The standard Paragon trek lasts several days, and hikers sleep each night in the 10th Mountain Division huts within the 300-square-mile region between Vail, Aspen, and Leadville. Paragon will also take climbers on ascents of many of Colorado's fourteeners (the state's 54 peaks higher than 14,000 feet). "But those have become crowded," says Shefchik. "I like to take people up the thirteeners, because nobody's there."
I had just one afternoon and not enough stamina for a thirteener, so we loaded up the animals with a blanket, picnic, and extra jackets for a mere 3,000-foot hike up Uneva Peak. Don prepped our furry porters: "It's going to be a buffet for you."
As grazers, llamas eat at every stop. They loved me; I needed quite a few breathers. They respectfully avoided most of the wildflowers-- corn lilies, delphiniums, and yarrow-- to find edible thistles, fir needles, and grass. I led Dante with a slack rope, turning often to see if he was still there. Llamas are nearly silent on the trail, though they're known to hum gently when they're having a good time.
From Uneva Peak we had a spectacular 360-degree view of the Gore and Sawatch mountain ranges, Collegiate Peaks, and the Holy Cross Wilderness Area. In the thin air, I felt like a willowy balloon. We paused on top over a lunch of smoked trout and cheese, apples and chocolate, while the llamas munched and rested and hummed. Decidedly rejuvenated, the four of us descended in double time, and I wished I'd packed a sleeping bag and signed on for the next three days.
Paragon Guides Box 130, Vail, CO 81658; 970/926-5299, fax 970/926-5298; day treks from $350 for two, including lunch.
Beaver Creek Vilar Center for the Arts 68 Avondale Lane, Beaver Creek; 970/845-8497. Shows at this new 530-seat theater range from the Moscow Chamber Orchestra to the Afro-Cuban jazz of Pancho Sanchez & Latin Big Band.
May Gallery 68 Avondale Lane, Beaver Creek; 970/949-4997. In its first summer season, this loftlike space largely showcases private collections of photography, Western painting, and contemporary art.
Bravo! Colorado Vail Valley Music Festival Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater, Vail; 970/827-5700. Chamber and orchestral music, jazz, and pop concerts. A space on the lawn costs $10, or you can fork over $26 to $35 if you want to sit closer to Mr. and Mrs. Former President.
Vail International Dance Festival Various locations; 970/949-1999. Summer host of the Russian Bolshoi Ballet Academy and the New York City Ensemble.
Jammin' Jazz Nights Lionshead Lawn, Vail; 970/476-1000. Free outdoor performances by musicians such as Ellyn Rucker, Kenneth Walker, and the Clayton Brothers, on Thursdays in August.
Hard-core cyclists say it's cheating to take a chairlift to the top of Vail Mountain and bike down. But if you've just breezed in from someplace smoggy and closer to sea level, consider conquering the first 1,000 feet by lift. A hundred miles of trails and roads, from single-track to Hummer-width, amount to double the biking terrain Vail had five years ago when the town first hosted World Cup mountain bike races.
Countless trail options offer challenging inclines and welcome stretches on which to catch one's breath and take in the view.
The most accessible trails start in Lionshead. Hop onto the Eagle Bahn Gondola ($20 with bike) and catch a ride to Eagle's Nest. From there, pedal Kloser's Klimb up to Patrol Headquarters, then over to the Back Bowls on Grand Traverse. Then Ptarmigan Loop takes you back around to Eagle's Nest. Head home via Lion Down to Bad Simba or the Village Loop. Maps are available at the gondola ticket window.
Starting from Beaver Creek, one option is to take the Centennial Express Lift ($18 with bike) to Spruce Saddle and pedal to the top of the Beaver Creek PHQ (Patrol Headquarters) Hillclimb. From here, there's nowhere to go but down.