The Mile-High City is looking like the come-back kid. With Denver's new Coors Field drawing crowds and giving a new lease on life to the city's Lower Downtown (LoDo) area, Denver International Airport's (DIA) baggage-handling problems finally being ironed out, the city's hotel room inventory expanding, and its convention center drawing rave reviews, there's a lot to persuade planners to take a second look.

Denver's downtown area has 4,100 hotel rooms within easy walking distance of the city's convention complex and performing arts center, as well as its shops, restaurants, museums, and night spots. A new $64 million public library, designed by Michael Graves, has meeting rooms to accommodate up to 450 persons. During free time, visitors enjoy wandering through the revitalized LoDo, exploring trendy and often inexpensive restaurants, interesting boutiques, and the area's 11 brew pubs.

An hour-and-a-half drive to the south is the state's second-largest city, Colorado Springs, in the majestic Pikes Peak Region, where the Ute, Kiowa, Cheyenne, and Crow once gathered to celebrate and trade at the spectacular red-rock area now known as Garden of the Gods. The city is experiencing a boom of its own. Colorado Springs Airport saw a 79 percent jump in passenger traffic last year, and the city is looking at a room inventory expansion that some industry observers predict may spell hotel rate cuts by the end of this year.

But Colorado has a lot more to offer than its cities. Half of the land in the state is public: There are two national parks, six national monuments, 11 national forests, 30 state parks, and three national recreation areas-plenty of reasons to get outside the urban areas to enjoy that Rocky Mountain high. Resorts such as Aspen/Snowmass, Keystone, Vail/Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Steamboat Springs, and Telluride, to name only a few, draw visitors with their champagne powder in winter and their wealth of recreational activities in spring, summer, and fall. Golf, tennis, mountain biking, white-water rafting, hot-air ballooning, horseback riding, llama trekking, or just plain hiking past alpine meadows filled with blue columbine-they all lure visitors out of meeting rooms and conference halls during bright, warm Rocky Mountain days.

Hotel News Aspen/Snowmass The Snowmass Lodge and Club has recently undergone extensive renovations to its 76 lodge rooms, including new furnishings and carpeting, and to its restaurant and health club.

The Hotel Jerome in downtown Aspen, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, recently underwent a $6.5 million renovation and expansion. The hotel has 93 rooms and suites, including a 1,200-square-foot Grand Parlour Suite, and has 7,500 square feet of meeting space.

Colorado Springs The Broadmoor added 150 new rooms to its inventory in 1995, bringing its total to 700 rooms and suites. It added a 90,000-square-foot golf club and spa as part of the $40 million expansion. There are 110,000 square feet of meeting space at the resort, which is set on 3,000 acres and offers three 18-hole golf courses and 13 tennis courts.

The Inverness Hotel and Golf Club is embarking on a $3.2 million, one-year modernization project.

The Fairfield Inn opened in November with 85 rooms.

Denver The Hyatt Regency Denver and Marriott City Center now offer a program called Denver Alliance 1000, which gives meeting planners the convenience of a single resume and joint convention servicing and direct telephone communication between the two properties at no additional charge. The Marriott's 14,500-square-foot ballroom accommodates 2,300 persons for receptions. The Hyatt Regency just completed a $2.5 million renovation of the hotel lobby, front desk, main entrance, and all 25 suites and created a new restaurant. The two ballrooms, foyers, and five meeting rooms will be refurbished this year, and a $750,000 renovation of the hotel's health club facilities will take place this summer.

Groundbreaking for Denver International Airport's first luxury property will take place early next year. The 400-room Scanticon Colorado Hotel, Conference Center and Golf Club will be within a five-minute drive of the airport at the Colorado International Center with 52,000 square feet of conference space. Opening is planned for late 1998.

A $20 million renovation of the Adam's Mark Hotel was completed this spring. The number of guest rooms was reduced from 744 to 629. Meanwhile, a $110 million expansion is expected to bring the hotel to 1,230 rooms by January 1998.The Fairfield Inn became Denver International Airport's first hotel when it opened in early February with 107 rooms.

Keystone Keystone Resort offers a lodge and 900 condominium units, along with 77,500 square feet of meeting, banquet, and reception space. As many as 1,800 persons can be seated in its ballroom.

Getting There Aspen Aspen/Sardy Field, three miles from Aspen, is served by Northwest/Business Express, Lone Star Airlines, TriStar Airlines, and United Express. Vans into town cost $6. A taxi costs $15 to $18. Colorado Mountain Express vans regularly make the four-hour trip from DIA. Round-trip fare is $158, with group rates available.

Colorado Springs The Colorado Springs Airport, 13 miles from downtown, is served by 11 airlines, including American, Delta, Northwest, and TWA. Western Pacific, a new low-fare airline, has its hub here (look for Marge Simpson's hair graphically enhancing the tails of some of its planes-Fox 21, an affiliate of Fox television, is based in the city). Taxis cost about $18 to downtown.

Denver From DIA, which is served by all major airlines, a taxi to downtown takes about 30 minutes and costs $35 to $40. Both Yellow Cab and Metro Taxi have a flat fare system. The cost from the airport to the convention center area, for example, is $35, making the cost for three or four persons sharing a cab to the same destination lower than that of van service, which costs about $15 per person.

Denver Metro Convention

& Visitors Bureau

Richard Scharf, vp convention mktg.

(303) 571-9415

Fax: (303) 892-1636

http://www.denver.org Snowmass Central Reservations

Jim O'Leary, telemarketing manager

(800) 598-2006

Fax: (970) 920-5566

http://www.aspenonline.com/aspenonline

Vail Valley Tourism

and Convention Bureau

Jim Feldhaus,

vp of marketing and group sales

(800) 775-8245, (970) 479 2360

Fax: (970) 479-2364

http://vail.n

According to Arlene Rogers, conference coordinator for the Department of Anesthesiology at Ohio State University Medical Center in Columbus, OH, "Vail is a wonderful place to have a meeting. It's the best ski mountain around-they have a great ski school, and even beginners can take the gondola to the top and ski."

Rogers held three simultaneous meetings in Vail in March 1995-the Neonatal and Infant Respiratory Symposium, the John J. Bonica Pain Conference, and the John J. Bonica Obstetric Anesthesia Conference. Each meeting drew 75 to 100 attendees, many of whom came with spouses and children. Rogers chose Marriott's Mountain Resort at Vail for the group because, she says, it is Vail's largest hotel. (In past years, Rogers has used the Westin-now the Vail Cascade Hotel and Club-the Sonnenalp Resort, and the Lodge at Vail, all of which worked well for her group.) "Vail is nice and compact," says Rogers. "You don't want a car."

"It was a classic ski meeting," says Rogers. Meetings were held in the morning from 7 to 9:30. Then there was a long break for skiing, sightseeing, or shopping, until apres ski refreshments, served from 3:30 to 4:30. Meetings were scheduled again from 4:30 to 7:30. Next year, the event will be held from March 17 to 20 at the Ritz-Carlton, Aspen.

The Society for In Vitro Biology, based in Columbia, MD, held its annual meeting, which is usually held in June, in Denver at the Adam's Mark from May 20 to 24 last year. Marietta Ellis, managing director for the society, says she took the earlier date because the hotel (which was under the Radisson banner at the time the contract was signed two years out) was full in June but offered attractive incentives to move the meeting to May (one comp room for every 45 booked, a free welcome reception, free limo service from the airport for board members). However, the hotel changed banners less than five months before the meeting, and Ellis says staffing changes and conflicts over the contract made for "a very difficult time." In the five months preceding the meeting, Ellis says she had to deal with three sales managers; and in the week before the meeting, there were two different conference services managers.

But, says Ellis, "During my initial site inspection, I was really excited about Denver, and I was really impressed with the convention and visitors bureau." Many in the group of 530 got out on their own to enjoy some of the things that attracted Ellis to Colorado in the first place: They took self-guided tours to Vail and Colorado Springs. The one organized tour was a bus trip to the casinos in Cripple Creek. And most of the group enjoyed the hotel's central location, with the LoDo shops and restaurants, the pedestrian mall, and the Denver Art Museum within walking distance.

When I visited Vail Valley last August, dry alpine air offered respite from the sweltering East Coast humidity, snow-tipped mountains blazed with wildflowers, and there was so much to do and see that I vowed to return. This hardly sounds like the off-season, but Vail-primarily known as a ski resort-is a bargain for spring, summer, and fall meetings and incentive programs.

Anchored by the Swiss-styled Vail Village (festooned with flowers in the summer), the valley area also encompasses the villages of Lionshead, Beaver Creek Resort, and Avon. All have access to a variety of outdoor recreational and teambuilding activities from white-water rafting scavenger hunts to golf tournaments on one of the valley's six courses.

Among the many small, deluxe hotels in the area that cater to groups are the Vail Athletic Club Hotel & Spa and the Lodge at Vail. Larger groups might find the Vail Cascade Hotel & Club (formerly the Westin Resort, Vail) a perfect match. Set on the banks of beautiful Gore Creek, the resort has spent more than $7 million on renovations and upgrades over the past two years: 20 suites in the main building as well as the Terrace Wing, with its 118 guest rooms and suites have been remodeled; and a new 1,800-square-foot aerobics center in the health club was added. The full-service athletic club, the largest in Vail Valley, features indoor tennis, racquetball, squash and basketball courts, and a swimming pool. The hotel has 23 meeting rooms and 26,000 square feet of meeting space. Vail Mountain's Cascade Lift is less than 30 feet from the hotel's door.

Further down the valley, the 295-room Hyatt Regency Beaver Creek recently renovated its conference center, including all meeting space and public areas. The resort has ski-in, ski-out access to the slopes, and full ski valet service. Set at an elevation of 8,100 feet and ringed on three sides by 11,000-foot peaks, the Hyatt is adjacent to a double chairlift and a high-speed quad. It has a heated indoor/outdoor pool, five outdoor Jacuzzis, and a top-notch health club. The Hyatt will guarantee its guests tee times at nearby Beaver Creek Golf Course, designed by Robert Trent Jones II and open May through mid-October.