Powder, paranormal and more: The underrated adventure sports mecca of Glenwood Springs

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Glenwood Springs Chamber


There were ghosts, they told us. Strange bumps and sounds in the night. Lights that turned on and off for no apparent reason. Doors that slammed shut, suddenly and without warning. Things that kept you up at night. We thought about it and then climbed into the deep softness of our bed. Sleep came quickly and fast. We would wake the next morning, refreshed. The ghosts had business elsewhere that night, and we were thankful. Because when you’re exploring this part of Colorado, you’ll need your rest, as there is a lot to do in Glenwood Springs.

When it comes to action and adventure sports, Glenwood Springs doesn’t have the cachet of Boulder, and it’s overshadowed by Aspen, that glamorous destination just up the valley. Aspen has an airport. Glenwood Springs has the railroad. Aspen has the movie stars and the expensive hotels. Glenwood Springs has cheap hotels and recreational vehicles filled with crying children. Aspen has a rough and tumble history as a mining town. Glenwood Springs was once the home base of a polo team that won a national championship.

It’s these contradictions combined with access to a variety of recreational opportunities that make Glenwood Springs appealing to budget-minded adventurers. There’s world-class skiing just up the valley thanks to Aspen. Closer to downtown there’s whitewater on the Colorado River, hot springs (commercial and natural), rock and ice routes, hiking and mountain biking, fishing and a whole lot more. And when you’re done, the town beckons; an eclectic combination of old and new, from hip restaurants like The Pullman, to old school taverns of the kind that used to be seen in Boulder, but have been priced out by a variety of establishments that all seem to serve the same type of aioli fries. This is Colorado as it used to be, and how it has become.

But the big reason, the main enchilada, and why you’d pack up and head west on Interstate 70 past all the attractions, charms and reasons to stop in places like Summit County or Vail is that Glenwood Springs is a true multi-sport mecca. A place for those who like the outdoors.

We headed to Glenwood Springs after a day sampling the nearby ski areas of Aspen Mountain and Buttermilk. Ajax (Aspen Mountain) is justly famous, but Buttermilk is often overlooked. A Mecca for beginners and other lowerlevel skiers who ply the mountain’s gentle slopes, it’s also perfect for an afternoon cruising empty groomers in the sun. There’s great powder in the trees, and the bulk of the mountain’s clientele — beginners taking lessons and little kids zigzagging behind instructors — don’t tap into the bounty. We ended our day on the Cliffhouse deck, soaking in sun and chatting with strangers before heading down valley. Tomorrow we’d ski a bit more, tapping into Glenwood’s local hill, the overlooked Sunlight Mountain Resort.

The big stat for skiers — and one that Sunlight likes to brag about, albeit with tongue slightly in cheek — is the fact that the ski area has the steepest run in Colorado. This seems a bit outrageous until you drop into the resort’s expert terrain. Comprising a series of short and steep avalanche chutes that plunge through aspen glades, this zone is modest in total skiable acreage but rewards experts with phenomenal and uncrowded powder skiing. It’s so good, in fact, that it probably shouldn’t be mentioned here. But with Aspen just up the road, there will always be fresh lines tucked away at Sunlight. The rest of the mountain offers a nice counterpoint to the steeps: fun groomers and some bump runs are complemented by a low-key après scene in the bar. It’s mellow and ends early, but that’s not an issue, because there are places to go and things to see, primarily the hot springs that sit just outside the center of town.

Most people know Glenwood Springs due to the town’s hot springs pool. It’s easily visible from the cars speeding by on Interstate 70, and at just over $20 bucks, might be the largest hot tub and most expensive hot tub in the world that you’ll ever experience. Still, it’s worth doing once if just for the novelty as well as to experience a slice of history. The springs have a rich and illustrious past, hosting everyone from luminaries to socialites to average tourists. These waters, coupled with easy access provided by the railways, first put Glenwood Springs on the map. The town boomed in the late 1800s, becoming a summer destination for East Coast society, many of whom stayed at the Hotel Colorado, which rises behind the springs. Notable guests include Teddy Roosevelt, who summered at the hotel one season.

The hotel is located a pole position close to the hot springs and at the western side of Glenwood Canyon, a climbing hot spot that features sport routes on limestone crags less than five miles outside of town as well as committed ice routes such as Glenwood Falls and the classic Hidden Falls near mile marker 123. The climbing here remains relatively empty and after a day on the ice in Glenwood Canyon, the springs provide an interesting dethawing option, although they can be crowded and those seeking solitude along with their hot water may wish to hit the shower at their hotel instead.

Also captivating is the hotel’s patina, rich in history. Originally, the Hotel Colorado was a classy summer spot for blue chip clients, including the founders and athletes of the Glenwood Springs polo team, a highclass outfit that won a national championship, fueled by East Coast money. Then, during World War II, the edifice was converted into a military hospital. Hints remain — including the paranormal activity — of this utilitarian and, for the injured and dying, tragic past. Phenomena include the aforementioned bumps in the night, as well as a room that was under renovation which saw wallpaper mysteriously stripped off of the walls each night until a pattern suitable for the “occupant” was installed. Busy during the summer months, recreationalists won’t have any problems finding elbowroom at the historic Copper Bar after a day outside in winter or the shoulder seasons of fall and spring.

With ice covering the edges of the Colorado River, we don’t indulge in any watersports; kayakers and rafters do ply the rapids here yearround, but both sports take on a much bigger role in the local recreational scene during the warmer months of summer. Instead, we explore the shops downtown. They’re an eclectic mishmash of the utilitarian: banks, restau rants, a brewery, even a bookstore. You won’t find logoed T-shirts or a couple of tourist trinket shops here. Dinner is at The Pullman. While a secret to us, the restaurant has garnered fans from afar, including editors at Esquire Magazine, which named The Pullman one of the Best New Restaurants in America in 2011. With the workweek on the horizon we settle for PullMan- Hatten, the whiskeybased cocktail is a take on the old standard with a new twist. It’s deep and flavorful and lingers on the tongue until it vanishes in a sweet memory. It’s a bit like Glenwood Springs itself, old and new with challenging outdoor opportunities softened by the warmth of the springs and a little luxury.