance to review that indelible time with the help of the curator of the archives of my army unit, which are housed in Denver's main library.

Fifty-three years later, I was back in the state with my wife for a February holiday in a locale about a one and one-half hour drive west of the "mile high" city. The major centers in the eastern part of the county are Grand Lake, Silver Creek, Granby, Frazier and Winter Park and the adjacent ski areas, all of which have expanded the possibilities of what one can do in the snow. So in a sense this was another learning experience as we moved from one mountain to the next and participated in a melange of winter activities that were not limited to downhill skiing.

Horseback riding, C Lazy U Ranch (Credit: Edwin Fancher)

Our first night was spent at the inn that is part of Silver Creek Resort and on that evening we were shuttled to Annie's Ranch in nearby Frazier for a wagon ride. Sitting on traditional hay and covered with blankets, we were pulled through an original 1860s homestead by two huge Belgian horses. Snowflakes fell lightly from the starlit sky, adding a rom-antic touch to the outing. Just as we were beginning to feel a bit chilled, we reached a warm old barn where we were served a hot dinner catered by Carvers Bakery Cafe in Winter Park. There was lots of food, but the quality was mediocre. Stumpfiddle Annie, an irresistibly ebullient lady, saved the evening when she joked and sang old-time Western songs, accompanied by a guitar and a one-man band made up of a washboard with various appendages. An outhouse substituted for a proper rest room. Nevertheless, everyone seemed to have a good time.

Silver Creek Resort does not have the cachet of Vail or Aspen, but its excellent beginning and intermediate slopes have the advantage of being uncrowded. Although there are some advanced runs, I was told that those who wanted a greater challenge might try nearby Winter Park. Guests can also snowboard or participate in two innovative sports, snowbiking and parabolic skiing.

Snowbiking has been popular in Europe since 1949, but Silver Creek is the first and only area in the U.S. to introduce the bikes and to offer a school. The rider sits on a bicycle seat mounted on a frame with a small ski where the front wheel would be, places his feet on two mini-skis for balance and steers using a handlebar. It's simple to learn, instruction takes about five minutes and few riders fall after the initial lesson. For non-skiers, it is a good introductory activity and might even be an inspiration for beginners when they discover how much fun snow sports can be.

Snowbiking, Silver Creek Resort
(Credit: Edwin Fancher)

Parabolic skiing is also taught here. This new system features the use of shorter skies, which are slightly wider at the top and bottom and narrower near the bindings, somewhat like an hour glass. The design, which borrows from the racing experience, makes for a much simpler technique than the traditional Arlberg one. It's easier to learn to ski using this method and, hence, ideal for novices. Because it is less tiring on the leg muscles, it is also attractive for older people.

The 5000-acre Snow Mountain Ranch/YMCA of the Rockies, four miles from Silver Creek via a free shuttle bus, has an extensive system of groomed trails for snow-shoeing, an activity requiring no special skill, and for Nordic skiing. The Y attracts visitors who wish to hike on their own or join a guided nature tour through the forest.

Because the town of Grand Lake is located next to Rocky Mountain National Park and Arapaho National Forest, it is the major site for snowmobiling in the state. One-story wooden buildings housing restaurants, bars and colorful shops line the main street and front onto a planked sidewalk giving it the look of the 1880s cowboy West. At both ends of the half-mile thoroughfare, the village is blanketed by establishments that rent snowmobiles and organize escorted rides. Racing through the countryside and fields--there are 150 miles of groomed trails--is a very thrilling experience, but it is not for the faint-hearted. Last winter the "Denver Post" published an article about the accidents, particularly in Grand Lake, caused by unregulated snowmobiling. Certainly those who are not very accomplished in this skill or familiar with the terrain should not attempt it alone.

Most people head to dude ranches in the warmer weather, but some of them, as we learned, enjoy horseback riding in winter, too. When the temperature drops, the C Lazy U Ranch in Granby hosts about 80 guests. During our visit, I saddled up and went out on the property's snowy trails where I sighted a herd of elk foraging for food. But trail riding is not all that this deluxe hostelry offers during the colder months. The daily schedule includes sledding, snowshoeing, tubing, dog sledding, ice skating, ice hockey, racquetball, sleigh rides, trap and skeet shooting and downhill, cross-country and telemark skiing.

For those who love the outdoors and are eager to try new sports in a variety of settings, Grand County might just be the place for this year's vacation in the snow.


Annie's Ranch, P O Box 171, Winter Park, CO 80482. Tel. 970-726-4923.

Snow Mountain Ranch/YMCA of the Rockies, P O Box 169, Winter Park, CO 80482. Tel. 970-887-2152, 303-443-4743.


The Inn at Silver Creek is next to the slopes, making it convenient for skiers. This 342-room property does, however, have a motel-like quality about it. Since it caters to a family crowd, noisy children and teenagers are frequently in the corridors and public spaces. The dining room, Paul's Creekside Grill, was being remodeled when we visited. It features a California bistro-style menu and serves three meals a day.

C Lazy U Ranch has an AAA Five-Diamond and Mobil Five-Star rating, the only guest ranch in the country with both designations. Although this stylish facility is Western in character and architecture, it is also charming and luxurious. The two-level main lodge, built of logs, houses impressive and comfortable living and dining rooms, both of which have large stone fireplaces. Lovely guest accommodations are in nearby separate structures.

Morningstar Ranch is an eight-room cozy B and B, which was recently redecorated to give it a homey country look. The young owners, Karen and Dave Zink, are in the business because they enjoy hosting people. Cross-country trails, groomed by Dave, begin 30 feet from the front door.

The Inn at Silver Creek, P O Box 4222, Silver Creek, CO 80446. Tel. 800-926-4386, 970-887-2131. A studio unit with a fireplace, sitting area, kitchenette and whirlpool bath is about $100. www.silvercreeklodging.com

C Lazy U Ranch, P O Box 379, Granby, CO 80446. Tel. 970-887-3344. Winter rates, including three meals and all activities except downhill skiing, begin at $115. www.clazyu.com

Morningstar Ranch, P O Box 930, Winter Park, CO 80482. Tel. 800-875-9739, 970-726-4895. Rooms with shared baths are $79 including breakfast.


On your way to one of the winter sports areas in Colorado, you might want to stop in Denver, a city that is undergoing a cultural and an architectural rejuvenation. "The face of downtown has been completely altered in the last five years," said one of the natives. "People now live in the vicinity and the volume of activity has increased considerably."

Indeed, as we strolled about we saw many pedestrians enjoying the street life, centering on the Soho-like Larimer and Writer Squares and the 16th Street Mall. With the exception of free buses, which run often, the mall is closed to traffic and is lined with shops. The squares are filled with boutiques selling unusual jewelry, clothing, art and furnishings; and restaurants, housed in renovated Victorian buildings.

Public libraries are not often high on tourists' lists of things to see. However, the design of this three-year old building is so unique that it is highly recommended. Michael Graves, one of the architects on the project, was responsible for the dramatic circular room that holds the Western history collection and that was built with beams imported from the Northwest.

With its 9,000 seats in eight auditoriums, the Performing Arts Complex covers four city blocks and is the nightly venue for symphony, opera, plays and dance recitals. Denver also has an art, a natural history and many small specialty museums.


Denver Public Library, 10 West 14th Avenue Parkway. Tel. 303-640-6206. Tours Monday to Saturday, 11 a.m.; Sunday, 2 p.m. Call for reservations.

Denver Performing Arts Complex, 14th and Curtis Streets. Tel. 303-893-4100; outside Denver, 800-641-1222.


The hands down choice for lodging in the city is the venerable Brown Palace Hotel, which opened in 1892. The Renaissance-style atrium lobby, a favorite gathering place for lunch and tea, rises eight stories to a magnificent stained-glass ceiling. Cast iron grillwork panels ring the balconies on each floor. During World War II soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division used the balustrades to rappel as they might from a mountain cliff. A reenactment took place in 1992 during the hotel's centennial celebration. The clubby atmosphere of the lobby extends into the Churchill Bar, which has a customized humidor with a large selection of fine cigars. The theme of the premier restaurant, Palace Arms, is Napoleonic and some of the antiques date as far back as 1670. On display in the casual Ship Tavern is a collection of sailing vessel models and other nautical memorabilia. The main dining room, Ellyngton's, just received a facelift and is the town's gathering place for power breakfasts. The food is topnotch.

The Brown Palace, 371 17th Street, Denver, CO 80202. Tel. 303-297-3111, 800-321-2599. Rates begin at $195. www.brownpalace.com


More United flights go in and out of Denver than any other airline. In addition to Denver, United Airlines' hubs are San Francisco, Los Angeles, Honolulu, Washington D.C. and Chicago, making it possible to fly directly to and from those cities to Denver, as well as from other selected cities in the U.S. United's seats are roomier and more comfortable and the food is better than on some other national carriers. 800-241-6522. www.united.com

Winter 1997-98