Ejection seats, water purification systems, beer darts: Who took home the title of ‘Coolest Thing Made in Colorado’?

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2min 18sec
Courtesy Colorado Chamber of Commerce/Evan Semón Photography
The creators of a lawn game called Beer Darts, Jonathan Cernanec (second from left) and Ryan Kryak (second from right) pose with their product and contest officials, Mark Cordova of Centennial Bolt (left) and Jason Weston of PNC Bank (right), at a competition for the “Coolest Thing Made In Colorado.” The pair were finalists but did not win.

The ballroom at the Sheraton in Downtown Denver was pretty packed on a recent Thursday as people gathered to celebrate the so-called Coolest Thing Made in Colorado, a new contest dreamed up by the Colorado Chamber of Commerce to showcase the state’s manufacturing base.

Attendees seemed excited to be in the same room together after shutdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the volume steadily built from a low murmur to a boisterous rumble. There was plenty of backslapping and enthusiastic handshakes as businesses from across Colorado enjoyed a lunch of steak and boiled carrots, just like they did before the pandemic largely put a stop to these kinds of events for more than two years.

Zoom is great, but it's so much better … the human connection is so much better,” said Jamie Jackson, COO for Colorado Children’s Campaign, a nonprofit advocacy group.

Jackson’s group wasn’t entered in the contest – she was there to soak in the vibe.

“We have been attending some events, and we're just really excited to connect and network with people,” Jackson said.

There was an eclectic mix of products on display, too. For example, an ejection seat from Colorado Springs-based Collins Aerospace that does exactly what it sounds like – shoots pilot and crew out of military aircraft in emergencies. Meier Skis from Denver was there, as well as a Longmont company that makes insulation from hemp. 

The winner of the contest, however, was Rocky Ford-based SunSpring Water Purification Systems, which makes wind and solar-powered systems. The products are used in 38 countries, but its Colorado roots run deep.

“We invented it here in Colorado. We patented it here in Colorado, and we exclusively sell it from here in Colorado,” said Jack Barker, the president of the company. 

There were some more light-hearted pursuits on display, too. For example, a distillery that filters vodka through marble from the town of Marble, which sits just west of Aspen. Meanwhile, two ski patrollers at Keystone Ski Resort, Ryan Kryak and Jonathan Cernanec, created a kit for playing beer darts. It’s a pretty self-explanatory drinking game, where participants throw darts at beer cans. 

The pair are roommates and they got the idea while cooped up at home in the early days of the pandemic.

“We'd been laid off from ski patrolling. We had all the time in the world, a stimulus check in our pockets. So we figured let's hunker down, get to work,” Cernanek said.

The product took home the prize in the best gift category of the competition. They were honored to be included at the event, but aren’t quitting their day jobs.

“At this point, we’re still ski patrolling. We’re still on the hill,” Kryak said.