My wife and I grew up on opposing sides of Pennsylvania's ancient spine, the Appalachians. We both had parents who didn't really ski, but for some reason thought it would be good recreation for their kids. What a gift! We were certainly grateful for those snowy outings, but our minds were already dreaming of that magical day when we might ski real mountains - out in Colorado. So it was that the word "Denver" became a magnet of our imaginations, the gateway to powder.
Like many other dreams, reality did not measure up to imagination. We passed through Denver separately, me in '83, Jo in '86. Our reactions were identical - "What is this? Get me outta here!" The alpine paradise of our mind was in fact an old, cow town complete with smog inversions, tired brick buildings and ugly interchanges, all sprawling out on to the high desert. Now, there were in fact some beautiful snow-capped peaks just to the west, but the city's appearance just made me want to get up there that much quicker.
Fast forward to this past Wednesday - United 212 from Spokane's Geiger Field to Denver International. I've been all round this great big world and I've seen all kinds of airports, but I couldn't wait to get back to DIA... Now parts of O'Hare are nice and I hear that Pittsburgh is even better, but Newark, JFK, Frankfurt, Heathrow, Copenhagen, SFO, Seattle are all more significant hubs than Denver, but they can't hold a candle to this terminal out there on the sage.
What makes this airport a class act? The external architecture for starts. Driving towards the prairie east of town you see snow-white peaks that are actually a tent structure designed to imitate the jagged outlines of the Rockies, but it's beautiful inside and out. If you're an international passenger arriving at Concourse A you will pass over a broad, arching walkway listening to drums and chanting of Native Americans, passing by spectacular pictures of those who lived here first. If you're just a boring, domestic traveler from Concourse B there are no Indians, but at the top of the elevator you will meet two live cowboys with a great, big, western howdy - willing and ready to offer information and direct those in need. Now where else do you see that kind of help?
Next, right between the cowboys and my first objective, the toilet, are exquisite, dancing fountains, but that sound just makes destination A all the more urgent. Once inside said destination you will find a bathroom decorated in gorgeous copper tile, blue porcelain and artistic pedestal washstands. You gotta love it as the whole place works without touching anything. Then at luggage pickup are the dedicated rotating ski stands that deliver the boards from the jet's belly to incoming tourists eager to jump on the Colorado Mountain Express. Those drivers will take them direct to their condos (and an altitude headache before the evening's out).
Unfortunately, if you aren't lucky enough to be hopping on ground transportation the walk to your car is rather shabby. Worse, just beyond the lot is the hideous, two-story tall, blue mustang with blazing orange eyes that seem to be saying, "Welcome to hell!" It is vying for worst public art on the planet, but is required by law to stay for at least five years. So, DIA ain't perfect, but if you fly in some day, be sure to say "Hey" to the cowboys and don't forget those main level toilets. You'll be impressed, I guarantee.