BRECKENRIDGE, Colo. — We were sitting at the Gold Pan Saloon, the oldest continually operating bar west of the Mississippi, enjoying cocktails and Colorado beer, when a guy dressed in a puffy coat, shorts, and goggles rode by on his bike. He had a pair of skis slung over his shoulder, and a shaggy dog galloping by his side. It was the dead of winter, cold and wet, and we watched as he pedaled through eight inches of fresh snow. No worries, dress for the weather and carry on. Such is life in the laid-back, chill town of Breckenridge.
We’d come to this former Gold Rush town for a girlfriend getaway, to ski, to spa, to shop, to eat, and to bond with our female posse. We took a direct flight from Boston into Denver, and drove west “over the hill,” arriving in Breck with plenty of time for apres ski on the deck of the crazy-busy TBar. The sun was slipping behind the lofty Tenmile Range, as we debated hydrating our just-arrived-from-the coast bodies with water (the smart thing to do) or perhaps kicking off the weekend with a Two Mile High Mule or Breckenridge Avalanche Amber. Cheers!
The next morning, some of us — those who had signed up for a half-day ski lesson — were running a wee bit late. “No worries,” Tommy Banks, our ski instructor, said. “Beautiful day, huh?” It was a bluebird day, not a cloud in the sky, temps in the mid-20s. We spent the next few hours with Tommy and his broad, warm smile and easy-going demeanor, exploring the mountain and improving our form.
Breckenridge Ski Resort spreads across 2,908 skiable acres, and includes five mountain peaks, 187 trails, and 34 lifts. There are big, open bowls and plenty of high alpine terrain, steep chutes, easy-does-it cruisers, and a good cluster of beginner runs; in other words, something for everyone. We started on the cat-scratched groomers on Peak 7, and then shot over to Peak 9 to practice on wide cruisers. We skied from peak to peak, up and down, sometimes in front of Tommy as he watched and advised, sometimes trailing him, breathing heavily, missing our sea-level oxygen. The elevation is 9,600 feet at the base of the resort, and a soaring 12,998 feet at its summit. By the time we met up with the others in our group, our legs were wobbly, our throats parched. But we were feeling good, and anxious to ski with the rest of our gal gang that afternoon.
We ended the day at the Rejuvenation Center at One Ski Hill Place for massages and body treatments, followed by a trip into town (there’s a free shuttle bus) for drinks at the Gold Pan Saloon and dinner at Angel’s Hollow, a cozy, local favorite serving Mexican dishes, along with burgers and hearty comfort fare.
The next day, the group split up again. Some headed to the Breckenridge Nordic Center, with 1,400 acres to explore in beautiful Cucumber Gulch. They later reported sightings of beaver dens and moose tracks, along with gorgeous mountain views as they snowshoed and cross-country skied through snowy woods. The rest of us headed back to the slopes, warming up on the corduroy runs on Peak 7 and 8, and then zipping over to Peak 6 to ski the wide-open bowl (and watch others hike up to the chutes). There we found Bliss, Euphoria, and Reverie, some of our favorite runs of the day.
The afternoon was spent exploring the former mining town, with the largest historic district in Colorado, where Victorian buildings line the streets, in the shadows of soaring mountain peaks. The city was established in 1859 when prospectors discovered gold along the Blue River. The Stagecoach and railroads arrived soon after, and the Old West outpost filled with brothels, saloons, and shops. “The more things change, the more they stay the same,” our friend Nancy said as we walked around town. Today, many of the Gold Rush buildings still house shops, restaurants, and lively bars.
We popped into the Breckenridge Welcome Center and Museum, with interesting displays on the city’s mining history, including information on Tom’s Baby, a 13.5-pound gold nugget discovered near Breckenridge. And, we shopped the shops, poking into Belvidere & Hern, filled with unique gift items, accessories, and home goods; Maggie Pond Boutique, with cool handbags, sweaters, and jewelry, and Arctic Adventures, with outdoor wear and Breckenridge souvenir T-shirts and sweatshirts.
“What about tomorrow?” Nancy asked, as we later bumped elbows with the locals at the Motherloaded Tavern. “Shall we take Imperial Express to ski the bowl?”
The Imperial Express provides access to the highest lift-served terrain in North America, including Imperial Bowl. It’s wild, and beautiful, and tough.
To Nancy’s question, there were some thumbs up, and some thumbs down, but there were no worries. We were in Breck.
IF YOU GO . . .
Where to stay
One Ski Hill Place (www.oneskihill.rockresorts.com) is a luxury resort at the base of Peak 8, with ski-in ski-out convenience and a host of amenities, including restaurants, spa, and indoor swimming pool and hot tub. Accommodations range from studios to four-bedroom condos.
Where to eat
Briar Rose Chophouse & Saloon (www.briarrosechophouse.com) is one of Breckenridge’s finer dining hotspots, specializing in aged beef and wild game. This is the place to try elk medallions and wild game sausage.
Angel’s Hollow (www.angelshollow.net) serves killer margaritas and house-made tortilla chips with homemade guacamole, along with tacos, burgers, and a crave-worthy, aptly named massive meat loaf.
Hearthstone, set in an old Victorian home (www.hearthstonebreck.com) offers finely crafted, upscale cuisine, like spicy tuna latkes, blackberry elk in a garlic granola crust, and crispy duck couscous.
Relish (www.relishbreckenridge.com) gets rave reviews for its fresh, local farm-to-table cuisine; try the venison meatball pasta, walnut-crusted ruby red trout, or the five-spice Colorado lamb sirloin.
Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org