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Insider: Denver's Mountain Makeover

you know you're in denver when:

The locals think Heinz ketchup is spicy. You feel improperly dressed wearing a suit without cowboy boots. Your bartender has a Ph.D. in geology. It's early February and people are already talking about next football season. You can't go outdoors without sunglasses. You merge onto the highway at 15 miles an hour. Yours is the third car to run a red light after it's changed. You require knee surgery from all the "healthy" activities you've been doing. You have a collection of shopping bags from the Tattered Cover.
Sources: Westword editor Patricia Calhoun, Wynkoop Brewing Co. owner John Hickenlooper, and Coors Ceramics quality engineer Michael Garnsey (the author's cousin)

ski train

The Ski Train (303/296-4754) runs weekends from Union Station to Winter Park ski resort, from December 18 through April 2. Leave Denver at 7:15 a.m., and you're on the slopes by 9:45. The train leaves Winter Park at 4:15, when the lifts close. Tickets start at $40, and discounted lift tickets are available on board. Buy discounted lift tickets for almost every local ski area at Gart Sports, Safeway and King Soopers supermarkets, and Total service stations.

did you know...

The Denver metropolitan area has a greater percentage of high school and college graduates than any other in the United States. A 1996 federal study credits the city with the "thinnest" residents in the country. Landlocked Denver has one of the nation's highest percentages of certified scuba divers. More library cards per capita are issued in Denver than in any other U.S. city. The fastest-growing market for high-tech jobs is—you guessed it. Of the country's 20 busiest airports, Denver's is the most efficient, says the Federal Aviation Administration. Denver gets 300 sunny days a year—more than either San Diego or Miami Beach.

ocean journey

At Ocean Journey (700 Water St.; 303/561-4450; admission $14.95), two simulated river ecosystems converge under one roof to create one of the largest landlocked aquariums in the country. Walking on the river bottoms while fish and animals frolic above and beside you in Plexiglas tanks, you'll follow the journeys of Indonesia's Kampar River and the Colorado River. At fish's-eye-level you'll see 15,000 specimens of fish, river and sea otters, birds, and two Sumatran tigers (who knew cats would swim?). Try to stand still in front of the crashing wall of water in the Colorado Desert flash flood exhibit, and watch out for sharks when you hit the South China Sea.

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