- Heather McDorman & Jodi Blake
Top 10 Highlights of Our High-Altitude Trip to Colorado Springs
The Friendsville Square team traveled to the great state of Colorado this month with fun, figure skating, mountains, and merriment on our minds.
Jodi and I are fans of figure skating, and we have traveled together to a couple national and international figure skating competitions before. So when we learned that an international figure skating competition was taking place this month amidst the beautiful scenery and bright skies of Colorado Springs, it signaled the perfect opportunity for a mid-winter getaway!
We love planning travel adventures that take us to new places (although Jodi mostly remembers a family vacation to the city when she was 5 years old). The cherry on top of our travel dessert was incorporating one of our sports passions -- figure skating competitions.
There was plenty to see in and around the city, and the weather (on the whole) was great, so we wanted to share our favorite outings, experiences, and tales.
With that, let’s commence with our Top 10 Highlights of our high-altitude trip to Colorado Springs!
Number 10: Cool Cars
Jodi: You might not expect cars to make a top 10 list, but some unexpected encounters with cars certainly made this trip more interesting. And it all started when we went to the counter to pick up our rental car at the Colorado Springs airport.
The car rental agent noticed that Heather is from St. Louis and asked if she is a Kansas City Chiefs fan – since the Super Bowl was coming up in six days. “Absolutely!” Heather answered, and I chimed in that I am, too. (Well, to be honest, I still have a soft spot for the Chicago Bears, but it’s been exciting to watch Patrick Mahomes and team the last couple years.)
To our surprise, Patrick (the agent, not the quarterback) announced that he would upgrade us to a Range Rover because we are Chiefs fans! At first we thought he was kidding, but then he handed the keys to us and we confirmed they said Range Rover. We felt very special driving around in such a nice SUV! It was really hard to return it at the airport a couple days later after we didn’t need it any longer.
At that point, we turned to Uber drivers to reach our non-walkable destinations. It was one of our Uber drivers that surprised us next when he picked us up in a Tesla – a first for both of us. Heather has a knack for asking questions, so we had a great conversation with the driver as we learned more about the car’s features, how charging works, and what he thinks about the car (he’s a fan).
Number 9: The Super Bowl
Heather: While we are both big figure skating fans, we also love football. So when we found out the Super Bowl would take place during our trip to Colorado Springs, we knew we were facing a dilemma: go to the figure skating gala (the after-competition exhibition of champions) OR go back to the hotel room and watch the Super Bowl. Add in the fact that the only Missouri football team, the Kansas City Chiefs, made it back to the big game and that made the decision a bit easier.
We both agreed: we would camp out in the hotel, order Door Dash, and partake in a batch of our traditional Super Bowl treat – Frosty Delight. The game was incredibly competitive, but to our “delight,” the Chiefs erased a 10-point deficit in the second half and kicked the winning field goal in the final seconds! Clearly, we made the right choice. 🙌🏈
Number 8: The Broadmoor Resort
Slideshow (click arrows to advance photos) / Photo 1: Part of The Broadmoor hotel and resort complex / Photo 2: View across Cheyenne Lake / Photo 3: Mosaic tile floor inside the resort / Photo 4: Seating area outside The Bar pub/restaurant / Photo 5: Café Julie's bakery and eatery
Jodi: We both love to plan out a travel itinerary for our trips, but building in flexibility is just as important to us. When you can change up what’s next on the day’s agenda, it can often pay off and become a highlight of your trip. On this trip, we found that The Broadmoor hotel resort was just a few blocks away from a museum we had just toured. Two women we talked with at the museum recommended going there for lunch, so we did just that. This famous luxury property, sitting at the base of Cheyenne Mountain, combines the majesty of the West with the opulence of European elegance. The 3,000-acre property was purchased in 1916 by Spencer Penrose and partners Albert E. Carlton and C. M. MacNeill. Construction of the initial resort buildings was completed in 1918. Today the property has 784 hotel rooms and many amenities, including three golf courses, indoor and outdoor pools, tennis courts, a full-service spa, multiple restaurants and retails shops, and much more. While the lunch fare itself was pretty good in The Bar pub/restaurant, the stunning views from our window-side table out over the resort grounds were worth it. After lunch we walked around the main building and checked out Café Julie's (named after Penrose’s wife). There Heather found some chocolates for her hubby’s Valentine’s gift. The pastries in the display case looked incredibly delicious, but we somehow resisted buying one of each kind. If you’re close by, this resort is definitely worth a stop, a stroll around, and a treat or meal. There are other restaurants on property that non-guests can partake of, but you may want to check with the resort staff to make sure reservations aren’t needed.
Number 7: Restaurants
Slideshow (click arrows to advance photos) / Photo 1: Entrance to The Rabbit Hole, an underground restaurant / Photo 2: White Rabbit signature drink with flaming marshmallow / Photo 3: Urban Egg -- A Daytime Eatery / Photo 4: Bourbon Brothers Smokehouse & Tavern
Heather: Rule number one of travel is don’t eat at a restaurant you can go to at home. Besides some Door Dash orders, we held to that rule. Our first strategy to find a nice dinner restaurant was to ask fellow blogger Alan Campbell (Alan’s Heaven) if he had any recommendations based on a trip he took last year that included a stop in Colorado Springs. He recommended The Rabbit Hole and it did not disappoint. It was a bit strange finding the entrance – which is a cross between a bus stop and a subway entrance located in the middle of a sidewalk. Once we spied it – which was helped by a plethora of fairy lights – we were on our way down into the Alice in Wonderland-inspired underground restaurant. The interior boasts an Alice feel with a cute bar, quaint booths and nooks. Jodi started with a glass of Pinot Grigio and I dared to partake of their signature martini – The White Rabbit (vanilla vodka, coconut rum, and a dash of cream, topped with a flaming marshmallow). Fortunately, the food was as tasty as the ambiance was amusing. Between the two of us, we enjoyed Chicken Cordon Bleu with charred carrots and a Bison Short Rib with asparagus. Alan was not going “mad” when he offered up this idea. We were glad we traversed down The Rabbit Hole! The next morning – while we still had our rental car – we ventured out for breakfast (my favorite meal of the day) and found, thanks to Yelp, the Urban Egg – A Daytime Eatery. The restaurant had a very cool vibe – natural and friendly, which was mirrored in the wait staff. Best of all, the food was delish. Jodi noshed on a Breakfast Bowl – a mix of eggs, veggies, cheese and hash browns. I had to try their award-winning buttermilk biscuit and sage sausage gravy plate including eggs and hash browns. Everything came out perfectly, and we were set for a day of sightseeing. Following our early dining excursions, we settled for food at the Broadmoor World Arena, the hotel breakfast, and Door Dash. We decided to splurge on a Sunday brunch near the end of our trip and nabbed reservations at the Bourbon Brothers Smokehouse & Tavern in a part of town we had yet to see. This sprawling restaurant contains multiple dining areas along with a bourbon tasting room, a cigar patio, and a library room for intimate gatherings. We sat out in the sunroom on a bright Sunday morning and enjoyed a lovely buffet brunch (including a carving station and made-to-order omelets). The longer drive to North Colorado Springs was worth it – we enjoyed another tasty meal in a pretty special spot.
Number 6: Garden of the Gods
Slideshow (click arrows to advance photos) / Photo 1: View towards snow-covered Pikes Peak from the Garden of the Gods Visitor and Nature Center / Photo 2: Heather standing by bison display inside the Visitor and Nature Center / Photo 3: View from car windshield as we begin our self-guided audio tour through the park / Photos 4 and 5: Red rock formations / Photo 6: Balanced Rock / Photo 7: Steamboat Rock / Photo 8: Jodi standing among smaller red rocks at one of the pull-off areas
Jodi: A definite must-see for a trip to Colorado Springs is the incredible Garden of the Gods public park just outside the city. Here you will find towering red rock formations resulting from millions of years of glaciation and erosion that all started in the Pleistocene Ice Age. As each successive age deposited sediment and the overall landscape changed from land to sand dunes, to shallow seas and oceans, different horizontal layers built up before then being forced slowly upwards, then stood up vertically, pushed around, and even slanted. A surveyor, Rufus Cable, described the area in 1859 with these immortal words: “Why, it is a fit place for the Gods to assemble. We will call it the Garden of the Gods.” Plan to spend at least a couple hours to explore the Visitor and Nature Center to learn more about this wide area of natural beauty and even a new species of dinosaur that was discovered from a fossil found back in 1878. But don't worry; there are even more ways to explore this park, including tours by jeep, Segway, bike and horseback; hiking trails; rock climbing; and picnic areas. We opted for the self-guided audio tour through a free app. I drove us along some steep, winding and well-paved roads from one magnificent rock formation to the next while we listened to different experts explain what we were seeing. Many formations have descriptive names like Kissing Camels, Balanced Rock, Steamboat Rock, Three Graces, and the Gateway Rocks. There were also several pull-off areas where we could park for a few minutes and get out to try to capture the incredible views with our cameras.
Number 5: U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Training Center
Slideshow (click arrows to advance photos) / Photo 1: Strength and conditioning center at the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Training Center / Photo 2: Signage at the training center / Photo 3: Indoor shooting range during air rifle practice session / Photo 4: 2020 Olympic super heavyweight boxing silver medalist Richard Torrez in the boxing gym / Photo 5: Dormitories and cafeteria for athletes who live at the training center / Photo 6: Natatorium pool / Photo 7: Heather and Jodi outside the main building at the training center
Heather: When we were creating our trip itinerary, travel websites often noted the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Training Center. We added it to the list, but we were unsure of what we’d get to see except for a substantial gift shop. That quickly changed when our seasoned tour guide, Bob, whisked us (and a married couple) off on a tour of a few of the facilities. Before we left for our tour we learned that 11 Olympic sports train on the campus. The location, which opened in 1978, is the former Ent Air Force Base and was selected for its relatively high elevation (often thought to improve training effectiveness). The campus was a gift from the Air Force to the city of Colorado Springs. Bob first took us to the strength and conditioning center where, from outside glass walls, we watched several female wrestlers (two past Olympians) working out with their trainers. We also caught the start of a training session of the national rowing team that was visiting the facility for a two-week camp. Next Bob took us to the indoor shooting range where practice was in session. He explained how the air rifle targets worked, and soon we were on our way to the wrestling gym. There weren’t many athletes training, but it was an expansive facility, and the walls were decked out with photos of previous champions. Next up was the boxing gym, which was smaller in size than we expected, although it included an Olympic regulation-sized boxing ring. Unlike our other stops, where we tourists kept to ourselves, Bob introduced us around a bit, including to the 2020 Olympic super heavyweight boxing silver medalist Richard Torrez. That was kind of thrilling! Torrez is now a professional boxer with five matches under his belt, all wins by knockout in two rounds or less. Bob wrapped up our tour with quick visits to some facilities not currently in use – the natatorium and the gym used by the gymnasts. It was special getting to see some of the training facilities used by our Olympic athletes, but Bob made it all kinds of extra with his knowledge of the center and especially of the athletes. We learned so much (and the gift shop was top-notch)!
Number 4: U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Museum
Slideshow (click arrows to advance photos) / Photo 1: Futuristic architecture of the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Museum / Photo 2: Jodi checks out the digital displays that recognize her nametag. / Photo 3: Some of the Olympic torches from the Modern Games starting in 1896 / Photo 4: Heather checks her skill on the skeleton interactive course. / Photo 5: Jodi tries to hit the target at the archery interactive station. / Photo 6: Peggy Fleming's chartreuse skating costume and skates from the 1968 Olympics where she won the U.S.'s only gold medal / Photo 7: Eddie Tolan's track shirt and shorts from the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles where he was the first Black American to win two Olympic gold medals (100- and 200-meter sprint events) / Photo 8: Signed basketball team jersey from the 2012 men's team (including Kobe Bryant and LeBron James) along with signed basketballs from the 1976 men's team, 2004 women's team, and 2016 men's wheelchair team / Photo 9: Sam the Eagle, mascot from the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics / Photo 10: Medals from the 1904 St. Louis Olympics, the first to award gold, silver and bronze medals / Photo 11: Medals from the 1960 Rome Olympics, the first to be placed around athletes' necks
Jodi: After touring the training center, we still had room for more Olympics and Paralympics! So off we went to the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Museum – and we were NOT disappointed! This high-tech, multi-media museum is a wonderful way to experience the Olympic movement, the modern games, and so many of the sports and athletes. When we first arrived and purchased our tickets, we received a special nametag on a lanyard that we could set up digitally with our name, email, and main sport of interest. A museum guide then explained how many of the interactive displays worked by detecting our nametags (and greeting us by name!) and allowing us to “bookmark” specific information for our “digital locker” that would be emailed to us after our visit. The building is set up on multiple levels, but you take an elevator to the top level to start. Then you walk down ramp walkways to each lower level. We first learned more about the history of the Olympic movement and especially the modern games, which started with the 1896 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece. A highlight of this area is the collection of Olympic torches from all of the games since 1896. As we wound our way down through the museum, we tried out our athletic skills at interactive sports demonstrations for archery, alpine skiing, skeleton, and goalball. (We both need more practice before trying out for any of these teams!) Then we relived memories of the Winter Games and Summer Games, including viewing uniform and signed equipment memorabilia from several athletes. Heather was especially thrilled to see the chartreuse figure skating dress and skates worn by Gold medalist Peggy Fleming in 1968. The final exhibit that caught our eye was the collection of medals from each Olympic game since 1896. It wasn’t until the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome, Italy, that the medals were placed around athletes’ necks on laurel leaf chains instead of handed out as medals only. Our one regret: Not allowing ourselves more time to experience everything! Alas, we needed to get back to our hotel for the next round of figure skating at the nearby ice arena. Be sure to plan at least 3 hours and maybe more if you’re visiting during more touristy seasons of the year.
Number 3: World Figure Skating Museum and Hall of Fame
Slideshow (click arrows to advance photos) / Photo 1: World Figure Skating Museum and Hall of Fame / Photo 2: Heather and Jodi with the museum sign / Photo 3: Display case showing the history of figure skates / Photo 4: Brian Boitano's free skate costume from the 1988 U.S. Championships and Olympics / Photo 5: Sara Hughes's free skate costume from 2002 Olympics / Photo 6: Plaque and photo commemorating the 1961 U.S. Figure Skating delegation (skaters, coaches, officials, relatives and friends) who died in an airplane accident near Brussels, Belgium, while traveling to the World Figure Skating Championships in Prague, Czechoslovakia / Photo 7: Photos of U.S. figure skating gold medalists
Heather: With our visit to the World Figure Skating Museum and Hall of Fame, I crossed off a goal from my bucket list. As a figure skating fan since I have memory, taking in all the glitz, glam and history of the sport in one museum has been a dream for me. Jodi was happy to take it all in as well. The museum is nestled in a residential area and is modest in size. It may be small, but it is mighty. It is filled with medals, costumes, sculptures, photographs, skates, and the history of the sport. There was a lot to see and read, but the museum also included a video monitor to watch and listen to recent world and Olympic skating routines. In the center of the space was a room dedicated to those skaters, coaches, administrators, officials, and other creatives associated with the sport who had been inducted into the Hall of Fame. There were racks of posters in chronological order, each one dedicated to an inductee. It was a small space, but it did a great job at keeping the names of those alive who have made valuable contributions to the sport we love. The only disappointment of our visit was the size and scope of the gift shop. It was small, to say the least, but we managed to find a trinket or two to take home as souvenirs, including some free issues of SKATING, the official magazine of U.S. Figure Skating.
Number 2: Pikes Peak
Slideshow (click arrows to advance photos) / Photo 1: Depot in Manitou Springs for The Broadmoor Manitou and Pikes Peak Cog Railway / Photo 2: Inside the cog railway during the ascent to Pikes Peak / Photo 3: Rock formations seen from the cog railway / Photo 4: Remnants of the original stone Summit House where workers lived near the summit of Pikes Peak / Photo 5: Bighorn sheet watching the cog railway near the summit of Pikes Peak / Photo 6: Cog railway and platform at the summit / Photo 7: Jodi and Heather at the summit / Photo 8: Observation lookout at the summit / Photo 8: Pikes Peak Summit Visitor Center / Photo 9: Mountaintop view from the summit / Photo 10: Snack of potato chips and high-altitude doughnuts
Jodi: A visit to the Colorado Springs area is not complete without a trip up to Pikes Peak, the snow-topped summit that overlooks the city. It is the highest summit of the southern Front Range of the Rocky Mountains, although it isn’t the tallest mountain in the state. It’s named after American explorer Zebulon Pike, who attempted but failed to reach the summit in 1806. There are several ways to reach the summit: drive the 19-mile toll roadway with multiple switchbacks, hike the 13-mile Barr Trail with an 8,000-foot gain in elevation, and ride The Broadmoor Manitou and Pikes Peak Railway with a newly constructed cog rail system to pull the train cars up the mountain and release and brake on the way back down. We opted for the cog railway and purchased tickets for a 10 a.m. Saturday morning trip from Manitou Springs at the base of the mountain. Each way up and back down the mountain takes an hour, and passengers have an hour at the summit to revel in the panoramic views, visit the newly constructed Summit Complex with its exhibit area, gift shop and cafeteria, where we tried the high-altitude, cinnamon-dusted doughnuts that will deflate at lower altitudes. It can be at least 30 degrees colder and much windier at the summit, so you definitely want to wear layers of clothing – no matter what time of year you visit. We were pretty lucky that the wind was fairly tame on the day we visited and the skies were fairly clear and very sunny, but we definitely felt some effects of the lower oxygen levels at that height, making it a little harder to breath.
Number 1: 2023 ISU Four Continents Figure Skating Championships
Slideshow (click arrows to advance photos) / Photo 1: Madison Chock and Evan Bates nail their free dance at the Four Continents Championships / Photo 2: The Broadmoor World Arena was the location for the Four Continents Figure Skating Championships / Photo 3: Darian Kaptich (center) from Australia captured the crowd with his energetic performances. / Photo 4: Men's Canadian champion Keegan Messing (right) likes his scores following his long program
Heather: Finally, the primary reason we chose to travel to Colorado Springs was to attend the ISU Four Continents Figure Skating Championships. This event is held annually between the U.S. Figure Skating Championships and the World Figure Skating Championships. It is sort of a sister event to the European Figure Skating Championships, and, just as the name implies, athletes come from four continents – North America, South America, Asia, and Oceania. The Europeans and Four Continents allow the skaters an opportunity to be judged by an international panel before all eligible skaters compete for the coveted medals at the World Championships held in March. We learned last year that Four Continents would be held in the U.S. and, fortuitously, in Colorado Springs, the home of the World Figure Skating Museum and Hall of Fame. We were stoked – we would finally make it to the museum AND get to attend an international figure skating event! We began planning as soon as tickets went on sale and then built out a full itinerary of sites to see in addition to the competition and the museum. The competition took place over four days at the famous Broadmoor World Arena. It featured all four disciplines – women's, men’s, pairs and dance. The entrants included some World medal contenders and other athletes who grabbed the opportunity for international exposure. The facility was even better than we expected – spacious seating and an arena that was not nearly as cold as we had experienced at previous events! As is typical at these events, we became friendly with fellow fans seated near us. A special shoutout to the husband and wife seated next to us – both very personable and knowledgable about the sport and from the Midwest (Illinois), like us. I’ll share just a few skater highlights:
The men’s competition included a very entertaining newbie on the international scene, Australian Darian Kaptich, whose short program to music from Aladdin captivated the crowd. His jumps were high, and a smile never left his face.
A sentimental standout in the men’s event was Canadian champion Keegan Messing, who is retiring at the end of this season. He’s a very joyful, athletic, and entertaining skater, who originally skated for the U.S. He is kind of a combination of Scott Hamilton and Elvis Stojko.
Finally, the dance event featured the top-ranked U.S. team of Madison Chock and Evan Bates. The engaged couple has been a team since 2011, though both skated with other partners prior to pairing up. They’ve won four U.S. titles, three World medals, and took home a silver medal at the 2022 Winter Olympics as part of the figure skating team event. Their performances in Colorado Springs were exquisite. They are both athletic and ethereal in their movement, and they select music, characters, and themes that blend beautifully with their strengths. Their rhythm dance to a David Bowie medley was energetic and fast, and their portrayal of wind and fire in the free dance was smooth, tense, and mesmerizing – all at the same time. Chock and Bates will very likely find themselves on the Worlds podium (hopefully gold) this March in Saitama, Japan.
No matter what time of year or whether or not an event brings you to Colorado Springs, it’s a city with so much to offer for individual visitors and families. If you have visited, let us know in the comments below about any other don’t-miss sites, activities, or restaurants that you recommend.