It is common practice among locals to hike to peaks higher than the chairlifts can travel
by Eric Leiberman
Lacing up my boots and strapping into my board for the first time of the season, I recognize a familiar feeling. As I ascend the mountain with the historic and picturesque Breckenridge village at my back, breathing in the cool and crisp Colorado air, I feel bliss. This is what I have come to know and expect from skiing in the West where the mountains are bigger, the views more beautiful, and the trails more exhilarating.
Sitting atop the trail, ready to make my first plunge, I hear a thundering boom from behind me. It is like the gun signaling the start of a race. I immediately rise to my feet and begin carving up the perfectly sculpted terrain. The booming continues periodically as I continue my descent. I am bewildered but in no way upset. It just adds to the adrenaline and excitement of it all. I later learn from my guide that the explosions I was hearing were “controlled dynamite blasts,” strategically conducted to protect fellow thrill-seekers from avalanches. It is at this point, as my heart is thumping and I am gasping for air after completing my first run of the season from an altitude of 12,998 feet, that I realize Breckenridge offers an authentic experience that makes coming here distinctly different. It is, as they say, “The perfect mountain. The perfect mountain town.”
Breckenridge, which is one of the six Vail Resorts (Vail, Beaver Creek, Keystone, Heavenly, and the newly acquired Northstar-at-Tahoe) is one of the more challenging, boasting 55% of its trails rated advanced or expert terrain. But when you consider it offers 2,358 skiable acres and 155 trails (the longest, Four O’Clock, is 3.5 miles), there is still plenty of skiing and snowboarding for beginners (14%) and intermediates (31%).
Though Vail is twice the size, Breckenridge feels massive because of its expansive layout – indeed, the distance between Peaks 7 and 10 spans 10 miles, and to get from one end to the other would take an hour, going fast. There are no back bowls or hidden valleys, making for an open-faced range of monstrous peaks – all of which can be seen from any location on the mountain. On a clear day with no wind, this layout has an almost therapeutic feel. Riding up the chairlift, looking around, you almost get lost in what is around you. Watching these human specks effortlessly tackling these mighty peaks, it almost makes one believe that Devil’s Crotch and the Windows (expert runs on Peak 9) are not going to be so difficult. But then you get to the top and look down, and you begin to envy those little specks, effortlessly traversing moguls that reach up to your torso at a nearly 55? vertical drop.
As if the dynamite explosions and monstrous moguls aren’t enough, it is a common practice among locals to hike to peaks higher than the chairlifts can travel. Keep in mind, this isn’t a two-minute climb that equates to an added 30 seconds to your run. The hike we take lasts about 45 minutes. The wind os howling and my legs are aching. I begin to question my guide. How, I wondered, could this be worth this hike? But this seemed to be a traditional practice among locals, and I am eager to get the full experience Breck has to offer. At last, when I reach our jumping off point, I understand the necessity of the hike. This is unlike anything I have ever experienced. It is the closest I’ve ever been to helicopter skiing. Imagine a bowl all to yourself. You can stay on a single edge for minutes if you are so inclined. For a truly exhilarating experience that demands a great deal of skill, ask a local or guide about opportunities to hike on the mountain. From what my guide tells me, it sounds like there are hiking opportunities all over the mountain.
Breckenridge is definitely worth the hike.
The days of ski school for young children and beginners are over. I rarely take lessons or guided tours, simply because I’ve always felt that they slow me down and provide me with instruction that I don’t really need. The Private Adventure Tour that I take my first day is a world of difference from what I was used to. If you’re like me and you’re only skiing a few days at the mountain, the tour offers an opportunity to learn and strategically plan the rest of your stay. It is an opportunity to sample everything the mountain has to offer quickly and efficiently. The experience is made all the more enjoyable because the guides are so personable and interesting.
And if Ski School had recess, this would be it! The Adventure Sessions matches you with a top guide and a small group of similarly skilled skiers and riders – you’ll get the most out of your day, go places that you may not have been before, cut lift lines and pick up tips and technical information along the way (starting at $230).
These kinds of programs empower you to ride to the top of the highest chairlift in North America, the Imperial Express SuperChair to 12,840 feet and ride the famed expert terrain of Breckenridge’s Lake Chutes.
The 22-foot Superpipe has arrived at Breckenridge! The 22-foot superpipe is the first major facelift for Breckenridge’s Freeway Terrain Park since its inception in 1999. Visitors will see regular training sessions on the expanded Peak 8 halfpipe with ski and snowboard sensations like Steve Fisher, JJ Thomas and Bobby Brown that rival XGames and Dew Tour competitions. The 22-foot pipe will debut at the first stop of the Winter Dew Tour Dec. 16-19, 2010, broadcast live on NBC.
Adrenaline junkies won’t want to miss the new alpine coaster, The Gold Runner, a three-foot elevated track that twists and turns down 2,500 feet, speeding through hairpin curves, twists, and dips between two ski runs, at a maximum speed of 30 mph. You control the speed of the two-seater car, so if you or your pint-sized passenger is feeling timid, you can take it easy navigating the corners as well. Operating within the canopy of Peak 8, it is set amid spectacular mountain backdrop. The Gold Runner operates in both summer and winter.
Another twist to the on-mountain experience this year at Breckenridge (as well as the other Vail Resorts) is EpicMix, a digital application that guests can access online, at their computer or via a free mobile application that can be downloaded for the iPhone, Android or other smart phone. EpicMix automatically captures your activity throughhout each of the Vail Resorts, by leveraging Vail Resorts’ state-of-the-art radio frequency (RF) scanners that are being installed at each of its 89 lifts across all five mountain resorts. An RF-enabled chip embedded in Vail Resorts’ season passes and PEAKS lift tickets automatically tracks your lift rides, calculating vertical feet skied and days on the mountain and recognizes special achievements and accomplishments by granting you commemorative, collectible digital pins. EpicMix will have hundreds of available digital pins for a multitude of unique experiences available at each resort (For more information visit epicmix.com).
Eclectic Dining Options
You certainly work up an appetite, and Breckenridge offers eclectic options for dining on and off the mountain. Located in the new Grand Lodge at the base of Peak 7, Sevens features a wood-fire pizza oven and a tapas bar as well as a quick service window for meals on-the-go. In contrast, the Vista Haus, located at the top of the Colorado SuperChair, offers fantastic views and food court-style lunches including the Asian station, Mexican station, and sushi bar. Breckenridge can truly please anyone – from those who prefer quick traditional ski resort cuisine like burgers and curly fries to those who prefer something healthier. Though the food options are dynamic, Chris Juarez, a 12-year veteran instructor at Breckenridge, says, “At Breckenridge, people skip lunch, bring a sandwich in their pocket on the lift, hike for some new sights, and call that a typical day.” Again, this is part of what makes the culture at Breckenridge different from neighboring ski resorts. People who frequent the mountain are passionate and excited about making the most out of a quality skiing day. And most importantly, they are kind and considerate to those of us who are new to the mountain. In fact, they were eager to be a resource, providing us with recommendations of where to go and what to see on the mountain and in the historic Breckenridge village.
Novel Mountain Activities
If you plan on staying for five days or longer you’d like to mix up one of your days of skiing, I would highly recommend snowmobiling or dogsledding with Good Times Adventures. Good Times is one of the few places in the country that actually gives participants the opportunity to drive (not just ride) the dogsled. They teach you the lingo and the technique, and the rest of the experience is up to you. You tell the dogs how fast to go and how hard to turn. Both children and adults can enjoy the tours. On my tour, I see a father and his 3-year-old son taking a leisurely ride, laughing and smiling from start to finish. I also see a teenager making the dogsled look like a roller coaster, tumbling and being thrown from the sled. It is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced, and I’d highly recommend cutting a ski day short to enjoy this once-in-a-lifetime experience. (Good Times Adventures organizes snowmobiling, dog sledding, snowmobile tours 6062 Tiger Road, Breckenridge, CO 80424, 970-453-7604).
What makes skiing at Breckenridge such a unique experience is the town itself.
You can tour a century-old, authentic gold mine 1,000 feet below ground to learn more about Breckenridge’s 150 years of history, or meet some of its ghostly inhabitants.
The largest historic district in Colorado with 249 structures, Breckenridge celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2009, giving the town an opportunity to reflect on its rich history and heritage full of gold mining, exploration, and adventure.
Founded in 1859 by a small group of men and one woman, the town’s Gold Rush brought settlers seeking opportunity and prosperity. According to the resort’s website, “Throughout Breckenridge’s existence, the spirit of the community and surrounding landscape has inspired residents to participate in the town in their own unique way. And, as with Breckenridge townsfolk of today, the early settlers lived lives full of stories worth telling.”
In my experience, ski resorts often build and develop towns full of restaurants and shops around the mountain as it develops. But in Breckenridge’s case, the town brought a rich and vibrant history of its own, and the mountain developed naturally as a result. A truly unique and special supplement to the mountain resort, the Breckenridge town is a tourist destination in and of itself. It is remarkable to consider that in a town of 5.3 square miles, 30 percent is open space, including 400 acres of parks, historic sites and recreation areas.
Take a walking tour of the town and you are likely to hear the story of one of Breckenridge’s most enduring characters, Sylvia. A miner’s widow living in Breckenridge in the 1860′s she occupied a women’s boarding house on Main Street and is said by many to still occupy the building. Sylvia was said to be a prospector herself, (though of suitors, not gold), but failed to strike it rich and passed away alone. Today visitors can try to spot Sylvia themselves at the former boarding house, now The Prospector Restaurant, located at 130 S. Main Street. Local lore suggests that she only reveals herself to males, still in hope of finding a mate.
Go underground with Country Boy Mine Tours, to experience something of what miners of the 19th and early 20th centuries faced as they toiled to make their fortunes in the Colorado Rockies (112 N Ridge St, Breckenridge, CO 80424, 970-453-4405, 800-980-1859).
The Edwin Carter Museum honors Edwin Carter, a Gold Rush miner turned naturalist at heart. Carter practiced taxidermy and used his collection to educate people about the negative effects mining had on the environment (111 N. Ridge St., one block off Main Street, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. daily; admission is free; 970-453-4481).
Visit the Barney Ford House Museum which honors Barney L. Ford, an escaped slave who prospered and became a prominent entrepreneur and black civil rights pioneer in Colorado (111 N Ridge St, Breckenridge, CO 80424, open 11am-4 pm, year-round)
A memorable way to experience the Rocky Mountains and Winter Snows is to take a horse-drawn sleigh ride from Breckenridge Stables. Inside your sleigh, wrapped in your warm wool blanket, you can hear the sleigh bells ringing a tune of old in the crisp mountain air. You can enjoy a delicious dinner on the mountain or just make the journey to take in the breathtaking beauty of the Great Rocky Mountains.
Culture and arts abound in Breckenridge with opportunities to learn unique applications of art, photography and film. The Arts District of Breckenridge is a wonderful place to get your feet wet with various mediums of art. It is an arts campus in the heart of town featuring several resident artist facilities and indoor and outdoor workshop spaces. The Tin Shop features visiting artists from around the world who have open studio hours and offer workshops, demonstrations, lectures and more. Ongoing workshops are also offered at the Fuqua Livery Stable and the historic Robert Whyte House for children, teens and adults in a variety of mediums including drawing, painting, textiles, ceramics and creative writing to name a few. The Quandary Antiques facility is now a ceramics studio. Experience the Breckenridge Art Walks, which take place on the second Saturday of each month, year round, and talk to artists who have succeeded in starting their own galleries.
(For more visitor information, go to www.breckenridge.com).
One Ski Hill Place, a RockResort, Opens at Breckenridge
Breckenridge has a new standard in luxury accommodations with the opening of One Ski Hill Place, a RockResort (a Vail Resorts sister company).
The new ski-in/ski-out resort has access to four lifts, taking guests to Peaks 7, 8, 9 and 10 in the winter and to hiking and biking trails in the summer, plus the Peak 8 Fun Park. It is also steps away from the new BreckConnect Gondola that links One Ski Hill Place with the historic mountain town of Breckenridge, and to additional trails.
One Ski Hill Place offers units ranging from studios to four-bedroom condominiums, wth the highest quality finishes and decor. Resort amenities include two indoor pools, a hot tub and outdoor fireplace, as well as two media rooms, a game room, a two-lane bowling alley, state-of-the-art fitness facility, the rejuvenation Center for massages, The Living Room restaurant, a lively T-Bar for apres-ski, and meeting space.
The ski-in/ski-out property is celebrating its Grand Opening and inaugural winter season with some marvelous packages:
Peaks, Pins and Pinot is valid from Dec. 19, 2010 through April 24, 2011 and includes: 3 nights accommodations in a 2-bedroom condominium at One Ski Hill Place; 3*day lift tickets for a group of four; one game of bowling at One Ski Hill Place’s “Mine Shaft” bowling alley with a selection of snacks and beer (lane must be reserved no more than 24 hours in advance); wine tasting and small plate pairing from The Living Room, the fine dining restaurant at One Ski Hill Place. Rates start at $2,311 for a group of four (includes taxes and gratuity on activities but not the resort fee and lodging taxes), a savings of 15%.
Un-Wined is valid through April 24, 2011 and includes: 2 nights accommodations in a one-bedroom condominium at One Ski Hill Place; complimentary bottle of wine upon arrival; one 50-minute Rejuvenation Massage per person; wine tasting and small plate pairing from The Living Room, the fine dining restaurant at One Ski Hill Place. Rates start at $862 for the two-night package based on double occupancy.
More and more of us seek out hotels that are environmentally sensitive and One Ski Hill Place has been recognized as one of the state’s most environmentally-friendly properties. It was certified as the Town’s first Green Globes-built property and Colorado’s highest Green Globes-rated development. This means that it was built according to the Green Globes rating system, which includes using recycled materials and water- and power-saving devices. Additionally, the property will uphold the RockResorts environmental standards with green guest rooms, green meetings, and Water on the Rocks.
One Ski Hill Place is located 100 miles from Denver International Airport and 70 miles from the Eagle/Vail Airport.
For more information about One Ski Hill Place, including reservations, please visit www.oneskihill.com or call 1-888-906-6303.
For the third consecutive year, RockResorts and Legendary Lodging, a Vail Resorts Company, are offering a “Three for Free” package, featuring one fee night of lodging, a $50 gift card and new this year, a complimentary hydration backpack. Available for travel now through April 24, 2011. In addition to the nine participating RockResort properties, this package is available at all Vail Resorts property locations in Colorado, including Vail, Breckenridge, Beaver Creek and Keystone. Rates start from $147 per night (must be booked by January 31, 2011 and is based on availability; blackout dates apply). For more information, visit www.freenightonus.comor call 866-513-ROCK.
There are many lodging choices at Breckenridge.
Located a very short walk from the mountain at Peak 9, One Breckenridge Place Townhomes offer comfortable and spacious accommodations. Our unit had 3 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, and an enormous common area. The townhomes are individually furnished, with complimentary high-speed wireless Internet access, and ideal for families and groups of friends (book online at www.breckenridge.com, 800-536-1890).
Breckenridge offers the perfect balance of traditional and untraditional services: a variety and range of dining options, terrain, and alternative activities. Breckenridge offers the luxury of its Vail Resorts counterparts at the same time it offers genuine thrills from out-of-bounds skiing, the alpine coaster and dogsledding, combined with the authentic experience of a town that respects its heritage. Breckenridge is an exceptional resort. It is no wonder that Breckenridge has been one of the most popular ski resorts in North America.
Breckenridge is definitely worth the hike.
Monday, 06 December, 2010
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