An ode to Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, from a skier with a heart

Aspen Snowmass

All I knew of Colorado as a kid I learned from my mother’s obsession with John Denver. She’d sing “Rocky Mountain High, Colorado” in her church vibrato while vacuuming her shag pile floors on a Saturday afternoon. I’d often wonder about this magical land where it “rains fire in the sky” with “starlight softer than a lullaby.”

When I took up skiing as an adult, Colorado came back into focus as I climbed the skiing knowledge ranks. It seemed that you couldn’t call yourself a skier (or a boarder) until you had glided on chalk like snow in crisp altitude air in a backdrop of 14,000 foot peaks.

FOMO has been a long motivator of mine and it wasn’t until the wheels touched down on Denver soil that I realised how much I had been missing out. Travel is a great eye opener to what we do and don’t have. It’s been 14 years since that first touch down and a gazillion days spent within the straight line borders of this beguiling state.

I’ve watched Denver bloom from a sleepy stopover, designed for Australians to acclimatise while schlepping bags around Cherry Creek Shopping Mall, to a thriving destination filled with quirky gentrified precincts, industrial startups, rooftop bars and cool dining dens. Two days no longer suffice to get acquainted with all that Denver has to offer and I still long to wake in creative styled micro hotels before heady brunches in LoHi (Lower Highlands) and craft breweries in RiNo (River North Art District).

For a while there, across multiple ski seasons, the i70 motorway was my yellow brick road to Emerald Powder Cities as I traversed the plethora of resorts served up by my second home. Yes, I was seduced by the glitz and glam – who can say no to free baked cookies at Beaver Creek and ski in ski out make your own Bloody Mary bar at Bachelor Gulch?

But it was the quirky that had me coming back. The secret shrines to Elvis, Marilyn, Jimi and friends hidden in the snow laden forests of Aspen Snowmass, the Minturn Mile backcountry trail from Vail to the hippie town of Minturn and beers at the saloon; the cowboy skiers riding behind horses on the main street of Steamboat once a season; the “free box” in downtown Telluride filled with all sorts of pre-loved treasures to take at your pleasure. It all found its way into my heart.

They were also right, those folks who spoke of uber groomed chalk like snow where every turn felt like cutting soft butter – turns designed to take away life’s woes and elevate all that are privileged to do so. It’s in the powder, that elixir. Powder as light and dry and fluffy as a cloud.

Telluride Ski Resort, Colorado

I am not ashamed to say I have squealed like a toddler cat-skiing off the back of Aspen Mountain at Aspen Snowmass, in the glades with Steamboat Powder Cats, at the rope drop to Telluride’s Revelation Bowl. I have also grunted with the best of them with every hiking step to the right of passage known as Aspen’s Highlands Bowl where Disneyland comes with a forty degree pitch and untracked snow.

And I have, on those days when the soul wrestled with itself, enjoyed a quick ski jaunt through the whoopty-do fairytale kids playgrounds on Vail Mountain to find myself again before conquering Vail’s legendary back bowls. It’s the little things.

The truth is, Colorado delivers people, powder and ski towns that break your heart on departure day. Hollywood set designers could learn a lot from the multi coloured main street of Breckenridge, the cute as a powder button heritage towns of Telluride, Crested Butte and Silverton where many before me have left single salted tears of goodbye.

You know you’re living when witnessing fifty-odd couples in wedding dresses and tuxedos on skis and snowboards, attend a mass wedding on top of Loveland Ski Area and all head back downhill to a combined party on Valentine’s Day. You also know you’re living when squeezing every orifice tight on a fifty degree pitch on Alphabet Chutes in Winter Park or on top of any run at the lift accessed backcountry haven known as Silverton.

Some say the real Colorado is found in the locals resorts of Arapahoe Basin, Cooper and Copper Mountain and we all dream of road trips to the big known resorts with Granby Ranch, Monarch, Powderhorn and Wolf Creek peppered in between. Because even after fourteen years of Colorado goodness, of months of skiing and snowboarding, of living in Aspen and Telluride, even a jaded old ski journalist like me still has resorts left on my list.

Colorado is like that. So much good stuff on offer that one trip will never suffice.

It was, many years after my mother’s Saturday afternoon vacuuming, that I headed straight to Colorado in search of solace for my broken heart when her heart stopped. I would sit, quietly amongst the golden hues of turning Aspen leaves with the chill of impending winter in the air, and listen to the wind bounce from bough to leaf.

I told myself it was my mother, Joy, and her beloved John (Denver) in conversation amongst the fire in the sky and it was then that I truly knew the softness of a Colorado lullaby.

Discover Colorado here and plan ahead for when borders open. We can’t wait to return when it is safe to do so.

*This is a Sponsored Post in partnership with Colorado Tourism.

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Rachael Oakes-Ash is the name behind @misssnowitall and the founder of SnowsBest.com. A long time travel and lifestyle journalist and ski writer, she's been published in ESPN, TIME, Wallpaper*, Action Asia, Inside Sport, Australian Financial Review, Emirates Open Skies, Conde Nast Traveler and more. She was the Fairfax snow blogger from 2007 to 2017 and the Southern Hemisphere editor for OnTheSnow. Rachael is also a documentary producer, author, radio announcer and humorist.