The temperature was in the single digits as the sun went down over Denver International Airport on a mid-December Friday. With a steady, cold wind blowing off the plains and through the Jeppesen Terminal’s open-air plaza, it was hard to believe anyone would want to go ice skating.
And yet, they did.
Over the course of an hour, at least a dozen people trickled in and out of the airport’s new rink, where skate rentals, gloves, blankets and hot cocoa were all free. Two caricature artists stayed busy drawing portraits of bundled-up travelers and “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation,” the special attraction for the evening, played on an inflatable screen.
The rink is new this year, as is the airport’s push to be thought of as a fun — or at least not awful — place. It began hosting events earlier this year and offering attractions like mini-golf and a temporary exhibit highlighting airport conspiracy theories. It started showing movies on the plaza over the summer (“Top Gun,” “E.T.” and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”), opened a temporary beer garden to coincide with Great American Beer Festival and just two weekends ago hosted a winter market featuring only local vendors.
“Our leadership, especially our CEO, Kim Day, really wants to turn it into a destination location here at DIA and wants people to not only enjoy while they’re here on layover or if they’re here traveling, but also have people from the community to come out to the airport,” said Daria Serna, communications specialist for DIA. “She feels with all the transportation choices people have, that they can get out here easily and it’s an option for people to enjoy themselves in the Denver metro area.”
The frigid evening in which they blew up the inflatable screen to show “Christmas Vacation” probably didn’t attract the kind of crowd a movie might if it were warmer outside, but no one Denverite spoke to had come out just for fun.
Beth Unger was passing through from Loveland. She was meeting family at the airport to head off on vacation and decided to take advantage of the event.
“We just thought we’d come out early and enjoy the weather and everything,” she said.
Anil Thomas had been in Denver for a few days and was getting ready to fly back to New York. He didn’t know about the event, but it was a serendipitous discovery.
“I was hoping to go skiing this morning and plans didn’t work out without snow tires on the rental car,” he said, “so I got here and had extra time and figured I’d give this a try.”
CU students Shubha Swamy and Siya Kasawala, who got their caricatures drawn, had time to kill between their dorms closing for the winter break and their flights.
Denver’s airport seems to be unique in its efforts to be fun airport or even a destination for locals. None of the other most heavily trafficked hubs in the country, which include Atlanta’s Hartsfield–Jackson, Chicago’s O’Hare, Dallas-Fort Worth and Los Angeles, advertise events.
And DIA is planning to step up its game next year. Serna said some of the 2017 events will be longer and “a little different.”
“We want people to enjoy their experience at the airport,” Serna said. “We understand how people feel about traveling, especially in today’s world, especially when you have to go through going through security and everything. But we want people to enjoy it and say, ‘Wow, Denver International Airport isn’t that bad to fly out of.’ ”
To see what fun there is to be had at DIA, check its event listing.