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The 5280 Holiday Survival Guide

December is fraught with the potential for poor decision-making in Colorado: ill-fated travel plans, gear you buy as a gift for her that's really for you, pot edibles as stocking stuffers. Don't let bad ideas mar all the merriment. Use this manual to avoid 16 common missteps and find better ways to enjoy whatever you happen to be celebrating this month.

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Bad Idea #1

Destroying your kitchen during an epic DIY cookie-decorating session with your kids.

Photo courtesy of Cook Street School of Culinary Arts

Much Better Idea

Take your little elves to local spots that’ll do the baking—and cleanup—for you.

Decorating Gingerbread Men, $55
December 15 and 23, 3:30 to 5:30 p.m.
The pros at Cook Street School of Culinary Arts whip up an army of unadorned cookies that your kids can ice, sprinkle, and downright bedazzle during this fun, two-hour-long festival of frosting. Bonus: Chef-prepared snacks are included, and parents can indulge in the cash bar.

Third Annual Gingerbread Houses, $40 per house (with one decorator)
Tuesdays through Sundays in December; reservations required
Denver’s demigods of DIY baking are tucked away in a strip mall on Yale Avenue in the southeast part of town. But don’t let the unassuming Bible Park location stop you from making a reservation at My Make Studio, where your kids can go full-on Better Homes & Gardens with fondant, candy, and icing on pre-made gingerbread houses.

Holiday Cookie Workshop, $75
December 2, 4 to 7 p.m.
Spend the afternoon learning how to make and decorate several different holiday cookies at LoHi’s Stir Cooking School. Kids (ages eight and older) and parents can sneak tastes of sugar cookies, white-chocolate-dipped biscotti, molasses honey ginger cookies, dark chocolate candy cane cookies, and eggnog snickerdoodles during this three-hour-long baking bonanza.

Bad Idea #2

Horrifying your eco-conscious family and friends with glitter-spewing holiday cards.

Photo courtesy of Artifact Uprising

Much Better Idea

For a more environmentally friendly option, turn to Denver’s Artifact Uprising.
Colorado may be landlocked, but those sparkly plastic bits can still make it to the ocean, where they wreak havoc on marine life—and no one wants your season’s greetings at the expense of a sea turtle’s health. The custom photo cards in Artifact Uprising’s 2-in-1 line, printed on 100 percent recycled paper, are perforated so your recipients can tear away the picture portion (with your message on the back) to hang on the fridge. The leftover piece is then ready to be repurposed as a gift tag: There’s a punched-out ribbon slot, a greeting like “Happy Holidays” or “Bright!” on the front, and “To:” and “From:” text on the back. From $1.25 per card

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Bad Idea #3

Booking an outrageously priced condo in the Vail Valley toward the end of December.

Much Better Idea

Try Steamboat Springs.

Photo courtesy of RooM the Agency/Alamy Stock Photo

We love Vail. The ski mountain is unparalleled; the village is energetic; and the people-watching is epic. But damn is it pricey over the holidays. HomeAway statistics from 2016 and 2017 suggest nightly rental rates jumped 74 percent, on average, during the weeks surrounding Christmas and New Year’s. Just how much dough are we talking? The average nightly rate was roughly $880. Instead, Centennial Staters looking to take their flatlander families to the mountains to make some holiday turns should consider another one of Colorado’s iconic—but less spendy—ski towns: Steamboat Springs (pictured). According to HomeAway, nightly rental rates only increased by about 50 percent during the same time frame, giving lodgers’ wallets a slight break at $550 per night on average—a nice savings when you still have to put presents under the tree.

Charitably Inclined

‘Tis the season to give. —Denise Mickelsen

My younger sister and I didn’t get a lot of Christmas presents as children; there was usually one “big” gift for each of us—a Pound Puppies stuffie in the fourth grade or, in high school, a longed-for vintage leather motorcycle jacket—along with a book or two, a small stocking filled with candy, and maybe a cassette tape. “It’s Jesus’ birthday,” my devout Roman Catholic mother would say, “not yours!”

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And yet, I come from a family of givers: a social worker mom who helped neglected children, people experiencing homelessness, and the terminally ill; a pediatrician dad who wrote none too few checks to nonprofits; and my educator sister, who once traveled to India to work with Sister Theresa’s Missionaries of Charity and to Poland to build houses with Habitat for Humanity. Inspired by their compassion and do-goodery, I donate and volunteer and fundraise for organizations whose missions are important to me: researching treatments for pediatric cancer, fighting food insecurity, and informing the masses through public radio.

So, I guess it makes sense that, come December, the adults in our family don’t ask each other, “What do you want?” but rather, “Which organization do you want me to support in your name this year?” My sister prefers Doctors Without Borders or the Equal Justice Initiative, while St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and Cookies for Kids’ Cancer have meant the most to my mom and me ever since my cousin’s 18-month-old daughter was diagnosed with leukemia and a friend lost his five-year-old son to a brain tumor.

In this instance, the impersonal act of writing a check (or, OK, pointing and clicking) becomes incredibly personal—and meaningful. Instead of enabling my dad’s salt-and-pepper-shaker obsession and my sister’s predilection for oversize earrings, I can help send medical relief to Indonesian tsunami victims or fund research for new pediatric cancer treatments while simultaneously showing my eight-year-old son that caring about something larger than oneself is much more important than receiving yet another cookbook for my already overgrown collection. I suppose I’ve turned into my mother in a few (good) ways—but my son will also find a Switch game or two under our tree, because, hey, Jesus was a giver too.

Bad Idea #4

Playing bad Santa by giving cousin Johnny from Georgia pot edibles in his stocking.

Much Better Idea

Go the vape pen route.
Not only does Johnny strike us as the kinda guy who doesn’t know 10 milligrams is the recommended dosage for an edible, but we’re pretty sure he’s also the kinda guy who might leave those chocolate truffle treats on the coffee table for your toddler to find. Instead, tuck a discreet, Colorado-designed O.penVape disposable vape pen with a few different 250 milligram cartridges—available with indica, sativa, or hybrid strains—into that mantle sock. Not only will you save Johnny from himself (the high is slightly more controlled than those from edibles), but if he hits the indica, maybe he’ll finally stop talking and fall asleep.

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Bad Idea #5

Missing out on your own holiday party because you’re stuck behind the bar cart mixing cocktails.

Much Better Idea

Batched drinks.
These en masse beverages are the most efficient way to get large groups into the holiday spirit(s). This recipe from mix master Minetta Gould of LoHi’s four-month-old Lady Jane comes together in about 10 minutes. “I love the combination of apple cider and aged spirits,” Gould says. “They complement one another well and will warm your soul on cold nights.”

Winter Hymn Punch
Photo by Sarah Boyum

Makes 10 servings

Mix into a punch bowl with decorative ice, cinnamon sticks, and lemon wheels just before serving.

Bad Idea #6

Making The Nutcracker the only theater production you go see this season.

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Much Better Idea

We love watching a tool for busting open walnuts come to life as much as the next guy, but variety is the (pumpkin) spice of life. Here are six local productions to mix up—or, at least, add to—your holiday theater routine.

Photo courtesy of Mark Waugh/Alamy Stock Photo

Elf – The Musical
“The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear.” Presented by the Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities, the musical adaptation of the beloved 2003 Will Ferrell flick takes Buddy the Elf’s quote to heart, telling the story of an orphaned human raised by Santa’s toymakers through more than a dozen original songs. Through December 23

Joaquín’s Christmas
Penned by Su Teatro Cultural and Performing Arts Center’s longtime executive artistic director, Anthony J. Garcia, this two-hour play set in 1950s Pueblo is filled with colorful characters: an abuela with magical powers; a talking, cigar-smoking dog; greedy Mr. Van Rich-n-Wealthy; and, of course, seven-year-old Joaquín, who has visions of a new bike dancing in his head. Through December 23

Elf’s Anatomy: Putting the ER in Merry Christmas
Bovine Metropolis Theater writes an original holiday comedy show every year, ensuring jokes that are both fresh and clean (no R-rated sexual references or swear words). Through a mix of sketches and songs, 2018’s production will tell the stories of people unlucky enough to be in the ER on Christmas. Through December 23

Miss Bennet: Christmas At Pemberley
The Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company is following up its fall production of Pride and Prejudice with a sequel of sorts: This clever continuation, which premiered in 2016, is set two years after the events of the original. Perennially single bookworm Mary Bennet finally gets to navigate a romantic entanglement of her own when she and the rest of the family visit Mr. and Mrs. Darcy for the holidays. December 6 to 24

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The Great Debate
The December iteration of Buntport Theater’s recurring this-versus-that show will feature its sketch-comedy pros passionately discussing the respective merits of Jon Snow (of HBO’s Game of Thrones fame) and Jack Frost. December 18

The Humans
For only the second time in its history, Curious Theatre Company is putting on a holiday show—but its choice of this 2016 Tony Award winner is a sign it’s not abandoning its commitment to thought-provoking works. As Stephen Karam’s play follows a family through Thanksgiving dinner, they wrestle with topics such as Alzheimer’s, religion, and heartbreak. Through December 22

Bad Idea #7

Flying into or out of DIA on December 20 or 21.

Much Better Idea

Be open to flying on days you might otherwise discount.

Photo courtesy of Denver International Airport

The good folks at DIA are expecting to frustrate 190,000 travelers per day on the Thursday and Friday before Christmas this year. That’s about 16,000 more passengers per day than normal. So, what’s a transplanted Coloradan to do if she has to visit family elsewhere? “The Tuesday before Christmas is typically the quietest day to travel, relative to other days in the holiday time frame,” says DIA spokesperson Emily Williams. “Also, December 24 is always one of the quietest days of the year.” No matter when you travel, though, it’s often TSA standing between you and your gate. If you haven’t signed up for TSA Precheck (why haven’t you done this?), make sure that if you’re in line on December 22, 26, or 21—the top three busiest days for screening at DIA in 2017—you follow these holiday guidelines: Be inside the terminal at least two hours before your flight. Don’t wrap gifts you’re taking through security. And remember that TSA will confiscate that zip-top bag of pre-made cookie frosting if there’s more than 3.4 ounces of sugary goodness.

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Bad Idea #8

Waiting until January 1 to start shedding those holiday pounds.

Much Better Idea

Register for a few of these December fun runs to keep that hot chocolate from sticking to your ribs (and thighs, and belly, and…) in the first place.

The Santa Stampede. Photo by Tim Hancock

The ColderBolder
You’ll Suffer For: Five kilometers
On: Dec. 1
In: Boulder

The Rudolph Ramble
You’ll Suffer For: Five kilometers
On: Dec. 2
In: Denver

The All-Out Fa La La
You’ll Suffer For: Five kilometers, 10 kilometers, or 13.1 miles (a half-marathon)
On: Dec. 2
In: Westminster

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Winterfest
You’ll Suffer For: Five kilometers
On: Dec. 8
In: Thornton

The Jingle Bell Run
You’ll Suffer For: Five or 10 kilometers
On: Dec. 9
In: Denver

The Santa Stampede
You’ll Suffer For: One kilometer (for kids), one mile, five kilometers, or 10 kilometers
On: Dec. 15
In: Littleton

A Christmas Carol Classic & Tiny Tim Fun Run
You’ll Suffer For: Five kilometers
On: Dec. 22
In: Denver

Resolution
You’ll Suffer For: Five kilometers
On: Dec. 31
In: Denver

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Photo by Sarah Boyum

Bad Idea #9

Blindly trying to replicate your grandmother’s famous homemade rugelach for Hanukkah.

Much Better Idea

Buy them. Or take a chef’s advice.

Photo by Glen Delman Photography

Trust us: If you don’t know what you’re doing, these exquisite but finicky little pastry twists won’t do your bubbe proud. Fortunately, you have options: The easiest is to visit RiNo’s newest Jewish deli, Rye Society, where you can pick up apricot, chocolate, or Nutella versions that go perfectly with lighting the menorah. But in case you insist on baking something yourself, we spoke with Cindy Kutner (pictured), who makes 240 rugelach each week for her nephew, Jerrod Rosen, co-owner of Rye Society. Kutner spent three weeks about 10 years ago perfecting her secret rugelach recipe. “I gained nine pounds,” she says. “But it was worth it.” We agree; her Hanukkah treats taste like happiness wrapped in flaky dough. To help your rugelach at least resemble the ones your grandma makes, we asked Kutner to share a few insights.

“Traditional rugelach shouldn’t be too crispy and shouldn’t taste too sugary; they’re supposed to taste like butter and cream cheese.”

“Only use good butter and high-quality cream cheese. Nothing off-brand. Using shortening is what makes them overly crispy.”

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“I weigh everything. And I prep everything—the chocolate, the preserves—before I make the dough and assemble them.”

“I make my apricot rugelach into crescent shapes. If you make a roll like you often do with chocolate, the fruit squishes out and you lose all your filling.”

“I’m not going to give all my secrets away—like how I apply my chocolate—but I will say I use three kinds. Sometimes Valrhona, sometimes an Israeli chocolate. I use fancy chocolate.”

Photo courtesy of Collective Retreats

Bad Idea #10

Purchasing his and her steel-frame packs because you think it’ll compel her to go camping with you.

Much Better Idea

If your SO is an uptown girl, don’t use this gift-giving opportunity to goad her into that 25-mile loop trip. Instead, ease her into the backcountry at one of these glamping destinations.

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Collective Retreats Vail
The rundown: Surrounded by the grandeur of the 4 Eagle Ranch near Wolcott, Collective Retreats’ you-can’t-really-call-them-tents tents give you the chance to experience adventures like fly-fishing, ATV tours, white-water rafting, zip lining, and horseback riding in the Vail Valley.
Why she’ll love it: The secluded, more upscale Summit Tents (pictured) not only have en-suite bathrooms and king beds, but they also come with breakfast and concierge help for booking activities.
What you’ll shell out: Summit Tent prices range from $400 to $700 per night, depending on the season. Journey Tents, which have fewer amenities, start at $125 and run as high as $275.

Dunton River Camp
The rundown: Tucked along the West Fork of the Dolores River, not too far from Telluride, this eight-tent resort has a Swiss Family Robinson vibe—even if the king-bed-outfitted, cow-hide-rug-adorned, en-suite-bathroom-equipped canvas abodes aren’t actually in the trees.
Why she’ll love it: Dunton River Camp staff will deliver hot coffee to your tent whenever you want to begin your morning. Then, when hunger strikes, a chef-prepared breakfast awaits at the Farmhouse, a short jaunt away from your zippered front door.
What you’ll shell out: Summer high-season rates start at $1,650 per couple, per night.

Royal Gorge Cabin
The rundown: An outdoor recreation outfitter for four decades, Royal Gorge Cabins has recently added new lodging choices to a business portfolio that includes white-water rafting and zip line tours. Although this Cañon City operation offers funky-cool cabins, the safari-style tents have queen beds, Wi-Fi, evaporative coolers for hot nights, and plenty of outlets for your devices. Glampers use the nearby shower house and shared bathrooms.
Why she’ll love it: Each tent comes with a spacious deck and a private fire pit made for canoodling.
What you’ll shell out: Tents run from $179 to $239 per night.

Ringing It In

New Year’s Eve plans gone all wrong go so right. —Lindsey B. Koehler

It wasn’t exactly the group of people with whom I would’ve chosen to begin the new year. A random smattering of my husband’s college friends—most of them strangers to me—had coincidentally collected in Denver on December 31. Capitalizing on fate, this contingent of New Year’s Eve orphans had descended on my Wash Park bungalow in preparation for a Champagne-soaked night out in the Mile High City.

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But before we could call a cab, Colorado’s moody winter skies opened. The snow was coming down fast and heavy, and the roads were blanketed in minutes. My husband and I looked at each other: Slick conditions plus roads full of inebriated drivers is a dangerous equation. We weren’t willing to risk it to spend too much money on bad booze in crowded bars.

That left us without a plan. Less than thrilled by the thought of staring at each other at the house—or worse, watching Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve—we pivoted. What if we walked somewhere to get a drink? We pulled on wool hats and gloves and jackets and, as we locked the door behind us, prayed the little wine bar a half-mile down the street would take us in without a reservation on one of the most reservation-y nights of the year.

The chilly walk through residential streets worked some snow-globe magic on our upended evening. Big flakes stuck to our eyelashes, the cold flushed our cheeks pink, and our footfalls squeaked in the accumulating snow. The increasingly good vibe only grew stronger when we peered into the bar’s windows to see that it was virtually empty. In fact, as we trudged inside, the proprietress said she’d been considering closing. She set us up at a table by a big window and began pouring good bubbly without so much as a word from us. We watched the snow fall; we toasted away several bottles of Champagne; we laughed; we reminisced; and we watched the clock strike midnight…and go well past it.

Rarely have I recognized in real time that a moment was genuinely special. That night it was clear. To this day, it is one of the best New Year’s Eves I’ve ever had. The unusual circumstances certainly contributed to the allure of that night, but that doesn’t mean we haven’t tried to replicate the alchemy. All these years later, if we do decide to leave the house on the final evening of December, we always think about how to avoid the crowds, try to stay off the roads, go in search of a lonely spot, and, more than anything else, remember that “Auld Lang Syne” had it right: There’s something to be said for preserving the older relationships in our lives.

Photo courtesy of Western Daughters Butcher Shoppe

Bad Idea #11

Thinking you can go to King Soopers’ butcher department on December 22 and find the exact cuts of meat you need for your holiday meals.

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Much Better Idea

Buy ahead of time from a local butcher.
It’s a novel concept, we know, but being organized means you’ll save yourself anxiety while simultaneously getting great (and often local) product from the likes of Blackbelly Butchery & Market or Western Daughters Butcher Shoppe. We know everyone’s got a different idea of what a traditional holiday feast looks like—and these meat mongers can often get you anything you want with enough advance notice—but we suggest considering these 2018 specials.

Blackbelly Butchery & Market
Try Carter Country Meats’ standing rib roast ($34.99 per pound); Tender Belly spiral-cut hams ($12 per pound); and holiday charcuterie boards that can be customized with items like prosciutto, culatello, country ham, dried sausage, chorizo, and ’nduja (price depends on size and desired inclusions). Orders must be made in person or by phone, at 720-479-8296, by December 15.

Western Daughters Butcher Shoppe
Tied and hinged, dry-aged rib roast (roughly $32 to $50 per pound), rack of lamb ($28 per pound), Hanukkah-ready brisket ($12 per pound), and skin-on pork loin ($9 per pound) are all available for order online and can be picked up at Western Daughters’ location at 3326 Tejon Street. The butcher doesn’t have a hard deadline, but cuts can run out as the holidays near.

Photo by Kat Cozzard

Bad Idea #12

Getting your chakras in a twist because you’re stressed out about the winter solstice (Friday, December 21) supper your friends from yoga class talked you into throwing.

Much Better Idea

Let someone else do the dishes.
Planning a meal for a big group can disrupt even the most Zen host’s flow. Thankfully, Denver’s 14-month-old Cloth & Gold delivers dinner parties in a box, each complete with a themed table-scape—dishes, flatware, table runners, candleholders, etc.—a suggested menu with food and cocktail recipes, and a playlist. For a Yule festival celebration, founder Bridget Rogers recommends the nature-inspired Wish I Had A River setup, which stars rattan chargers, birch-wrapped vases, and sturdy blue goblets for serving wassail. The most om-worthy part? At the end of your three-day rental period, you simply put the dirty dishes into provided containers and set them out for pickup. $18 per person (from four to 40)

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Dillon’s Ice Castles. Photo by A.J. Mellor

Bad Idea #13

Losing your cool—and the holiday spirit—as you navigate a string of taillights while attempting to cruise one of Denver’s Griswold-y neighborhoods.

Much Better Idea

Wander through the splendor—and maybe grab a beverage, too.
Why confine yourself to a car and, ahem, amateur setups when Colorado boasts a plethora of professional holiday light displays that can be explored on foot? Here, a few of our favorite winter wonderlands for walking, plus what they have to offer beyond luminosity.

 

Photo by Ken Rager

Garden of Lights
Where: The Gardens on Spring Creek in Fort Collins
Bonus: Your little believers can give Santa their lists (Friday and Sunday only) while older and wiser kids geek out on the dinosaurs in the Primordial Forest.

Electric Safari
Where: Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs
Bonus: Take the chairlift-esque Sky Ride ($4 for adults, $3 for kids) for a unique view of the lights—both in the zoo and spread across the city of Colorado Springs.

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Adventure Golf Lights
Where: Adventure Golf & Raceway in Westminster
Bonus: Get in 54 holes of mini-golf while navigating glowing obstacles like a giant talking tree and an erupting volcano.

Photo by Anheuser Busch

Brewery Lights
Where: The Anheuser-Busch campus in Fort Collins
Bonus: Free beer samples warm you from the inside while fire pits keep your extremities toasty.

Zoo Lights
Where: The Denver Zoo
Bonus: Near the Toyota Elephant Passage, you’ll find a new Vietnamese-inspired market, with booths selling everything from deep-fried snacks to gift-worthy trinkets, as well as floating origami swans.

Photo by Scott Dressel-Martin, courtesy of Denver Botanic Gardens

Santa’s Village at Chatfield Farms
Where: Littleton
Bonus: Fixtures like Santa’s cinema, a workshop with craft vendors, and real live reindeer make you feel like you’ve traveled to the North Pole.

A Hudson Christmas
Where: The Hudson Gardens & Event Center in Littleton
Bonus: Grab a locally roasted Kaladi coffee from the on-site outpost of Nixon’s Coffee House, then wander the winding, woodsy trails that take you around a reflective pond and through a tunnel of fairy lights.

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Blossoms of Light
Where: Denver Botanic Gardens
Bonus: Assume control of the light field in the UMB Amphitheater by using a tablet screen to change its colors and make the LEDs follow the path of your finger. Or simply stroll around arm-in-arm with your date, looking for strategically placed mistletoe.

Ice Castles
Where: Dillon
Bonus: The colored lights frozen inside this enormous (as in, 25 million pounds) icicle structure—which, depending on the weather, should be ready for visitors in late December—are secondary to the enchanting castle itself.

Bad Idea #14

Giving sweaters (or socks, or holiday hand towels, or ice cream serving dishes, or some weird gadget from the Brookstone catalogue) that no one on your list needs or wants.

Much Better Idea

Bestow an actual experience on your loved ones.
Many of us have way too much stuff in our lives. This holiday season, let’s make a concerted effort to curtail the clutter, shall we? Whether you’re shopping for Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, Festivus, or Boxing Day, we suggest presenting something you can’t wrap in shiny paper. If you lived in, well, a lot of other places, that might sound like something better left to a jolly old elf with magical reindeer. But you live here, where amazing experiences abound. So, what should you not put a bow on for each type of person on your list?

Photo by Rachel Becker

For the Contemplative Soul
A three-day meditation retreat ($210 to $658 per person, including tuition and meals) at northern Colorado’s groovy Shambhala Mountain Center.

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For the Powderhound
A full-day cat-skiing trip with Irwin Guides ($650 per person) at Irwin, a section of the West Elk range that receives as much as 430 inches of snow each year.

For the Adrenaline Junkie
American Adventure Expeditions’ the Numbers: Deluxe Tour package ($120 per person), which starts with an intermediate adventure in Browns Canyon National Monument. After a riverside lunch, the day ends with the splashy, raucous fun of the Numbers, a class IV+ section of the Arkansas River near Buena Vista.

For the Animal Lover
The Up-Close Animal Encounter program ($25 to $75 per guest) at the Denver Zoo, an experience that offers the chance to feed, touch, and learn about animals like giraffes, rhinos, penguins, and flamingos.
denverzoo.org

For the Puzzler
A session at Escapology, an escape room outlet in Five Points where participants can choose from a lineup of seven different games—all of them designed to exercise that big ol’ brain of yours. Bonus: This game purveyor also has an attached bar.

For the Baker
A pie-crust-making seminar ($45) with pastry chef Cheryl Wolf at Post Oak Hall, a food and retail pop-up space in Wheat Ridge.

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Photo by Laurie Smith

For the foodie
A membership to Feast Locally, which, for $80, gives your giftee a six-month window to get 20 percent off at a rotating list of some of the Mile High City’s finest eateries, including Annette, the Way Back, Denver Milk Market, and the Bindery.

For the Explorer
The America the Beautiful pass ($80), which gives the cardholder unlimited access to national parks—Colorado boasts four!—and national wildlife refuges. It also covers day-use fees at national forests and grasslands as well as fees for lands and waters managed by the Bureau of Land Management.

Photo courtesy of the Art Students League of Denver

For the Visual Artist
A class that teaches the fundamentals of drawing ($262), wheel throwing ($207), or classical oil painting ($207) at the venerable Art Students League of Denver.

Photo courtesy of Ronald Karpilo/Alamy Stock Photo

Bad Idea #15

Skiing with everyone and their brothers (and cousins and aunts and uncles and grandparents) on the days surrounding Christmas and New Year’s.

Much Better Idea

Ski on December 25 and January 1.
Yep, really. Although daily attendance numbers are unavailable, Colorado Ski Country USA says the anecdotal evidence is strong. “Both Christmas Day and New Year’s Day are relatively lift-line-free, especially earlier in the day,” says Chris Linsmayer, public affairs manager at Colorado Ski Country USA, “as people tend to be moving slower on those mornings.” Whether they’re waking up to Santa’s bounty or nursing a hangover, it seems clicking into the sticks is secondary for enough folks that you can take lap after lap without so much as nodding at the liftie.

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Photo courtesy of the Gaylord Rockies Resort & Convention Center

Bad Idea #16

Cramming all your visiting family into your Mayfair bungalow.

Much Better Idea

Book a hip Denver hotel.
As of December 18, when the 1,501-room Gaylord Rockies Resort & Convention Center opens its gargantuan doors near DIA, 10 new hotels will have debuted in Denver in the past 24 months. Use our guide to determine which one to book for your loved ones—to ensure you still love them come 2019.

Send Your: Brother and his five children (who are definitely on the naughty list)
To: Gaylord Rockies Resort & Convention Center
Because: They can burn off their Christmas-cookie-fueled sugar highs in the indoor and outdoor pools, which feature three water slides.

Send Your: Mother-in-law, who always complains about your coffee
To: The Maven Hotel
Because: She’ll wake up to a variety of options for artisanal caffeine, from a pour-over setup in her room to locally roasted joe at the Huckleberry Roasters outpost in this LoDo hotel’s lobby.

Send Your: Aunt who never travels without her yappy Yorkie, Princess Buttercup
To: Hotel Born
Because: Dogs are given the royal treatment (for no extra charge), from treats at the check-in desk to their own plush beds in the guest rooms, at this Kimpton property near Union Station.

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Send Your: Elitist cousin with expensive tastes
To: The Jacquard Hotel & Rooftop
Because: The marble bathrooms, custom-made linens, and in-room splits of bubbles at Cherry Creek’s two-month-old Autograph Collection hotel will impress even the pickiest of travelers.

Stitched With Love

Continuing a family tradition of homemade presents. —Kasey Cordell

When I was four years old, all I wanted for Christmas was a Cabbage Patch Kids toy. But in the wake of the early 1980s recession, Santa was on a budget—and that budget didn’t have room in it for two plastic, ugly-faced $30 dolls for my older sister and me. So my mom, a skilled seamstress, did what any loving parent with a foot pedal and an acceptance of sleep deprivation would do: She made them. At night, after work, after making dinner, after reading to us, she would hunch over her Viking sewing machine for hours.

When Christmas morning came, Tami and I raced to the tree to find two dolls. One had red hair and blue eyes (Tami’s); the other had blond hair and green eyes (mine). I knew, of course, that they weren’t Cabbage Patch Kids, but as I cradled the doll, I understood what I held was something much more special: I’d heard Mama’s sewing machine going late into the night on Christmas Eve—and in that moment I knew why. What I was holding wasn’t some factory-made, tacky toy produced overseas; it was a one-of-a-kind work of love. And, just like the real thing, it was ugly.

We outgrew the Cabbage Patch Kids, but we never outgrew the tradition my parents established that year: Every holiday, each of my family members still tries to make at least one homemade gift. In my early adult years, when I was a struggling journalist on a budget, I spent hours hunched over my wobbly kitchen table, cutting, gluing, painting, embroidering, and crocheting everything from fabric books to tile mosaics to wool hats.

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I’ve refined my process since those early years—mostly on account of my abject ineptitude in all things artsy—and now often rely on digital tools (thank you, Adobe Creative Suite) as well as culinary ones (like ovens for baking fortune cookies with personalized notes tucked inside). I’ve also expanded the homemade gift-giving to my friends, because anyone with a Visa can buy a sweater. But it takes really knowing someone to dream up a present they couldn’t buy for themselves, and it takes a commitment to that relationship to see your project—ugly as it may end up being—through to completion.

My sister still has our Cabbage Patch Kids. She recently hauled them out of the closet to inspect how they’d fared over the decades. They’re a little rough around their nylon edges; their yarn hair is falling out; and one threaded eye is a little droopier than the others. Somewhere along the way, they also lost their clothes. With their imperfect seams exposed, two things became evident: We had loved those dolls. And our mom loved us.

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