Off-piste skiing in Breckenridge has a pretty low-key reputation. This is a ski resort known for its easy-peasy, ego-boosting pistes and mighty terrain parks, rather than its challenging powder fields. And its profile amongst off-piste skiers hasn’t been helped by the trashing it sometimes gets in internet forums. If you’re a hip young Colorado skier with a taste for big-mountain skiing, then talking the place down – on account of its lack of sustained steeps – seems almost a rite of passage.
But that’s only half the story.
Yes, Breckenridge is home to some of the smoothest pistes on either side of the Atlantic. And yes, if you’re the kind of skier who can munch powder through 1000 vertical metres, then you’re going to be happier in Chamonix, Verbier, Jackson Hole, St Anton and La Plagne.
But if you’re an advanced skier rather than an expert: someone who’s bored of the groomers, and dabbles in off-piste skiing without ever being the master of it – then you can have a ball here. Because littered over the top half of the Breckenridge ski area is a mouthwatering array of terrain that will get your legs burning and adrenaline pumping without ever scaring you witless.
Here’s what I’m talking about – courtesy of a day with Teague Holmes of the Breckenridge ski school and former Welove2ski blogger, Josh Cooley. As you’ll see, the weather was iffy and the snow was a mix of powder and soft crud. In other words, not perfect: but we had a blast nonetheless.
It’s the variety that really impresses here. Breckenridge isn’t the kind of place where you settle into one style of skiing and stay there for the rest of the holiday. You’re constantly having to adapt to different challenges – bumps, powder, crud, trees, and short, sharp steeps – and your technique comes on in leaps and bounds as a result.
Oh yes, and you never need worry about avalanches – because in common with all North American ski areas, Breckenridge secures all its slopes against avalanches whether they’re on-piste or off-piste. If you see it, you can see it – and if there’s any doubt the resort will close lifts so you can’t access terrain until the blasting is done.
By the way, did you note the complete absence of other skiers in the video clip? Breckenridge is a schizophrenic ski resort – as busy as Les Arcs on a weekend, but midweek all but deserted. So give yourself a whole week to ski here to get the best of it.
Here’s the pick of the terrain.
T-Bar and the top of Peak 8
Up here you’ll find a scintillating mix of wide-open powder bowls (Imperial and Horshoe Bowls) as well as little chutes and lines that cut through widely-spaced trees. My favourite run on the mountain is here: Forget-Me-Knot, which is often missed by other skiers. You’ll find powder on it long after it’s gone on more popular routes.
Imperial Bowl is also a must – one of the easiest powder bowls you’re ever likely to ski which isn’t so flat it’s boring. Bliss.
The hanging valley between Peak 8 and 9
Many Breckenridge skiers never get to this part of the mountain – a hanging valley, which is a great place to snaffle early powder early in the morning before T-Bar or the Imperial Express Chair opens. The runs are pretty short – and many are actually trails cut between trees. So they’re not what a proper Alpine skier would call off-piste. But they’re a lot of fun nonetheless.
Here’s a short video of how it was one morning when I was there. Note the complete lack of other skiers, again.
Peak 10 is an area made up entirely of more challenging terrain – but one that can take a long time to open in a winter of low snowfall. Canny skiers hug its southern edge when the powder’s gone elsewhere.
“After a big dump, go straight to Falcon SuperChair on Peak 10 via the QuickSilver Super6,” says Josh Cooley. “But be quick – it’s a local hotspot. Harvest the low-hanging fruit first: Crystal, Centennial, Doublejack and Cimarron are all great first and second runs. Next, depending on wind direction, ski either The Burn on the North-facing side of Peak 10 or the Southside terrain. Fence-line to the skiers’ right of Mustang holds powder well.”
The Lake Chutes
Finally, Breckenridge’s steepest slopes come courtesy of the Lake Chutes. The film, below, rather over-eggs the pudding. But there’s no denying that the top turns – which feature pitches of 50 degrees – will test anyone’s technique.