While ski fanatics across the country are cheering on the US Ski Team at the Olympic Winter Games in Russia, there's another big celebration going on in the Colorado Rockies.
Breckenridge Ski Resort has just opened Peak 6, one of the biggest ski area terrain expansions in North America in the past decade.
Peak 6 offers 400 new acres of lift-served terrain and 143 acres of hike-to terrain, representing a 23 percent increase in the resort's skiable acreage. In addition, two new chair lifts, including a six-person high-speed superchair, transport skiers to this vast powder playground. Peak 6 is above tree-line intermediate and expert bowl skiing — which means plenty of powder and lots of butt-kicking challenge. Peak 6, in other words, is not for weenies.
But it is accessible to intermediate skiers who want an alpine bowl experience, says Breckenridge communications director Kristen Stewart. "Below the three new bowls on Peak 6 our premier run is called Bliss, and it's actually a groomed bowl run," she says. "Nearly a third of our skiing is above tree line, so we wanted to give intermediate skiers a chance to experience that high-alpine feel."
Breckenridge is undeniably a skier's mountain, one with attitude and altitude. With the highest chairlift in North America depositing skiers and boarders on a summit just short of 13,000 feet, flatlanders often need a day of adjustment to avoid the symptoms of altitude sickness. It's a serious ski resort, spread across four mountains with no-nonsense names: Peak 7, Peak 8, Peak 9, Peak 10 — and now Peak 6. And it's got a reputation for some pretty fierce winds.
For advanced skiers and boarders, Breckenridge offers some of the toughest slopes in the Colorado Rockies. Black diamond and double black diamond runs with names like Amen, Adios, Psychopath and Boneyard make up more than half of the terrain.
But intermediate skiers will find plenty to keep them happy, too, with wide open groomers, glades and powder runs. Just be sure to keep a trail map handy; this is one massive resort spread over 2,900 acres, so getting from one peak to another can take some time.
Old West charm
I like Breckenridge as much for its laid-back Old West town as for the challenging and varied skiing. This is a real mountain town with a population of more than 3,000 residents complete with a movie theater, museums and a library. It's got a hip vibe with lots of friendly locals and an amazing diversity of restaurants, bars, galleries and shops.
The college-age crowd that's attracted to Breckenridge likes to party as hard as they ski and snowboard. Visiting a few saloons is mandatory. Fatties, a former bordello turned sports bar, and the Gold Pan Saloon, circa 1879, are both steeped in local history. I always stop by the Breckenridge Brewery, too, for a tasty microbrew and some excellent pub food.
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The new Breckenridge Distillery is causing a major commotion among locals with its award-winning craft bourbon whiskey. "Our hooch is made at 9,600 feet with snowmelt from the Rocky Mountains," the distillery claims in its advertising. Rock on, dudes.
Despite its youthful energy, Breckenridge takes pride in maintaining a sense of Victorian charm that dates back to 1859, when the town was established as a mining camp. Pastel gingerbread homes line the streets along with renovated saloons and coffeshop storefronts. Many homes and structures are on the National Register of Historic Places, and a walking tour is a must for anyone who admires exquisitely renovated Victorian architecture.
Marcia Biggs of Safety Harbor is a freelance writer specializing in travel.