Breckenridge: High-Alpine Skiing, Low-Key Mountain Town

by Sandra Henderson  |  Published January 27, 2014

Breckenridge, Colo., with its ski terrain to die for, is one of the most popular winter sports resorts in the United States. But what truly sets Breck (as the locals and regulars call it) apart is its vibe as a friendly, authentic small mountain town. Naturally, 300 days of yearly average sunshine and 300 inches (7.62 m) of snowfall are nice, too.


The former mining town of Breckenridge includes the largest historical district in Colorado. Photo: Carl Scofield / GoBreck

Breckenridge ski resort, a two-hour car ride west of Denver International Airport, was already vast, yet this year’s addition of Peak 6 is said to be the biggest ski resort expansion in North America in more than a decade. The extra 543 skiable acres (2 sq km) not only feature high-alpine steep terrain but also intermediate bowl skiing, a rare find in North America. While many already favor ESP, a steep, tight north-facing chute that is 45 degrees at the entry point, to become Beck’s next signature run, veteran ski instructor Sibylle Hechtel can’t get enough of Horseshoe Bowl and Imperial Bowl. “If you can ski steep blacks, Breck has great terrain above the tree line,” she said.

Breck’s ski terrain, base elevation 9,603 feet (2,927 m), now spans nearly 3,000 acres (12 sq km) with 187 trails so varied you can go from steeps to trees to groomers, all in the same run. To boot, the 22-foot super pipe and 11 bowls turn this ski resort into a huge winter playground. No surprise professional freestyle skiers and snowboarders train at Breck’s four terrain parks; they are world class.

One of Breck’s superlatives, though, can’t be experienced downhill, but up. The Imperial Express SuperChair ascents to an elevation of 12,840 feet (3914 m) within 100 vertical feet (30.5 m) of Peak 8 summit. This is the highest chairlift in North America.

Family-Oriented Skiing

The Summit County winter sports town has earned a reputation as top destination for skiing and snowboarding with children. “Breckenridge is really committed to making the experience enjoyable for families with kids,” said Amy Reichardt. The Colorado mom and her husband come up from the Denver suburb of Littleton, Colo., multiple times every season to ski here with their two daughters. “There are areas on the mountain where you can take kids and not worry about getting run over.” What’s more, Beck’s abundance of extra long gentle groomers at the bottom of the mountain means fewer wearying chairlift boardings with the littles.

Convenient all-day parking lots are another perk for parents with small skiers in tow. The schlep from the Gondola North Lot to the BreckConnect Gondola is mere steps.

family skiiing

Family skiing at Breck. Photo: Liam Doran / GoBreck

Activities Off the Alpine Slopes

Alpine skiing is not the only activity attracting visitors to Breck. Head to the Breckenridge Nordic Center for cross-country skiing, guided snowshoe adventures (four times daily and in the evenings during full moon), igloo building or a sleigh ride in the White River National Forest. While there, the Oh Be Joyful Lodge, constructed entirely from local beetle-kill wood, is new this season.

Tearing down the mountain on 2,500 feet (762 m) of coaster track on the Gold Runner Alpine Coaster, Breck’s alpine slide, is yet another off-piste adventure. Or, for a scenic powder ride, plow a snowmobile over the Continental Divide, the line separating all watersheds in the United States.

Around Town

It’s true, Breck is world famous for endless activities in the snow. But once here, visitors are instantly lulled to leisure by the low-key locals. “This is a real town, and visitors love the atmosphere,” said Rachel Zerowin of the town’s visitor’s bureau. “Breckenridge was a town long before it was a resort, and the pioneering spirit of the miners who settled here in 1859 is alive in today’s residents.”, Breck’s official resort chamber website, even started a hashtag, #BreckBecause, for people to share why they love Breckenridge. Check it out for real reasons from real visitors.

Breckendridge Welcome Center (203 S. Main St.), built around an original log cabin, is also part historical museum, featuring displays on life in early-day Breckenridge. Besides the Mountain Top Children’s Museum (605 S. Park Avenue) there is the Summit Ski Museum (308-B S. Main St.), which celebrates Breckenridge as the first ski town in Colorado and highlights the first century of skiing in Summit Country, from 1860 to 1960.


Breckenridge Welcome Center and Riverwalk in the Fall Snow. Photo: Gregg Davis / Gobreck

Guided tours offered by the Breckenridge Heritage Alliance include a Historic Walking Tour and even a Ski Through History Tour where participants can join a local expert for an afternoon of skiing or snowboarding and learn about the colorful history of skiing at Breck.

Where to Stay, Eat and Drink

Breckenridge Central Reservations is the town’s premier booking service for lodging, activities, lift tickets, equipment rentals and more. With Ski Free Stay Free Packages, usually available through the entire season, you pay for three nights or more and get one free or pay for three days of skiing or more and get one day free. The flash sale site offers last-minute lodging deals for travel within 14 days. Expect Breck to get very busy over spring break. Ski season ends April 20, 2014.

The newly opened restaurant Oscar’s of Breckenridge (105 N. Main St.) specializes in fresh margaritas and street-style tacos. Breckenridge classic, the Blue River Bistro (305 N. Main St.) got a facelift. Reichardt recommends Relish (137 S. Main Street, on the Riverwalk) for “great food, a good (but brief) beer list and lovely cocktails.”

Breck’s indie dining spirit translates into a fresh pint of fine Colorado ale at the Breckenridge Brewery (600 S. Main St.) and continues with the recent arrival of the Breckenridge Distillery. Drop in for a complementary tour and stop by the downtown tasting room (137 S. Main St.) for a glass of hooch, made at 9600 feet with Rocky Mountain snowmelt. Another bar that debuted this season, Après Handcrafted Libations (130 S. Main St.), which has 30 beers on tap but no kitchen, allows patrons to order food from other places or bring food in with them. For mountainside après-ski, the T-Bar at the base of Peak 8 and the Coppertop at Beaver Run Resort on Peak 9 are the place to be. In town, Mi Casa (600 S. Park Avenue) always has a great après-ski crowd at the bar. Modis and Twist are excellent happy hour spots for more modern menus and creative cocktail options. The Gold Pan Saloon and The Motherloaded Tavern are two low-key classics for late-night chilling.

After so much skiing and après-skiing, adventurous travelers can now rest their head at The Bivouac, “The Bivvi” for short, a hostel where guests book a bed in a shared space with others. “A very cool new space,” Zerowin said. At the base of Peak 8, One Ski Hill Place, a RockResort, offers deluxe ski-in/ski-out accommodations.

Zerowin’s parting testimony: “Breckenridge’s skiing and riding, the town, the activities — they’re all incredible, but I really think it’s the community’s laid-back, personable vibe that brings people back year after year.”