Confidence-boosting trails, Alpine-quality nightlife, and world-class terrain parks – all that’s missing from Breckenridge are some sustained challenges for the experts.
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Essential Advice for the Perfect Trip
But that’s not to say Breckenridge has no class. This is a ski resort with a young heart, an open mind, and a taste for adventure. It looks good and almost always skis well. And each weekend, when the lifts shut, its bars and clubs rock.
Oh yes, and the people who settle here – working as ski instructors, or waiters, or resort staff, are some of the nicest we know in skiing. You’ll find them skinning up the mountain for some pre-season turns in early November, and queueing for 30 minutes for the first lift of the morning on a powder day. They really, really love to ski – most of them have changed the direction of their lives in order to do it – and together they give Breckenridge a lot more soul than most.
The mountain suits early intermediates and freestylers best
Given the enthusiasm of the locals, you’d expect Breckenridge’s ski area to be a super-steep, devil-take-the-hindmost kind of place. But while there are plenty of challenges around, one of the resort’s strongest suits is its wide-open, easy-going pistes – the perfect place to build your confidence, if you’ve ever been rattled by an overcrowded resort in the Alps. Another area in which the resort excels is in its terrain parks which are – simply put – world class.
All in all, this is a well-balanced, high-spirited ski resort
Breckenridge has a less high-falutin’, big-spender atmosphere than Vail or Aspen, and many visitors like it that way. Comments by Welove2ski readers have been very positive. “Go to Breck at least once, you won’t regret it and will probably go back again,” said one, who also advised staying out of Breckenridge’s excellent bars for the first couple of days until you’ve acclimatised to the altitude.
“Breck was outstanding in every way,” said another reporter. “My main worry before going was the altitude – as a moderately fit 44 year old with a few spare pounds and a smoker to boot – but we hardly noticed it, except for a couple if nights of mild insommnia at the beginning,” he added.
Guide to the Mountain
The picture above gives you a taste of what’s on offer in Breckenridge’s skiing area. The skiing is spread across the slopes of five peaks imaginatively called Peak 6, Peak 7, Peak 8, Peak 9 and Peak 10.
From even a cursory glance a few things should be obvious from this picture.
1. The lower slopes, down which the groomers roll, aren’t very steep.
2. There are lots of trees, which means good visibility on cloudy/snowy days.
3. Most of the slopes face one way – which is east. We’ve had usually had good snow here – superb snow, actually – but we’ve heard it can get slushy here, lower down, in the spring.
4. Half way up, the terrain changes abruptly: and you’re suddenly in a treeless zone of wide open bowls and chutes. The lifts serve this “Alpine” zone on three peaks – 6, 7 and 8.
Here’s who will get the most from the skiing in Breckenridge – and the least.
Heaven for wobbly intermediates and freestylers
Two groups in particular will think they’ve died and gone to heaven in Breckenridge. First are skiers who haven’t yet nailed their on-piste technique. They’re the kind of people who struggle in the big-name resorts of the Alps – thrown off their game by crowded pistes, and freaked out by patches of ice or sudden unexpected steeps. For them, Breckenridge’s easy-going blues and greens on Peaks 7,8 and 9 (especially Peak 9) are a revelation.
Midweek, they’re all but empty, and for much of the winter they’re coated in soft, forgiving snow. Throw a little tuition into the equation, courtesy of Breck’s excellent ski school, and an early intermediate can make giant strides forward in both confidence and technique.
The second group to be blown away by Breck are the freestylers. These days, many resorts have given up preparing top-end half-pipes and kickers: standards are so high now that the cost is prohibitive. But not in Breckenridge. It’s always been a big supporter of freestyle skiing (and snowboarding), and invests heavily in its infrastructure each season. It also hosts the Winter Dew Tour each December – the biggest freestyle tour of the season in North America.
As a result, there’s a stunning array of freestyle facilities here – four terrain parks, which culminate in the monstrous kickers and Olympic-standard superpipe of the Freeway Super Park. Not everything is quite so intimidating, however. At the base of Peak 8 are the little diddy jumps of the Powder Line park, and on Peak 9 the ‘progression’ Highway 9 Park which most first-timers can aspire to tackle by the end of the first week.
Just as enticing is the fact that the ski school offers well thought-out lessons for first-timers, stripping freestyle technique down to its basics, and making it much less intimidating than it first appears. Check out Teague Holmes’ feature on how to get from piste to terrain park for a taste of how it works.
Anyone willing to experiment will love it too
Breckenridge used to have a reputation for being easy – too easy, in fact, for more advanced skiers. But while it’s true that real experts – who routinely ski big, steep, sustained off-piste descents in the likes of Chamonix – will find it relatively tame, advanced skiers can have a ball here.
By “advanced” we mean anyone who’s comfortable on all levels of groomed trail/piste, and wants to experiment skiing in powder, over bumps, or through trees. Because squirreled away right across the ski area is a labyrinth of more challenging runs.
Lots of these are through the trees, and are concentrated on Peak 10, and the valley between Peaks 8 and 9. But the recent expansion onto Peak 6 – which added 543 acres of terrain in December 2013 – has significantly shifted the balance of Breck’s advanced terrain towards open powder fields. All are protected against avalanches, so you don’t have to worry about carrying avalanche safety equipment. As a result, it’s become a brilliant place to work on your off-piste skills: as good, in fact, as the Back Bowls of Vail.
The only negative is that many of the runs are pretty short: ten turns, and you’re done. But then if you’re at the experimenting stage you’re not going to be skiing them at Mach3 anyway. Expect an ever-changing diet of tasty little chutes, knees-to-the-chin moguls, and all kinds of trees.
Here’s a little video I shot on a go-everywhere, ski-everything day in Breckenridge in exactly this kind of terrain – featuring ski instructor Teague Holmes and telemarker Josh Cooley.
One word of advice, though – if you do want the best of this terrain, plan to come in January or February. Unless it’s an exceptional season for snow, you might find some of the more advanced terrain closed before Christmas because not enough snow has accumulated to cover the rocks.
High-mileage piste-bashers should steer clear
One group should steer clear of Breckenridge – high-mileage intermediates who don’t want to ski the same runs over and over. Breck’s ski area is packed with variety, but it’s not enormous. If groomed snow is all you want, served up in varying degrees of steepness, then Vail, Whistler or Aspen will suit you better – or one of the resorts of The 3 Valleys in France.
Finally – whatever level you’re at, don’t forget to have your picture taken by the resort’s photographers, stationed at the top of the key lifts. the Mountain Remix is a free app that tracks your vertical, helps plan your day on the slopes, checks lift wait times, and you can use them to build a nifty online souvenir of your skiing day.
Where to Learn
As with most North American mountains, there’s only one Breckenridge ski school – the one run by the lift company. But it’s a good’un, thanks to the quality of the ski instructors it attracts. Welove2ski has has some cracking days in their company.
In fact, booking some kind of ski tuition in Breckenridge makes even more sense than normal, because the mountain isn’t especially large, and is packed with such a wide variety of terrain. That means anyone spending more than a weekend here is going to get bored if they stay in their comfort zone and stick to the kind of slopes they know.
To get the best from Breckenridge, you’ve got to experiment – whether it’s trying the diddy jumps at the Powder Line terrain park, making your first turns in powder in Imperial Bowl, or taking your chances in the moguls on Peak 10. If you’re going to do any of those things, then you’ll develop further a lot faster if you’re with an instructor.
There are several ways to learn with the Breckenridge ski school – in a private lesson, in a skills workshop (maximum number of pupils is five) or, for women with Breck Guides: an Ultimate Four day, Women’s Ski week (in February), or Women & Wine. The resort also runs Lynsey Vonn’s Ski Girls Rock programme aimed at 7-14 year-olds.
For a taste of the kind of clarity of tuition offered, check out some of the features we’ve put together here – including Dave Kamke’s tutorial on a how to lose your A-Frame, and Teague Holmes’ advice on how to make your first jump in the terrain park.
Where to Stay
Where to stay in Breckenridge? There are only two locations that count: either by the lifts and/or slopes, or close to Main Street.
Main Street is where you’ll find Breckenridge’s best bars and restaurants. Stay there, and you’ll get a great taste of its vibrant, mountain-town atmosphere. Bunk down near the slopes and your experience will be more generic: but that’ll be no hardship when you wake up on a bluebird morning, with fresh snow all over the mountain.
Be wary of any accommodation which doesn’t tick one of these two boxes. We’ve visited ski accommodation in the “suburbs” which were miles out of town, and only make sense if you’ve got your own car, fancy a drive each morning, and are paying significantly less than for slopeside/town centre digs.
You should also check out our pick of the best Breckenridge ski accommodation, “Six of the Best Places to Stay in Breckenridge”.
If skiing is your priority, stay at the base of Peaks 7 and 8
Staying at these bases will give you instant access to several key chair-lifts. If skiing is your priority – especially if you’re aiming for the high open snowfields served by T-Bar and the Imperial Express SuperChair – this is where you want to be (check out the trail map for details).
The only drawback is that you’re a long way from the bars and restaurants of Main Street. That’s no problem of course if you’ve got kids in tow; and there are shuttle bus services up and down the mountain. But if nightlife is your priority, you want to be nearer the centre of town.
Breckenridge’s stock of accommodation has improved significantly in recent years. Alongside the good-value properties for which Breckenridge has long been known, there are now some top-of-the-range self-catering condos, with hotel facilities. One Ski Hill Place at the base of Peak 8, is certainly the best of the properties here: it’s expensive, but it’s a lovely place to stay.
Its high-end condos (aka self-catering apartments) are spacious and well-equipped even by American standards, there’s a pool and a bowling alley on site and the breakfasts at the Ski Hill Grill are superb. It’s also reckoned to be the most ski-in, ski-out accommodation in any ski resort in North America – probably because you can catch four lifts virtually from the front door, and ski down to it on six trails. Actually, come to think of it, these are probably our favourite self-catering apartments anywhere in Europe or North America.
Meanwhile, over at the base of Peak 7, Crystal Peak Lodge is a good spot – cheaper than One Ski Hill Place, and pretty roomy, but not offering quite the same stellar standard of accommodation.
Where to Eat
Breckenridge is definitely not a resort for the long-mountain-lunch brigade. Here, lunch is a simple act of refuelling – and anyone who wants something fancier to eat should save their dollars for dinner in one of the better restaurants in town (see below). An exception, according to a reporter, is Starlight Dinners for “on the mountain fine dining”.
In fact the choice of mountain restaurants is limited to a few spots: Vista Haus, half-way up Peak 8, Ten Mile station, half-way up Peak 9, and the Overlook, at the top of Peak 9. Expect burgers, pizza, sushi, wraps and soups. It’s a much better offering than you’d find in your average French self-service in the Alps. But still, it’s not exactly gourmet fare.
A new on-mountain eatery will open for winter 2016-17. The 490-seater food court style restaurant will be located at the top of Peak 7. Until now, if you were skiing on Peak 6 you would have had to traipse over to Peak 8 for lunch, since Peak 6 doesn’t have a restaurant due to the resort’s agreement with the Forest Service. On sale will be the ubiquitous burger and pizza, along with Mediterranean food. The restaurant will also feature the only fresh salad bar in Breckenridge.
You can also drop down to one of the restaurants at the base of the lifts. The base of Peak 8 is one of the most popular spots, with a busy self-service next to the T-Bar pub, and enormous burgers and steaks at the Living Room in One Ski Hill Place. The latter offers the best “ski-in, ski-out” food in Breckenridge.
The best restaurants are the ones serving dinner, not lunch
We like the night-time restaurant scene in Breckenridge. There’s nothing that quite matches the best of Vail or Aspen – but prices are pretty reasonable, there’s lots of choice, and the quality is consistently good.
The pick of the pack is Relish – which showcases the modern American cooking of chef and owner Matt Fackler. It’s upstairs, just off a Main Street, has a warm, unpretentious atmosphere, as well as a good wine list and a superb range of Colorado beers.
The Hearthstone Restaurant (Colorado lamb, elk, salmon) on South Ridge Street is also good. The Lost Cajun (lobster bisque, crawfish boils, and rich Louisiana cuisine) is also recommended by a reporter.
There’s also a great range of more low-key places to eat. If all you want is a hamburger, ribs, or chicken stew then The Motherloaded Tavern on Main Street is great value, so long as you don’t mind all the big screen TVs showing the latest football/hockey games (but then again, if you’re a Brit that’ll just add to the local flavour). The Breckenridge Brewery also does good-value pub food – and Fatty’s is the best pizzeria.
Finally, if you fancy a little more heat in your food, try Mi Casa Cantina – everyone’s favourite Mexican.
Where to Party
In part it’s because it’s a pretty big resort. In part it’s because Denver is so close, making it the bolthole of choice for many students and young city workers. In part it’s because Main Street provides such a natural nightlife focus. But whatever the reason, there’s no denying Breckenridge is a party town, with one of the best apres-ski scenes in America (and the best beer, too). As one of our readers put it: “As for apres-ski, this place rocks – one of the best places outside Europe, apart from Whistler.”
The course of a typical evening is easy to follow
It’s simple really. You start up at one of the apres-ski bars, at the foot of the slopes. T-Bar, at the bottom of Peak 8 is one of the best: but if you’re staying down in town then you’ll probably prefer Mi Casa Cantina, as it’s closer to all the central hotels, condos and B&Bs. It’s just across the road from the Peak 9 base village does excellent jugs of maragaritas, and lots of low-priced food and drink specials during its 3-6pm Happy Hour.
If you’ve stopped at Mi Casa Cantina, then the The Breckenridge Brewery at 600 S.Main St – just across the road – is the obvious next stop – it’s a civilised micro-brewery with highly-rated beers on tap, and good bar food.
Thereafter, the rest of Main Street is your oyster. The Gold Pan Saloon at 103 N. Main St boasts the oldest continuously-operating liquor license west of the Mississippi, and is often rammed come midnight. The Motherloaded Tavern, also on Main Street is a raucous watering hole with an abundance of good-value beers.
Meanwhile nearby at 110 E.Lincoln street is Salt Creek. It’s real name is Napper Tandy’s Irish Pub – but everyone calls it Salt Creek after the steakhouse downstairs. It has live music on Saturdays, a Ladies Night on Fridays and “Beer Pong” on Thursdays.
Cecilia’s at 520 S.Main St is another place where things can get messy, thanks to two-for-one Martini specials, till 8pm. It’s one of the main dance venues at the weekend, too.
Looking for somewhere a little quieter? Then try Angels Hollow at 113 S.Ridge Street – a locals’ favourite, off the beaten path, with a nice selection of beers on draft for happy hour and large Southwestern-style dishes. Meanwhile, The Blue River Bistro has live jazz and blues on Sunday-Thursday nights.
Just beware of the altitude
The town of Breckenridge is set at 9,600ft – nearly 3000m. That’s higher than the top lift in many Alpine ski resorts. So don’t go nuts on your first day. Drink lots of water, give yourself time to acclimatise, and save your big nights for the end of the trip.