Literally and figuratively, this is the mother lode. It's where scrappy silver and gold miners struck it rich time and time again in the late 19th century, yet it's also where Colorado's rugged beauty is shown off to fullest effect.

The northern Rockies begin just outside of Denver and extend on either side of the meandering Continental Divide down sawtooth ridgelines, through precipitous river canyons, and across broad alpine plains. Here snowfall is measured in feet, not inches; it's where you'll find Colorado's hottest ski resorts -- Aspen, Vail, and Steamboat -- as well as a few smaller areas that are making headlines, such as Winter Park. And then there's Summit County, with possibly more major ski areas within a half-hour's drive than anywhere else in the country. If you're easily bored, rent a condo or take a room in Breckenridge and spend your days skiing a different mountain every day. With Copper, Keystone, Arapahoe Basin, and even tiny Loveland all within a few miles' drive, you've got plenty of choices.

When spring's sun finally melts away the walls of white, a whole new world opens up amid the brilliantly colored alpine wildflowers. You can head to any of the area's ski resorts to shop their stores and hike or cycle their trails. Perhaps best of all, though, is a trip to the West's premier mountain vacation spot, and my favorite mountain destination in Colorado -- Rocky Mountain National Park. Here you can enjoy some of the most spectacular scenery in America, as well as a broad range of outdoor activities, from hiking to wildlife viewing to cross-country skiing.