Colorado: Denver dazzles while Boulder rocks
The bears may be snowed under, but as soon as the season's first powder falls on the Rockies, the state of Colorado revels as America's winter playground.
Aspen, Telluride and Vail remain the main mountain magnets, but I downed my boots in the gateway Denver region to see what's on offer for the après-ski crowds.
Rising 1,609m, "Mile-High" Denver lies where the Front Range dramatically collides with the Great Plains. Far from shunning its prairie pedigree, Denver (aka Broncoville) has been embracing tradition of late.
A farm-to-fork food scene has exploded, the landscape is inspiring an arts renaissance and even a musical roots revival has seen local folksters The Lumineers top the Irish charts.
Denver Art Museum (something of Titanic Belfast meets the Guggenheim) was my first stop. Here, Native American historical art and artefacts join modernist watercolour exhibitions of bison in the wilds.
To experience Denver's finest fare, I took a tastings tour with Culinary Connectors (€75) who offer guided moveable feasts across the city's top restaurants. Meandering through ambient canopy-lit streets we sampled delectable dishes including confit of duck, Colorado lamb and a "bourgeois creamytime" crème brulée.
Boulder, a 30-minute drive down the highway to Hippyville, has been sweeping up the yearbook accolades for American living for decades.
This Mecca of eco-consciousness which appears to top every lifestyle quality index is a fervently liberal enclave of America's West, famed for its preponderance of PhD graduates, farmers' markets and Subaru Outbacks.
Boulder prides itself on its outdoorsy mode de vie, and due to a rather unique eco sales-tax, locals enjoy ownership of thousands of acres of protected parkland for them to sled, ski and cycle away their woes. Little surprise then that this is also America's fittest city (and, as a visit to the farmers' markets might infer, one of the nation's worst-dressed).
"It basically means we look better naked than dressed," joked my guide, Katelyn, an ebullient blue-eyed beauty whose life in the Rockies had bequeathed her a look of Heidi meets Lara Croft.
We hiked together along Boulder's landmark Flatiron peaks before descending into a creek of wild cherry bushes. "They attract so many bears in the spring that we have to close off this route," Katelyn said.
Downtown Boulder is peppered with earthy eateries. At The Kitchen, I lunched on a ranch steak with fresh-from-the-herb-garden rocket for €14. Colorado prices would leave a New Yorker foaming at the mouth.
But it's not all heirloom tomatoes and organic granola. Being a hotbed of hipsterism, Boulder has its fair share of kooky watering holes, like 303 Vodka, a Polish micro-distillery-slash-block party on 47th Street.
I whiled away my evening there with Pickeltinis while trendy locals lounged with their Macbooks. This was still Colorado, however – we'd all be hiking it off in the morning.
Aer Lingus (0818 365 000; aerlingus.com) flies from Dublin and Shannon to Denver (via Chicago O'Hare with partner airline Jetblue) from €538 return.
Staying there The Mile-High City's Warwick hotel is a plush uptown base, five minutes from the Downtown Denver buzz. (€65pps B&B 001 303 861 2000; www.warwickdenver.com). For an eco-friendly stay in Boulder, try the city's first solar-powered hotel in a leafy quarter of Downtown (€51 pps; 001 303 449 7550; www.qualityinn-boulder.com).
More information, see visitcolorado.com