Cheyenne Mountain Zoo(4250 Cheyenne Mountain Zoo Road, 633-9925, cmzoo.org)
The animals have finally beaten the rocks. Throughout Best Of history, Garden of the Gods has stood tallest in this category. Now, the giraffes (and lions and tigers and bears) have something to crow about. Marketing director Jenny Hillard credits locals for their ever-growing support: About 61 percent of visitors are from the Pikes Peak region, with 13 percent from the Denver area. Soon, visitors will see the new $13.5 million-dollar Encounter Africa exhibit, "which will provide new homes for our African elephants and lions, feature an improved meerkat exhibit, and bring the majestic black rhinoceros back to the zoo," Hillard says. — RVP
The Broadmoor(1 Lake Ave., 634-7711, broadmoor.com)
You could sit at any one of The Broadmoor's snazzy bars to slowly sip through a fancy-pants cocktail, like bartender Dennis Schuler's Harvest Old Fashioned, a Summit "Hall of Fame" drink that features house-made cinnamon cocktail bitters. But I'd save that for when it's too cold to be under the stars. In the meantime, the resort's gorgeous outdoor patio has an immense stone fireplace to warm your skin as you cozy down with friends or a loved one in oversized couches. On a cool Colorado eve, order your drink from the Broadmoor Main bar and head outside. The area overlooks Cheyenne Lake and gives you a gorgeous view of the heart of the 3,000-acre, Five-Diamond and Five-Star property. — KA
Sabi & Raven's Nest Coffee(330 N. Institute St., 471-4237 (Sabi); 632-3433, ravensnestcoffee.com (Raven's Nest)
It's easy to think of the usual suspects when planning your day, but if you want to treat yourself — and not have to fight or pay for parking — start your morning east of downtown at Raven's Nest Coffee. The drinks are fair-trade and organic, the chairs are comfy, and the baristas are friendly. If it's late enough, you can hit Sabi next door to peruse the shop's funky collection of well-priced vintage and steampunk wear and other oddities. Or just wait for a First Friday, when Sabi's hoppin' with art exhibits, music, food and drink. — KA
Double Eagle Hotel & Casino(442 Bennett Ave., Cripple Creek, 719/689-5000, decasino.com)
Double Eagle gives away lots of loot to customers, but has a soft spot for charities. It recently contributed to Fort Carson's Wounded Warrior Project, and helped the Cripple Creek Elks club raise money for Mountain View Medical Clinic. But it's the training each employee must undergo that really makes the casino stand out. It has a vigorous, world-class customer-service program designed to establish personalized relationships with every customer, at every level. "We learn how to establish personal relationships with customers and proper interactions," says one employee. "Then we have refresher courses periodically, with role playing to work out how to best serve each customer's needs." Double Cha-ching! — BW
Ormao Dance Company(10 S. Spruce St., 471-9759, ormaodance.org)
Martha Graham envisioned dance as a weapon, something powerful and prodigious. The great American dancer and choreographer would have found kindred spirits at Ormao Dance Company, a company that derives its name from an ancient Greek term that meant "movement with force."
Now a few years from its silver anniversary, Ormao (or-MY-oh) began when executive director Jan Johnson pulled together a troupe of dancers. "I've always said it wasn't like I planned having a modern dance company — that was not necessarily my dream," says Johnson, a Wisconsin native. "But I know I always loved dance, and I never knew how I was going to be able to incorporate it into my life."
After consulting with dancers and choreographers in the Springs and Denver, Johnson took the plunge: She started offering dance classes, and Ormao was born. With that came the concept of community collaborations, which has become Ormao's calling card: "I feel like that's really what we do best," Johnson says.
And how. Ormao works with fellow nonprofit institutions like the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center — upcoming performances will include gallery dances at October's Son of Pop Floyd Tunson retrospective (see here), and April's multidisciplinary Family program — Imagination Celebration and the Colorado Springs Conservatory. It even works with outreach organizations like Greccio Housing, giving free hip-hop classes to the kids living in some Greccio apartments.
Within Ormao's own walls, Johnson has renters hosting such activities as stroller fitness classes for new moms. As usual, Johnson's brainstorming ways to collaborate, and now she has the room to do it; Ormao relocated to a larger space on the west side last June. "The space has really become exactly what we hoped it would be, and that is a space for the community to come in and try lots of different things."
That adds up to 100-plus dance students, 11 company dancers, a space to host art exhibits, the return of its open-mic-esque Open Stage nights, a Mathtastic! educational program, and of course, dance shows. Now that's movement with force. — EA
Kimball's Peak Three Theater(115 E. Pikes Peak Ave., 447-1945, kimballstwinpeak.com)
Booze in the theater, yummy popcorn — all that stuff you love remains intact. Let's talk about what really matters: The National Association of Theatre Owners predicts 35 mm film will cease being distributed by 2013's end. "Convert or die" is the phrase being tossed around, and hundreds of small independents like Kimball's are facing pricey digital-projector upgrades. General manager Matt Stevens says Kimball's is strategizing for its own transition (currently costing upward of $65,000 to $95,000 per screen) and that when it happens, "it'll be spectacular," with better crispness and resolution, higher contrast and more vivid colors on a brighter picture. Expect new screens and a new sound system, too. Until then, Stevens says the best films of the year will land in November and December, so don't be a stranger. — MS
Liese Chavez(In residence at Mountain Living Studio, 741 Manitou Ave., Manitou Springs, 685-0225, liesechavez.com)
This is the second year in a row Liese Chavez has taken first place in this category. With so many artists living and working in the area, it's quite a coup — especially since she's self-taught. "I learned to paint by reading books, watching videos and going on the Internet," she says, "and I'm still learning all the time. But it's about more than technique; my themes tell personal stories. I like to paint what I can't see as well as what I can see." Fairy tales, myths and sayings provide the narrative for her paintings, which range from whimsical folk pieces to large, somewhat darker works imbued with deep colors and naturalistic details. And you just might see one where you don't expect it: "I paint on the streets to share my techniques with customers and other artists. I've learned that all people share many things; we're all on a collective path." — KK
In the Next Room(or the Vibrator Play)
Joye Cook-Levy made her Colorado directorial debut in 2012 at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center with the Pulitzer-nominated In the Next Room (or the Vibrator Play). She says though she took lots of women's studies classes in college, ran the local NOW chapter and a student group called the Gender Equality Association, and even "went undercover one summer working for Eleanor Smeal," she'd never heard the history of the vibrator and how it was used originally as a clinical instrument to treat women for hysteria. (Nor, as she adds, was she party to any "female orgasm discussions of any topical worth.") Didn't attend the production? You missed a fantastic performance, but you can still get educated by reading The Technology of Orgasm by Rachel P. Maines, on which playwright Sarah Ruhl based her work. Then go share your newfound knowledge with someone. Maybe your daughter. Or yourself. — KA
The Pinery(12375 Black Forest Road, 495-9499, thepinery.com)
The Pinery recently merged with Garden of the Gods Gourmet, adding more culinary options for those planning an event at a Black Forest venue that already has its own floral, entertainment and audio/visual departments. "Now we're able to service our guests with what they need," says Eric Allen, vice president, COO and managing partner. More expansion is in the works, of course, with plans to create a sister version in the old Fish Market on the west edge of downtown. Expect a big 2013 from this 2012 winner. — SB
Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center(30 W. Dale St., 634-5581, csfineartscenter.org)
The Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center's 75th anniversary has come and gone, but nothing is settling down at the institution. This year, the FAC gave Springs audiences the work of world-famous contemporary artist James Turrell, as well as sure-to-be-world-famous locals Scott Johnson and Floyd Tunson (see here). On the theatrical side, it's debuted a second-stage season and offered more tickets at a lower price. The Bemis School of Art also continues to dish out satisfaction, says FAC president and CEO Sam Gappmayer. "Bemis is like this juggernaut: It does the same thing every year, but it does it exceptionally well," he says, adding, "It's a class of 18 where someone has a profound experience with their own creativity." Whether you view or create there, the FAC provides a holistic approach to art (for all ages, no less) that makes it a well-deserved community flagship. — EA
ReVibe Pilates & Bodywork(115 N. Tejon St. #117B, 231-6430, revibepilates.com)
Wrapping yourself in silk and hanging from the ceiling puts a whole new twist on a workout, and that's the goal of ReVibe co-owner Trish Doyle-Stahl. The Pilates studio that also offers bodywork has been in a few locations in the past few years, and has found a new home tucked behind Tejon Street, next to the lululemon store across from Old Chicago. With the downtown spot, Doyle-Stahl plans to offer a lunchtime power Barre fitness class as well as lunchtime chair massages by her husband (and co-owner) Kenny Stahl. But her Saturday Pilates mat class has typically been the most popular, along with ball classes and the aforementioned aerial silks. — SB
Maybe your significant other doesn't want to be outside quite as much as you do. Or maybe you're solo but want to be responsible and hike with other people. You might even make some friends in the process. The Outdoor Club is arranged on meetup.com, a group organization website, and events are held several days a week. Outings range from walkabouts at Red Rock Canyon or Garden of the Gods to ascents of 14ers. This being one of the largest local groups on meetup.com, with nearly 1,500 members, spots can fill up fast. But another hike is never far off. — SB
Tai Chi Association of Colorado Springs(108 E. Cheyenne Road, #211, 375-8339, taichicoloradosprings.com)
"Be mindful of the insubstantial and the substantial."
On the dry-erase board in the corner of the Tai Chi Association's open and airy second-floor studio, master instructor Michael Paler has left his students words of instruction, encouragement and advice. At the top is this deceptively simple suggestion.
Turns out these words are all we'll hear from Paler today; Howard Drossman, a beginning tai chi instructor at the school, says Paler happens to be on the rare vacation when we visit. "The school wouldn't be here if it wasn't for Michael," says Drossman, a middle-aged college professor. "It's a shame you can't meet him."
Paler's absence, however, does give his students the opportunity to speak candidly about their school's master. And they say Paler is a gifted instructor and true martial artist. While he understands and stresses the martial, or self-defense, aspects of tai chi — often lost or ignored in tai chi schools — Paler apparently also captures and imparts the spiritual and healing qualities that draw young and old to the Chinese import.
"I came to it for the spiritual and relaxation qualities," he Drossman says, "but Michael is a very great martial artist."
The school is decidedly calm, inviting and peaceful. This afternoon, only a few students are mingling about after a push-hands class. Also present is Monika Milburn, also a certified instructor. She says that she was attracted to tai chi, and Paler's school, after surviving cancer.
"I realized I needed a big change in my life," says Milburn, who's referred to as the school's matron by another student. "I wanted to speak [tai chi] like a language, so that it would come out of me like an eloquent expression."
What she's learning under Paler, she believes, will allow her that freedom. — CH
The Modbo(17C E. Bijou St., 633-4240, themodbo.wordpress.com)
It's another trifecta for this downtown art complex, which won the same categories last year. Brett and Lauren Andrus say the Modbo's small size — in staff and square footage — allows them to innovate more quickly than larger galleries. "It is really just the two of us, and Brett has really crazy ideas all the time," Lauren says. "Some of them don't work, but a lot of times they do." Brett's roles as art teacher and curator help him tune in to the local art scene, and they maintain connections with art lovers and creators. And if some of their ideas crop up elsewhere in town? Says Brett: "We take that as a compliment." — RVP
Avenue Hotel Bed and Breakfast(711 Manitou Ave., Manitou Springs, 685-1277, avenuehotelbandb.com)
Some B&Bs are more showy than utilitarian. Not the Avenue. The sprawling, three-story structure, originally built in 1886 as a boarding house, is homey, uncluttered and not too frou frou; it blends antiques, Victorian throwbacks and mountain décor for an eclectic feel. Not to mention two dogs and three cats, which owner Gwenn David calls a "big draw." David, a former wallpaper-hanger, bought the property four years ago with her husband, Randy Hodges, and revamped it. Now nine spacious guest rooms boast king- or queen-sized beds, private bathrooms and extras such as afternoon wine and an outdoor garden hot tub. "It's become an industry," David says, "and people expect more out of breakfast, and they want interaction with the host and other guests." — DK
CorePower Yoga(623 N. Nevada Ave., 477-9642; 1025 W. Garden of the Gods Road, 265-8611; corepoweryoga.com)
CorePower Yoga already has an admirable reach, having won this category six times in seven years, but in 2012 the studios branched out further. They brought live music to the popular summer yoga in Monument Valley Park, drawing crowds on Saturday mornings and leading to picnics afterward. Regional manager Lora Lantz says it's just expanding the sense of community that exists within the studios, where "the classes are so different, they attract different people." — SB
Jack Quinn's Running Club(jackquinnsrunners.com)
Shawn Finley knows how much he brings to the runners and downtown. People talk about overcoming health issues and depression after joining Jack Quinn's Running Club for its Tuesday night runs. Hell, he even met his future wife on one. That sense of community brought out another record number of people this last June with nearly 1,800 runners, walkers and joggers. "I'm not the only one struggling on the hill by CC on Uintah," he says. "There's 500 more people doing the same thing." They're also supporting downtown business on a weeknight: Finley says a study the club conducted revealed that his runners and friends spend an average of $11 per person. — SB
Chain ChampsKudos to some bigger businesses that locals love:
Starbucks(Multiple locations, starbucks.com)
Antlers Hilton(4 S. Cascade Ave., 955-5600, antlers.com)
iT'Z Colorado Springs(3035 New Center Point, 623-1550; itzusa.com)
24 Hour Fitness(1892 Southgate Road, 633-2442; 3650 Austin Bluffs Parkway, #197, 262-0024; 7720 N. Academy Blvd., 244-9532; 24hourfitness.com)