Breckenridge wraps you in its powdery arms without even knowing your name. It makes you feel happy and a little dizzy, and knows you’ll treat it well. And sure enough, you start smiling at strangers, and stop to redeposit the coffee cup that blew out of the garbage.
You start calling it Breck, and fantasise about buying a condo at One Ski Hill Place so you can return every year, and ultimately spend entire winters on its slopes.
“Oh, I LOVE Breck!” enthused my friend, as she zipped up her fur-lined Prada boots before leaving my house. “It’s the ski town for the yoga set,” she declared, “whereas Aspen is tennis, and Vail is…golf. Yes, definitely golf.” She turned around before she got to her brand new Range Rover. “No, no, this is it: You wear your furs in Aspen, but you skin them in Breckenridge!”
You’d be forgiven for thinking she goes to Aspen. But she’s a Breck diehard, along with countless others from across the globe — and Denver — who think the combination of things Breckenridge offers is unparalleled.
I closed the front the door and sat down at my computer. What exactly is that mix?
Let’s start at the very beginning. Skiing in Colorado is reliably great. It snows a lot, it's sunny a lot, and it’s rarely as cold as the East Coast. Flights to Denver are also plentiful and, compared with destination resorts like Jackson Hole or Telluride, are relatively reasonable. After that, it’s a question of where to go.
Breckenridge is the closest big-across-the-board resort to Denver, and on a good travel day (read: not in a snowstorm), you can make it in less than two hours. And while Vail and Beaver Creek are only about 20 minutes farther, they don’t have point two: authenticity and vibe.
The town of Breckenridge was founded during the Gold Rush of 1859, and while it’s main purpose now is supporting tourism, it still feels like — and is — a real town, albeit one with an exceptionally high number of cool shops (Craniologie, Mary’s Mountain Cookies, and Marigold’s Farmhouse Funk and Junk), bars (The Absinthe Bar, Après Handcrafted Libations and the Breckenridge Brewery) and restaurants (Relish, Hearthstone, and Moe’s Original BBQ). It also attracts the kind of person who is more interested in skiing and riding than in seeing and being seen.
Breckenridge opened its first runs at Peak 8 of the Tenmile Range in 1961. The resort now covers Peaks 6-10, with a sophisticated network to shuttle people around. Free busses crisscross the town, a free gondola brings you from downtown up to Peaks 7 and 8, and Peak 9 is accessible from town.
In keeping with all of this user-friendly vibe, luxury lodging has been slow to arrive in Breck. There are lots of places to stay (around town), and lots of nice places to stay (on Peak 7), but only in the past few years has there been a really nice place to stay: One Ski Hill Place on Peak 8. It’s an all-condominium hotel, so it’s expected you’ll make some meals on your own, which means the bellmen will happily carry your bags from City Market to your room. This is where my family is laying its collective head.
This is my second time skiing Breckenridge. Two years ago my husband, Thomas, and I stayed at a more-functional-than-fabulous ski-in/ski-out condo near Peak 9, and held hands down the plentiful green runs and through Ripperoo’s Forest with our boys, ages two and four. Two and four are now four and six, and their run of choice is a terrain park, even if they snow-plow through most of it. With this in mind, our move to a condo at base of Peak 8 is perfect: three terrain parks come in at the base, and if you watch long enough (11 minutes before 10am and 48 seconds after), you’re guaranteed to see someone do something you can’t. Also at Peak 8 is the ski school and an extensive range of beginner lifts and trails, the gondola, and a great après scene for the masses (The T-Bar) and the more refined (The Living Room).
One Ski Hill Place defines Breck luxury. The condos are extremely well-equipped and exceptionally comfortable, the ski concierge who lays your skis on the snow for you each morning becomes your best friend for the week, and the Starbucks coffee, spa-flavoured water and snacks are plentiful. But since things are cooler than average in Breckenridge, it’s OK to walk through the hotel in your ski boots, the in-hotel activities include two private bowling lanes and media rooms, and your daily housekeeping might be done by a bearded hipster (who will do a most excellent job).
The two downsides of Breckenridge can be the elevation and the weekend lift lines. Sitting at 9,600 feet — and that’s before you take a lift — one in four people develop mild signs of altitude sickness right away. Coming from London (elevation 115 feet) or New York (elevation 13 feet), the change is significant, but with a whole lot of water (and little or no alcohol, please), symptoms usually pass after about two days. Chances are you’ll only be a little out of breath and have a slight headache. But this elevation also means you can ski way high up in Breckenridge; at the newly-opened Peak 6, even blue-run skiers can take off above the tree line, which offers an other-worldly experience.
Breck draws big from the Denver area, and from the large pool of area ski resort employees who chase the best snow on their days off, so on the weekends, the wait for one of the SuperChairs can exceed 15 minutes. The weekend we were there, we only saw it that busy once: early afternoon on a warm, snowy Saturday. But even then, we found near-empty runs.
A small price to pay? Totally. We hugged Breck back and said, “See you next year!"
Things You Need to Know
There are shuttles from Denver International Airport to Breckenridge, but renting a car is more convenient. That way, you can grab a bite to eat at Chick-fil-A when you land, make a quick stop at Target, and stock up on groceries at City Market before you check into your hotel. Then, later in the week, you can go night-skiing at Keystone, where your lift ticket is also valid. You can also make a stop at the Outlets at Silverthorne.
Breckenridge Resort covered lift tickets for my husband and myself. All kids under 5 ski free. For everyone else, buy your lift passes as early as possible. They go on sale in the spring, and go up in price as the season gets closer.
Breckenridge Resort took care of my rentals at Breck Sports, located at the bases of Peaks 7, 8 and 9, which wins big for convenience. You can find less-expensive rental packages at places like Blue River Sports or Christy Sports, and pick them up with your rental car, or get them to your condo on the bus.
As we discovered this year (thanks to a complementary lesson), ski school makes all the difference for kids. Our kids made more progress in three hours than they made in three years with us. Because of this, we booked Robert Amann for a second day, and this time, all shared him: the boys got him in the morning while Thomas and I had a ski date, and Thomas and I took turns with him in the afternoon. Thomas and I learned that our skiing was a little old fashioned. We didn’t have to work so hard, meaning we could ski longer before a break. It was a revolutionary week, and we spent most of it following the kids down the mountain.
An app to track it all — the vertical feet you’ve skied, photos taken by Epic Mix photographers, lesson progress, guides to help you plan your day — Epic Mix comes with your ski pass at any Vail Resort, which includes Breckenridge, Keystone, Beaver Creek and as of next year, Park City. It took us a few days to get with the program, but when we did, we were hooked.
There's plenty to do. Snowshoe, dog sled or snowmobile, or check out the Continental Divide at Loveland Pass. Shop at one of the 200 stores in downtown Breckenridge, walk down nearby Frisco's charming Main Street, or visit BreckCreate, Breckenridge's arts centre. To wash it all down, stop by the Breckenridge Distillery.