Colorado tourism lures: Godiva chocolate, lip balm and a grow-your-own Blue Bear?

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While Denver has been enjoying unseasonably warm days, punctuated by the occasional plunge far below zero, snow keeps piling up on the East Coast.

Faced with mounds of white stuff, my sister and her school-break kids booked a trip to escape winter -- where else but Colorado?

So I spent much of the last week at Denver International Airport (late flights, lost bags) and driving around the Front Range, rediscovering this state... and thinking about how we can help more people discover it in the first place.

I'll be sharing some of my ideas in the days to come, including a few dead horses I've beaten before. But first, I made my sister pay for her room by analyzing the contents of the swag bag that Visit Denver had just handed out at the Colorado Press Association's annual convention.

Here's her report:

Inspired by Oscar night and the annual media scrutiny of stars' swag bags, we grabbed the bag and pawed through it as eagerly as a Hollywood starlet in search of freebie bling and plastic surgery coupons.

We weren't looking for personal bennies, though, just the kind of stuff that makes people even happier to tout the state's bennies. And while the Colorado bag was intended for the media, we found quite a few items that would be perfect for out-of-town consumers, too. But first, we waded through piles of brochures and other publications -- some general but nonetheless inspiring, and some (such as a press release or two) focused on an event so narrow (and so outdated) that it was hard to imagine who, media person or tourist, would spare it from the recycle bin. Other items -- including a cool tan notebook dubbed the Gateway Colorado Guide -- so tastefully represented the best of Colorado that they would prompt even jaded writers to praise the Gateway Canyons Resort and the state it inhabits.

The tinier items fell to the bottom of the bag, and that's where the riches lay. Business cards doubling as half-price coupons for spa treatments, a poker chip that would get you a cocktail at TAG, a great wine charm touting Colorado Wines,a packet of granola (stale, but maybe we just took too long to rip it open), enough lip balm to heal the most parched skier's set of smackers, a Godiva chocolate bar and, for the journalist looking for a new way to procrastinate, a one-inch, grow-your-own Denver Blue Bear that takes ten days to grow 600 percent.

The many stickers (for canned drinks, radio stations, Westword!) were baffling. Give them to our kids to stick on their school lockers? Or stick on the enclosed "dog-friendly" frisbee, courtesy of the dog-friendly Westin in Beaver Creek?

But the bag did serve its intended purpose: It reminded us of just a few reasons why we like Colorado.

When she got back to Boston, it was snowing again. Today, it will be 65 degrees in Denver.

More from our Calhoun: Wake-Up Call archive: "Top 10 list of Colorado movies a ten-cent ticket fee didn't subsidize."

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