Breckenridge was our 2nd chance to pop the Epic Australia Pass in the sleeve pocket and hop straight on the lifts, ignoring the saturday morning ticket window crowds. Breckenridge and Vail vie for being the most popular resorts in America, so saturdays can get frantic. Plus this was the day before Super Bowl, and all the Denver Broncos’ fans were making it their weekend ski day to save sunday for the game.
So I got out early, and with no need to buy a pass was on the gondola by 8.45am, as the car park filled fast. It didn’t look good for a crowd free ski day, but I hadn’t factored in just how much Breck had grown since our last visit.
Breckenridge features five peaks, the latest addition, Peak 6, adding a big chunk of lonely blue cruising trails with a real away-from-it-all feel to them, and some great alpine chutes along the ridgeline after a short hike up.
Eleven express lifts, including a gondola and 4 six-packs in that, do a great job of keeping the traffic flowing even on the busiest days. Any strong intermediate or better skier/boarder can move around to avoid queues, and get in enough vertical to turn their knee and ankle joints to jam no problem. The EpicMix App, with real time crowd-sourced lift status updates, helps as well.
Then there’s the classic weekend cheat of taking a lesson and gettiing lift priority, plus a guide who knows where the traffic is less and the snow is more. Lee Sky, my instructor/guide for the day, certainly did. Lee has transitioned from growing up in Wingham, a tiny dairy farming town on the NSW north coast, to living year round in Breckenridge, after getting into ski instructing by accident and working his way up to senior levels.
“If we’ve only got one day together we better hit all 5 peaks first, and then those ridgelines above the lifts are looking pretty tasty mate” were my simple instructions for the day, which Lee delivered on in spades.
Breck’s sprawling layout means you are not getting huge vertical lines, but more criss-crossing from peak to peak.
The highest of these, Peak 8, claims America’s highest lifted point at 12,480’/3,914m off the Imperial Express lift. I remembered from our last visit years ago having to hike up from the t-bar to access the same bowl terrain, so it was nice to have express lift access now.
An easy traversing line skier’s right from the lift took us out to a massive gully area, Snow White, where we were the only skiers on this super busy Saturday.
That saved our hiking legs for above Peak 6, being the last two skiers let out the gate for the day to hit the ridgeline chutes. Over the back of the ridge you look down on Copper Mountain and Ski Cooper. Scooting along it to find the right aspect we found more nice wind blown snow in some 45° or so lines. Being a bit higher, and in the midst of some of Colorado’s highest peaks, helps Breckenridge lay claim to some of the state’s best and most reliable snow conditions. Nearly 9m/350 inches season snowfall means plenty of top ups, and boot deep or better days are common.
The long ridgelines provide plenty of opportunity to enjoy it, providing far more easily accessible alpine terrain than most places in America. These are not old burn off bowls, like at Vail, but genuine above treeline.
Some chutes are steepish, but mostly it’s mellow enough to get you excited but not kill you, nothing like Big Sky or Jackson Hole in that regard, and perfect for average skiers and boarders to have a lash at.
Getting a guide/lesson will help. Lee gave me a couple of tips that prove you can teach an old dog new tricks as we fulfilled our 5 peaks mission at a fast pace. A short but satisfying lunch stop was our only pause. Breck may not be Vail for up-market on-hill dining, but there is plenty of choice. That will improve for the upcoming 2016-17 winter with a new 490 seat restaurant at the top of Peak 7.
Breck’s parks are also legendary, the town long being the training base for international and Aussie legends like Bobby Brown, Russ Henshaw and Anna Segal, to name a few. It’s also home to Dew Tour, which rates right up there with X-Games as the biggest freeski event on the calendar.
The historic town is the other key factor to what makes Breck such a great destination. New developments haven’t destroyed the character here, and the shopping, dining and aprés options along Main Street will keep you occupied. Just remember weekends and holidays it’s chocker, so book for restaurants.
The home run mountain layout allows many properties to be ski in if not also ski out, so there are plenty of great value options to stay if the more upmarket ones at the lift bases are too much for your budget. The big supermarket as you come into town has all you need to self-cater, with many prices cheaper than at home, so for those with an Epic Australia or Epic Pass in their pocket you can have a ski holiday for the cost of the flight and accommodation.
Free Summit Stage bus connections to nearby Keystone and Arapahoe Basin access plenty more variety on the same pass all season, or Vail is only an hour or so drive west.
Whether self-driving or shuttling, remember on weekends, holidays and pow days there is a huge influx of people heading up and down I-70 from Denver, which can become a 100km long parking lot then. The 2 hour trip can take double that or longer. So time your arrival/departure to avoid those peaks. Otherwise getting used to the altitude is the only downside.
getting to Breckenridge fly direct to Denver