FIRST the trees. Colorado’s treeline extends much higher than its European counterpart. So instead of the barren ski runs of the Alps, you have trees everywhere. On an evening run you will swish pas them, snow and crystal spray in your wake, and think of Robert Frost Stopping by the woods on a snowy evening.
And we, the skiers, can share in the silence of the mountain, where bears sleep and eagles fly and the snow is renowned as the finest and powderiest on earth. There are trees in the middle of the runs as well.
It is the trees that register first when you arrive at Breckenridge, an appealing little town that faithfully maintains its 19th-century pioneer heritage beneath an enclosed ski area ideally suited to beginners and intermediates.
Four interconnected mountains, a six-month ski season, more than 200 acres of skiable terrain, thousands of ski-in/ski-out units, the routine grooming of 500 acres of mostly intermediate and beginner terrain each night a vibrant nightlife and unique mining town are all key ingredients to Breckenridge’s success.
It has magnificent, wide, gentle pistes for improving intermediates and some severely steep terrain for experts. L:ocations include some of those used for the Richard Harris movie A Man Called Horse. Skiers can ski within a block of its historic Main Street at two different points. Breckenridge.
It has chair-lift access to the entire ski area. Access to the four awkwardly linked mountains is by a six-person chair-lift from the village, which has excellent nursery slopes and a ski school with a formidable reputation.
Breckenridge was the first resort in the world to install a detachable quad chair (it now has five) and the lift system is faultless.
The only T-bar provides the gateway to bowl skiing on Peak 8.
And although many of its original buildings have gone, there are enough left to give it a real flavour of western history.
A veteran miner called Ruben J Spalding started one of the biggest gold rushes in North American history (one nugget weighed 13 lb 7oz) here in 1859. Close on the heels of the prospectors came good-time girls and shady entrepreneurs determined to milk the miners for all they could get. Breckenridge once had two railway stations, one for arriving wives who wanted to avoid brushing past the “soiled doves”, or prostitutes who waited at the other and who gave Nickel Hill its name, for that was their starting price.
A group of undergraduates who passed through on a scientific expedition described the town as “the most fiendish place we ever wish to see” and dubbed its inhabitants “bestial and unworthy”.
A Methodist preacher was the first to bring his skies. John Lewis Dyer also took on the job of postman to supplement his impoverished calling and, whatever the weather, delivered the mail to the outlying gold mines. After services each Sunday at the church that he established in 1862 he set off on his rounds on skis – returning just in time for the following Sunday service.
“When about three miles up the Blue River,” he wrote in his diary, “the wolves set up a tremendous howling, I was not alarmed, but passed quietly along and was not disturbed.”
So, long after the gold ran out and the wolves had packed their bags, Breckenridge ski resort opened business in December 1961 and has attracted 25 million skier visits later. An early riser heads to Peak 8 for some pre-work turns, taking advantage of the proximity of the resort to town.
And a series of dry winters in the 1980s European skiers crossed the Atlantic in search of the legendary white powder. They discovered that Colorado had reinvented user-friendly skiing.
Every chairlift had a soft-wipe dispenser. Instructors didn’t say: “line up, follow me”, but “what would you like to learn, sir?” and “hey! – you’re a great skier”. More importantly, on Colorado’s combed corduroy, skiing was easier than in Europe. Après-ski felt good, too. At this altitude, one beer does the job of three. Europe’s holidays combined with America’s altitude. It rpoved to be a good combination.
Second the altitude. It checks your breath and clears your head.
Breckenridge’s high elevation (upwards of 13,000 feet) and history of heavy April snowfalls gives the resort a decided late-season advantage over its lower counterparts.” Funnily enough April is the month with the second most snow, March is the snowiest, followed by January then February. Breckenridge is ideally suited to next year’s late Easter.
“The altitude means that this is very dry and makes the snow powdery,” Ian Douglas International Sales Rep for Vail resorts says. “The moisture comes over the deserts and as dried out by the time it reaches us. The only place that compares with it is Utah where the clouds pass over the salt lake.”
Dehydration and altitude headaches, generally made worse by exercise, can be avoided by resting and drinking large quantities of water. Extremely low humidity and a village altitude of 9,600ft (2,927m) can cause initial discomfort, particularly among young children. A tip is to stay off alcohol on the flight from Ireland (BA fly to De
bnver via London), and for the first 24 hours in the resort.
But it helps the apres ski.
Breckenridge has 225 shops and 82 bars. The Gold Pan, founded in 1910, claimed to be the longest, continuously operated saloon between St Louis and San Francisco is just one of a dizzying array of bars and restaurants, which make its après scene among the liveliest in the Rockies. Sushi Breck, a Japanese restaurant that offers a welcome variant to the enormous portions of all-American dining.
Salt Creek does a nice line in line dancing. You can sample the microbrewed ale at the The Brewery. Clancy’s Irish bar is the secene of a Parick’s Day hooley. The O2 Bar puts oxygen in the drink for those wary fo the altitude. Sherpa ‘n Yetis has good rock music.
One beer here does the work of three at sea level. As Amanda Mcnally of Vail resorts says “when people from here go down to sea level they have to go on a twelve hour binge to get drunk.”
Third, the mountains. The Continental Plateau, which divides this mystical landscape, serves as a nerve centre for a way of life.
Fourth the money. Investment is a newer concept than the 48m years that the Rockies have waited for us. There is no shortage of it at American resorts, the finest lifts, the queue-busting cars, the infrared checks which read your ski pass through your pocket. The investment is concentrated on different things, the idea is to make Lionshead a big centre for après-ski over the next five years, in Beaver Creek the investment is on grooming the slopes and making them more luxurious, and in Breckenridge.
Fifth, the Sun. According to the wonderfully named ski instructor Lee Sky the reflection at altitude means the skin is exposed to 225pc of its normal ultra violet exposure. Factor 25 won’t do. Use sun block.
The internet has changed the business, Andy Daly President of Vail Resorts says. “There has been a dramatic change in the booking curve.” A year ago holidaymakers booked 43 days in advance, this year it was down to 23 days. A decade ago winter ho0liday-makers booked a year in advance. Five years ago the lead in time fell to six month. Two years ago it was three months and nowadays a growing number of people are “chasing the snow”, waiting for forecasts before booking, had increased. Daly says that the shorter lead in time makes hiring staff and even ordering food for mountain top restaurants more difficult planning
No stay in Breckenridge is complete without a shopping trip to the factory outlet village of Silverthorne, a 20-minute drive away. Here you can buy end-of-line goods at a fraction of UK prices. About 70 shops include big names such as Gap, Levi’s, Nike, OshKosh, Timberland and DKNY.
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