BOULDER, Colo. — Anybody who thinks of Colorado as just a winter destination ought to go to Boulder and talk to Frank Shorter. Or Kim Farin. Or maybe William Shakespeare.
Shorter can talk about how welcoming this town is to runners like him, even before anybody knew he'd become an Olympic marathon gold-medalist. Farin, who works for the Boulder Convention and Visitors Bureau, will explain that winter is Boulder's slowest time of year. And Shakespeare could talk about how Boulder holds one of the country's oldest festivals of his plays.
Boulder is not located in the mountains, and it only gets 50 inches of snow a year — compared to 300 inches in the big ski areas and at Eldora Mountain Resort, about 30 minutes from Boulder. "Our hotel prices are the lowest in the winter and the busiest time of year is summer," said Farin.
But Boulder is, first and foremost, a place to get outdoors. There are balloon rides, glider rides, trails for bicyclists and joggers everywhere.
Shorter tells a story of when he moved to Boulder in 1970, two years before he won an Olympic gold medal in the marathon.
Nobody knew who he was, and there were only a handful of distance runners in town, but a small courtesy from a local driver immediately made him feel welcome.
"I remember I was running down the street and a car pulls out of an alley and backs up to let me go by. I said, 'I must be in the right place,'" he said.
Bike riders will feel welcome, too, thanks to nearly 300 miles of linked bicycle paths that Shorter said are set up in such a way that riders can get anywhere in the city without pulling into traffic on a single street.
Hiking trails abound as well. On trail maps, Boulder's many crisscrossing trails almost make it look like an ant farm.
Despite Boulder's location in the Flatiron foothills of the Rocky Mountains, a lot of the trails are relatively easy, starting with some that run through Chautauqua Park, a National Historic Landmark near downtown, as well as one that loops around Boulder Reservoir.
At Eldorado Canyon State Park, a trail accommodates wheelchairs and baby strollers. Without too much difficulty, hikers can find themselves in the shadow of the red rock cliffs that enclose Eldorado Canyon and South Boulder Creek.
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But locals warn that even easy hikes or bike rides may be more difficult than visitors expect because of the altitude. If Denver is the Mile-High City, Boulder is a couple hundred feet higher still. Drink extra water, use sunscreen, and take it easy, especially when you first arrive and your body is adjusting to the air.
Visitors with children must be especially careful. Parents accustomed to letting kids run ahead might want to keep them a bit closer and away from edges of mountain trails that might overlook steep cliffs.
Another small reminder for flatlanders: "It is such a natural thing to do to throw rocks into a creek or down a hill, but you forget people could be walking or climbing below them," said Ben Pedrett, park manager for Eldorado Canyon State Park.
In addition, he added, watch out for rattlesnakes and other wildlife.
Some trails are attached to other attractions. One trail literally starts at the back door of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, designed by architect I.M. Pei. The center sits on a plateau of the Flatirons and visitors are welcome at the small museum that explains the weather and the center's work.
Visitors may also be struck by how much open space there is in Boulder. The city owns hundreds of acres of land with nothing on it but grass, rocks, flowers and trails, and Boulder's voters have a history of approving these purchases.
"It's all city property," said Shorter. "That merges into state property, which merges into federal property."
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Boulder is a college town, too, home of the state's flagship university. As one might expect, there are plenty of burger bars, sandwich shops and T-shirt stores. But what might not be expected is that much of it feels more like a quaint village than a rowdy college town, especially in the center of downtown, the Pearl Street Mall. At night, the mall is crowded with people strolling in and out of independent book stores, ice cream parlors, sidewalk cafes and microbreweries (more on them later), while stopping to crowd around street performers.
The city is also home to a number of upscale restaurants well beyond a college student's budget. Some of these eateries have caught the attention of Food & Wine, Wine Spectator, Bon Appetit and other national publications.
Boulder also showcases the performing arts in summer. Chautauqua's calendar includes the Neville Brothers Aug. 16 and Chris Isaak Aug. 8, in addition to silent movies and a "Wizard of Oz" sing-along.
The University of Colorado hosts an annual Colorado Shakespeare Festival. At more than 50 years old, the festival is one of the oldest of its kind. "We try not to be a well-kept secret but we tend to be," said festival spokeswoman Mell McDonnell.
The performances wind up in early to mid-August, but Boulder's craft beer scene is a year-round attraction, with no fewer than 10 microbreweries in the city, according to Dan Rabin, a reporter for Celebrated Beer News.
Not only that, but they take it seriously.
"You can go into a brew pub or a tasting room in Boulder and sit down next to a stranger and have an intellectual conversation about the different varieties of hops, different beer styles and esoteric (beer) topics that would make no sense to anybody who isn't a beer geek," he said.
The beer scene has even given rise to a new tourist attraction this summer. Consider it an alternative to all those hikes and bike rides — trail hikes and bike roads — or maybe it should be a reward for all that outdoor activity: The Boulder Brew Bus, a pub crawl that takes suds fans from one local brewery to another.
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