Boulder, Colorado

BEST PLACE TO BE AN ÜBERJOCK

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Population: 95,600
Annual Household Income: $44,500
Median Home Price: $280,000
Climate: Rocky Mountain highs of 88 in July and 45 in January.

All right, all right. admittedly, this pick's a bit predictable. "The sports town," this very magazine crowed ten years ago, and it wasn't exactly a scoop then, either. But Boulder remains your best shot at filling not just a walk-in closet but an entire two-car garage with outdoor paraphernalia, and claiming reason on your side. Reason being...well, where to begin? With the obvious lures of the Front Range and the not-so-far-away Continental Divide and the 300 or so sunny days a year and the A-list mountaineering, rock climbing, skiing, snowboarding, backpacking, cycling, and whitewater daredevilry? With the civic values that have laid out 100 miles of trails and some 30,000 acres of preserved open space in and around town? With the storied athletic subculture that has taken in such talents as Mark Allen, Uta Pippig, and the godfather himself, Frank Shorter? Let's put it this way: If you think that by now some other town can make a stronger claim to outdoor-sports Valhalladom, move there.

THE HOME FRONT: Ay, there's the rub. Tightly controlled growth means the average ticket for a single-family home is $330,000 and rising, so the phrase "affordable housing" has become a real thigh-slapper here. For the record, Mapleton Hill and Chautauqua are the plums, historic districts boasting huge eight-bedroom Tudors and Victorians, yours for high six figures spilling over into seven. For the rest of us, North Boulder has somewhat less distinguished houses but equal proximity to outdoor diversion. Prices head south as you head east away from the foothills, with pleasant-enough properties in Martin Park, the cheapest neighborhood, averaging $185,000. Or you can opt, as many do, for a condo close to downtown, starting at about $120,000.

THE BACKYARD: On any given spring afternoon, runners, riders, and skaters jockey for position along Boulder Creek Path, the main thread of an extensive web, while kayakers practice on the creek itself; climbers rock-hop in the Flatirons and Eldorado Canyon State Park while hikers gawk up at them; swimmers and boardsailors brave Boulder Reservoir as elite runners sprint around it; parasailors balance on the thermals over North Boulder; early risers descend from the summit of 14,255-foot Longs Peak in nearby Rocky Mountain National Park; and T-shirted snowboarders squeeze in a few more runs an hour and a half away at Arapahoe Basin. And that's only the half of it.

NINE TO FIVE: Currently thriving, and not nearly as Denver-dependent as one might think. High-tech industrial outfits and some of the brainier government-funded agencies (Ball Aerospace, StorageTek, Exabyte, Somatogen, the National Center for Atmospheric Research, soon-to-arrive Sun Microsystems in outlying Broomfield) predominate, but public schools and the University of Colorado also employ several thousand. There's also a substratum of such quintessentially Boulder firms as Celestial Seasonings, Kelty, Pearl Izumi, Schwinn, and Volant skis. And, curiously, the home office of Soldier of Fortune. Go figure.

ON THE TOWN: The Pearl Street pedestrian mall is the ceremonial heart of the city and bastion of all manner of intentional and unintentional street theater. The Fox Theatre offers an intimate place to see intelligent-choice acts like John Hiatt, Los Lobos, Bruce Cockburn, and their ilk. For unadulterated, low-budget hanging-out, Buchanan's serves up java in oversize mugs, and the Boulder Book Store (on the mall) specializes in--surprise--spiritual growth, natural health, and outdoor titles.

THE PRICE OF PARADISE: While housing costs skyrocket inside the town boundaries, Boulder's hypertrophic economy (and that of the Front Range in general) is triggering mega-sprawl in outlying areas and hellacious traffic even in Shangri-la itself.

DON'T BE SEEN WITHOUT: One of those mysterious white oval "PRB" stickers on your bumper. (Oh, all right, but don't ask again: "People's Republic of Boulder.")

BEST OF THE REST CORVALLIS, OR: Runners, climbers, and kayakers in rapidly growing numbers. ENCINITAS, CA: Surf the break with Rob Machado or draft behind Paula Newby-Fraser.

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