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Best of the Rockies 2019

Every year we ask our readers to nominate their choices for the very best businesses, people, destinations and events in the Rocky Mountain region. Then they vote for the winners. The result is a listing of the personalities and places that make the outdoors pump. Read on to find out who took top honors and plan to advocate for your heroes and go-to spots next year.


Outdoor Gear Brand

Big Agnes

Runner Up: Loki Gear

The Steamboat, Colorado-based outdoor gear manufacturer won this category for the second year in a row (and third time in four years) because it has built such a strong following here in the Rockies, both for its combination of ultralight and family friendly gear and for the way it treats it’s employees. Big Agnes even sent employees hiking on the Continental Divide Trail last summer.

The Big Agnes crew celebrates on Mount Elbert. Photo by Devon Balet.

Outdoor Innovator


Runner Up: Voormi

Smartwool made merino wool a household word, but the brand has not rested on its laurels: It has continued  to develop smart new ways to use the wondrous natural fabric.

Innovating away at the Smartwool Design Center.

Outdoor-related Company to Work for

Colorado Wilderness Rides and Guides 

Runner Up: Backbone Media

What’s the only thing better than heading out on a trip with this multi-sport outfiitter that offers trips ranging from snowshoeing in Rocky Mountain National Park to climbing Kilimanjaro? Landing a job as one of its guides. 

The Colorado Wilderness Rides and Guides Family.

Climbing Gym

Earth Treks

Runner Up: Movement

Earth Treks opened the largest climbing gym in the world in the former Sports Authority headquarters in Englewood, Colorado in 2018, but the gym won here because it cultivates a true community spirit.

Outdoor Retail Shop

The Trailhead, Buena Vista, Colorado

Runner Up: Wilderness Exchange, Denver, Colorado

This independent shop, which includes the yummy plates of Simple Eatery, is a must-visit location in Buena Vista, Colorado, no matter if you want to buy a new tee, get your skis tuned or head out with Buena Vista Mountain Adventures.

Running Retail Shop

Boulder Running Company/Jackrabbit, Colorado

Runner Up: Runners Roost, Colorado

Boulder is gaga about running—and no one serves that community better.

Bike Retail Shop

Over the Edge Sports, Fruita, Colorado

Runner Up: Full Cycle, Boulder, Colorado

This iconic bike shop, which offers everything from demos to directions helped pioneer the bike culture and built-by-riders-for-riders trail system that has made the town of Fruita an international cycling destination

Over the Edge Sports. Photo by Devon Balet.

Climbing/Hiking Guide Company

Colorado Mountain School, Colorado

Runner Up: Jackson Mountain Guides, Wyoming

Colorado Mountain School employs more AMGA-certified guides than any other guide service in the state and offers clients everything from first-time top-rope excursions to training you for an expedition in the Himalaya.

Whitewater Guide Company

River Runners, Colorado

Runner Up: Whitewater Attainment, Buena Vista, Colorado

Founded in 1972, these paddling pros will keep you safe and smiling anywhere from a spash-filled run down Royal Gorge to a three-day trip in Browns Canyon National Monument.

Bike Guide Company

Beer & Bike Tours, Fort Collins, Colorado

Runner Up: Colorado Backcountry Biker, Fruita, Colorado

Hop in the saddle with Fort Collins’ Beer and Bike Tours—which has won this category three years in a row—and pedal to suds anywhere from Colorado to Japan.

Yoga Studio

The Yoga Tonic, Salida, Colorado

Runner Up: Corepower Yoga, Colorado and Utah

No gym with Ganesha trappings, this community yoga center offers classes that range from Anusara to dance.

Outdoor Non Profit

Women’s Wilderness

Runner Up: SOS Outreach

Through a range of programs, Women’s Wilderness empowers a diverse and inclusive community of women and girls by getting them out in the wild.

Participants in the Girls Lead for Life after-school climbing and leadership program at Earth Treks. Photo by Kriste Peoples.




Runner Up: @loki

Artist and educator Andrea Slusarski’s illustration work offers a beautiful break from all those clinking-glass Boomerangs and bathing-suit selfies. She’s not just fishing for likes and follows either—Slusarski collaborates with everyone from Osprey packs to the Feral Mountain Co. retail shop to Westfax Brewing.



Runner Up: Just a Colorado Gal

Blogging now for eight years, Brendan Leonard, the author of The Art of Getting Lost and Sixty Meters to Anywhere has created a new medium on the flow chart illustration that both makes you laugh and makes a deeper point about the silliness and joy of outdoor culture.

Brendan Leonard of Semi Rad


Liam Doran

Runner Up: Claudia Lopez

With stunning cover images on magazines from Powder to Eleavtion Outdoors (his work has appeared on our cover more than any other photographer), the Breckenridge-based adventure shooter has proved that he has not just an eye for action in big landscapes, but also that he understands how to capture an image that makes your heart beat faster.

Sven Brunso eating pow for breakfast. Photo by Liam Doran.


Jason Blevins

Runner Up: Tracy Ross

The longtime outdoor reporter for The Denver Post and one of the current journalistic giants behind the new, independent Colorado Sun, Jason Blevins has reported on everything from the expansion of the Ikon Pass to a guy who lives in a cave in Moab, gaining a reputation along the way as a top-flight reporter as well as a person who cares about the craft of writing and the world he covers. 

Jason Blevins.


Dustin Harcourt

Runner Up: Tommy Gram 

Longtime Glenwood Springs fly-fishing guide Dustin Harcourt beat out a bevy of young-gun climbers to win this competitive category. Credit that voter support to a huge base of dedicated clients who have trusted the man to get them into fish.

Dustin Harcourt.


Jared Polis

Runner Up: P.T. Wood

Jared Polis made history last November when he became Colorado’s first openly gay governor, but he won the job because he has been an outspoken and committed champion of progressive and environmental causes in Congress.

Gov. polis talks with athlete and advocate Clare Gallagher at a Protect Our Winters event during the 2019 Outdoor Retailer Snow Show in Denver. Photo by M. Thruk.


Julie Mach

Runner Up: Luis Benitez

The Salida-based conservation director for the Colorado Mountain Club (CMC) has dedicated her life to improving land stewardhsip and the lives of other people, working in the trenches for Southwest Conservation Corps and AmeriCorps before bringing her skills and passion to CMC in 2013. 

Julie Mach. Photo by C.J. DeWolf.


Gary Neptune

Runner Up: Tommy Caldwell 

Gary Neptune will always be associated with the iconic Boulder, Colorado outdoor retail shop and community gathering space that he founded in 1972. In fact, he still works there, curating his mountaineering museum which includeds everything from a signed Edmund Hillary boot to Malcolm Daly’s blackened toe. 

Gary Neptune.


Mikaela Shiffrin

Runners Up: Daniel and Elaine Vardamis

Ho hum. Mikaela Shiffrin won her fourth consecutive World Cup this winter. The current most impressive athlete in the U.S. can add that feather to a stunning cap that includes three Olympic medals (two gold), three overall World Cup titles and 56 World Cup wins (with 78 podiums) so far… Maybe someday her agent will want to put her on the cover of Elevation Outdoors?

Mikaela Shiffrin in the Alpe Cimbra. Photo by Marco Gober.


Cedar Wright

Runner Up: Sage Cattabriga-Alosa

We like that this honor is going to a man who will cherish it. A pro climber and filmmaker who is sponsored by The North Face, Mr. Wright has done everything from free-climbed El Cap in a day to honing his dirt-bag credentials along with Alex Honnold in the film The Sufferfest.

Cedar being Cedar. Photo by Taylor Keating.


Asa Firestone

Runner Up: Kristin Carpenter-Ogden

The co-founder of Boulder’s Adventure Lodge—a lovingly remodeled low-key hotel and resort that caters to outdoor-minded visitors and hosts events including film nights with live music—Asa Firestone likes to describe himself as “a washed up explorer turned hotelier.” We see him as the type of visonary you want to share a beer with.

Asa Firestone. Photo by Andrew Bydlon/Caveman Collective.


Mountain Town

Buena Vista, Colorado

Runner Up: Eagle, Colorado

Buena Vista­ won this category by a huge margin (and many businesses in town won other categories). We think that’s because the welcoming town of 2,806 acitive souls situated on the banks of the Arkansas River has fully embraced the promise of outdoor recreation as the backbone of a thriving, sustainable mountain town economy. From the new Surf Hotel, built by former pro kayaker Jed Selby who oversaw the paddling-oriented development of the South Main neighborhood, to the inclusive vibes of gatherings like 14er Fest and CKS Paddlefest, this is a town where life revolves around fun. 

Summer on Main Street in Buena Vista, Colorado. Photo by Seth K. Hughes


The Continental Divide Trail

Runner Up: Hanging Lake Trail, Colorado

Stretching 3,100 miles from Mexico to Canada across the backbone of the Rockies, The Continental Divide National Scenic Trail (CDT) is more than just a long walk. Thanks to the efforts of dedicated land managers and non profits like the Continental Divide Trail Coalition, it has become the poster child for how humans can respect their time trekking in nature.

The Big Agnes crew heads up the CDT. Photo by Devon Balet.

Mountain Bike Ride

Horsethief Bench, Fruita, Colorado

Runner Up: Vitamin B, Buena Vista, Colorado

This 7.8-mile loop, which is a sidetrail off the outstanding Mary’s Loop, dishes out everything from fun slickrock that anyone can handle to technical problems that will help up your game to a section that most mortals will choose to walk—and it’s tough to beat the sweeping view of the Colorado River.

Horsethief Bench. Photo by Devon Balet.

Road Bike Ride

Durango to Silverton, Colorado

Runner Up: Maroon Bells, Aspen, Colorado

The 50-mile, 5,700- vertical foot ride up the Million Dollar Highway from Durango to Silverton will definitely up your heart rate as you spin into the heart of the San Juans. But do it as part of the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic (May 24-26), when the road shuts down to traffic and erstwhile racers try to outpace the train to the top.

Courtesy Iron Horse Bicycle Classic

River Trip

Brown’s Canyon, Colorado

Runner Up: Animas River, Colorado

Created by President Obama in February 2015, Colorado’s newest national monument encompasses over 21,500 acres of river, canyons and forest. The best way to experience it? Get wet and run the Arkansas River through raucous class II-III+ rapids.

Rafting the Arkansas River at Hecla Junction in Browns Canyon National Monument, Colorado. Photo by Seth K. Hughes.

Climbing Area

Eldorado Canyon, Colorado

Runner Up: Shelf Road, Colorado

Sweet sandstone draws climbers here from across the planet. The state park appeals to a wide range of climbers with easier classics like The Yellow Spur (5.9), but there’s plenty of challenge here, too, with testpieces like The Naked Edge (5.11b).

Rob Coppolillo of Vetta Mountain Guides at work in Eldorado Canyon.


Saddlehorn, Colorado National Monument, Colorado

Runner Up: Fruita Campground in Capitol Reef National Park, Utah

Drive four miles up the switchbacks into the red-rock cliffs of the national monument and pitch a tent at these stunning sites on the edge of the mesa. You are just a short drive from world-class mountain bike rides or just stay up here and explore the canyons.

The view from Saddlerock.

Ski/Snowboard Resort

Crested Butte Mountain Resort, Colorado

Runner Up: Telluride, Colorado

Crested Butte may be a resort but, at heart, it has always been able to hold on to its authentic vibe.

Crested  Butte Mountain Resort. Photo by Trent Bona

Resort-accessed Backcountry Ski/Snowboard Terrain

Crested Butte Mountain Resort, Co

Runner Up: Jackson Hole, Wyoming

A big part of why Crested Butte Mountain Resort continues to draw creative skiers and snowboarders and aspiring rippers is the terrain.Tucked away from the tourists on the back side of the mountain, the Teocalli Bowls are where aspiring and grizzled skiers and riders test their skills on drops, chutes and steep shots. 

Zach Pickett casts his vote for Crested Butte. Photo by Dave Kozlowski/CBMR.

SUP Spot

Buena Vista River Park, Colorado

Runner Up: Upper Colorado River, Colorado

Winning this award for the third year in a row, Buena Vista River Park offers SUP-friendly tame and challenging rapids with five in-stream recreational features—all open to the public.

Photo Courtesy Buena Vista River Park.

Fly Fishing River

Frying Pan, Colorado

Runner Up: Taylor Fork, Colorado

Aspen’s famed trout stream delivers when it comes to hooking rainbows and browns. Find a secluded spot to wade in away from the crowds, and be sure to bring mysis patterns to hit the famed Toilet Bowl section on the dam tailwaters on the Frying Pan.

Fly fishing the Gold Medal water of Frying Pan River.
Photo by: John Barnes/Basalt Chamber

Wilderness Area

Maroon-Bells-Snowmass, Colorado

Runner Up: Weminuche, Colorado

No view is more poscard-worthy than the stark pyramids of the Bells. But get out of your car and hit the 100 miles of trails that traverse the 181,535 acres in this special spot.

Photo by Blake Gordon.

Kid-friendly Outdoor Destination

Buena Vista, Colorado

Runner Up: Vail Adventure Ridge, Colorado

BV is an ideal destination for your squirming groms, thanks in big part to numerous local programs that get kids out in the water and on the trails.

Dog-friendly Outdoor Destination

Breckenridge, Colorado

Runner Up: Snowmass Village, Colorado

It seems that everyone in Breckenriege owns a pup. Maybe that’s why the place is so empathetic to canine concerns. You can bring your best friend up in the gondola and most trails and many restaurant decks won’t bark if you enjoy them with Fido here.

Place for Outdoor Singles to Live

Boulder, Colorado

Runner Up: Durango, Colorado

You love the outdoors, yoga, music, craft beer, progressive causes, Patagonia, kombucha and college football? Your perfect match is here.

Single Swedish men congregate atop Boulder’s Flatirons. Photo by Doug Schnitzspahn.

Adventure Park (Zip Lines, etc.)

Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park, Colorado

Runner Up: AVA Rafting & Zipline, Colorado

Thrill rides accessed by a gondola alongside cave tours? Sign us up.


Running Race

Leadville Trail 100

Runner Up: Hardrock 100

The annual “Race across the Sky” has become the holy grail of ultra runners from around the planet. Racers tackle 100 miles of brutal terrain—from elevations of 9,200 to 12,600 feet. If you compete on behalf of one of the race’s official charities, you get guaranteed entry into the race. This year, it takes place on August 17, 2019. Read about how Katie Arnold won the 2018 race here.

Hope Pass in the middle of the Leadville Trail 100. Photo by Blake Gordon.

Road Bike Race

Triple Bypass

Runner Up: Old Man Winter Rally

This road-ride classic traverses 120 miles and 10,000 vertical feet of Colorado’s high country from Evergreen to Avon. You can also sign up for the 30-mile Single Bypass or 75-mile Double Bypass. It will take place on July 13, 2019.

Mountain Bike Race

Colorado State High School MTB Championships

Runner Up: Grand Junction Off-Road

Forget football, track and glee club, teenagers in Colorado get out and hit the singletrack. Held in bike-crazy Durango this year, the event determines the best of this dedicated bunch with over 820 participants taking on the course on October 19-20.

Photo by Tracy Ross.

Paddling Event

The Golden Games, Golden, Colorado

Runner Up: FIBArk, Salida, Colorado

For eight years this celebration of water and paddling ethos has rocked a town better known for beer. The water park takes center stage with fan friendly kayak and SUP comps. It has won this award every year we have run the poll. May 17-19, 2019.

Climbing Event

Ouray Ice Festival, Ouray, Colorado

Runner Up: International Climbers Festival, Lander, Wyoming

Founded by the legendary Jeff Lowe, this celebration of picks and front points has set the standard for how a town can embrace an outdoor sport community. Don’t be scared off: You can watch the best of the best but also have a chance to give ice climbing a try if you have never dared to scale frozen water. Date for 2020 is still TBD.

Morgan Tilton learns the ropes at the Ouray Ice Park. Photo by Xander Bianchi.


Ironman, Boulder, Colorado

Runner Up: 2019 XTERRA Indian Peaks, Eldora, Colorado

Boulder, Colorado prides itself on tight pants and people who can hammer you while Snapchatting and selling green tech stocks. Show them up at this the true test of who is the best at exercise. June 9, 2019.

Toughest Race

Leadville Trail 100

Runner Up: Hardrock 100

Yes, you will suffer. That’s sort of the point of our reader’s favorite race, right?

Photo by Blake Gordon.

Music Festival

Telluride Blues & Brews, Telluride, Colorado

Runner Up: Camp Out For the Cause, Buena Vista, Colorado

The crisp vibes of fall, craft beer and a killer lineup make this one a winner.

Photo courtesy Telluride Blues and Brews.

Multisport Festival

14er Fest, Buena Vista Colorado

Runner Up: GoPro Mountain Games, Vail, Colorado

This homegrown Buena Vista fest brings together all disciplines of outdoor play: off-roading, mountain biking, hiking, fly fishing and trail running. Add in trail events, clinics, camping, live music and local libations and you have the premier event celebrating life among the peaks. Be here September 27-29 for the fun.

14er Fest’s Mount Antero ride is a crossover event that combines mountain biking and off-roading. Photo courtesy 14er Fest.

Beer Festival

Telluride Blues & Brews, Telluride, Colorado

Runner Up: San Juan Brewfest, Durango, Colorado

Telluride’s other big music event is steadily becoming the premier ticket in town. Credit that popularity to a lineup that has included giants like Bonnie Raitt, ZZ Top, Taj Mahal, Peter Frampton and the Violent Femmes. Oh and the beer? Sip on 170 styles of sudes from 56 craft breweries. The big event will take place September 13-15, 2019.

Photo courtesy Telluride Blues and Brews.



Eddyline, Buena Vista, Colorado

Runner Up: Ska, Durango, Colorado

Ever since 2009, when owners Mic and Molley Heynekamp first opened the doors, Eddyline has anchored the social scene and growing outdoor-centric ethos in Buena Vista. Here you can hobnob with river rats and backcountry skiers while you sip on a treat like the Innerglow Red Chile Porter or Raspberry Wheat.


Deerhammer, Buena Vista, Colorado

Runner Up: Peach Street Distillers, Palisade, Colorado

In 2010 Amy and Lenny Eckstein founded Deerhammer distillery with a tasting room right on Buena Vista’s Main Street with a focus on making independent artisan whiskey. Stop by to check out how the process works and sip on the Straight Bourbon.

Vino Salida Wine Cellars, Poncha Springs, Colorado

Runner Up: Wines of the San Juan, Blanco, New Mexico

Right by the shuttle for the Monarch Crest Trail, Steve Flynn crafts impressive wines with grapes from Colorado’s Western Slope. But don’t stop there: Try the outstanding vermouth and honey meade, too.


Stem Ciders, Denver, Colorado

Runner Up: New Mexico Hard Cider, Santa Fe, New Mexico

Stem Ciders opened in 2014 in Denver’s RiNo district in the midst of the once-blighted and now-trendy area’s revival. With a space that’s easy to enjoy and a wide selection of ciders on tap—including special releases such as a killer whiskey barrel-aged apricot cider—it’s no wonder the place is leading the charge when it comes to putting cider on top.


House Rock Kitchen, Buena Vista, Colorado

Runner Up: Hot Tomato, Fruita, Colorado

Our readers have proven time and time again in these polls that they appreciate a taste of the good things in life after a big outdoor session—but they don’t want pretentious meals. Case in point, House Rock where you can enjoy a delicious chiplote burger on the patio with likeminded souls.


The Lariat, Buena Vista, Colorado

Runner Up: The Mangy Moose, Jackson, Wyoming

This classy standby is the place to be in BV, whether you are palling around with hundreds of friends at CKS Paddledfest or just down from a solo Collegiate Peaks scramble.

The scene at The Lariat.

Coffee Shop

Bestslope Coffee, Fruita, Colorado

Runner Up: Salto Coffee Works, Nederland, Colorado

More than just an outstanding coffee house with baristas who create perfect crema and single-origin beans from around the planet, Bestslope is where Fruita locals go to share beta and stories from the trail.

Bestslope. Photo by Devon Balet.

Food Truck

Buena Viking

Runner Up: Big Mike’s Pork N Wings 

BV locals Anna Sitton and Evan Winger serve up comfort food just outside Deerhammer distillery.


Happy Leaf

Runner Up: High Country

Happy Leaf first began selling its magic beverage at the Cherry Creek Farmers Market in 2013. The brand remains committed to organic, locally sourced ingredients in concotions such as the palate-pleasing cranberry lavender.


Tenderfoot Health Collective (THC), Salida, Colorado

Runner Up: Native Roots, Colorado

Providing leaf, edibles and tinctures, Tenderfoot cultivates 100 percent of its signature Craft Cannabis in Colorado’s Boulder County, using zero pesticides. But the caring, engaged staff are the real difference-maker here.

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