Most sports scientists will tell you it takes between three and five low-exertion days and never less than 24 hours to acclimatize to high altitude. The term “high altitude” in this case means upwards of about 8,000 feet above sea level. Standing near the top of Breckenridge’s newly opened Peak 6 — 12,573 feet — certainly qualifies, and I’m fucking miserable.
Much of this misery is self-imposed, though. Twenty-four hours ago I was eating a slightly overstuffed bagel on my way to Newark Liberty Airport; twelve hours ago I was enjoying the impressive Breckenridge nightlife (head to Relish for dinner and the Gold Pan Saloon for a proper ski-town dive bar). Regardless of past transgressions, I’m still blaming the altitude as I hike to some of the most impressive terrain in the country, stumbling around like a drunk puppy.
Every once in a while it’s nice to cut our digital connections for a little while — if only to figure out if we can still function without previews, post-production and Photoshop. For our trip to Breckenridge we took the absolutely wonderful and hideously impractical Hasselblad 500C/M, one lens and a fistful of film. That’s it. No batteries, no memory cards, no backups. There’s something liberating about relying on a 40-year-old light meter and photographic wits to generate images that you won’t be able to see until you’re 3,000 miles away from your subject. It’s terrifying, but enjoyable nonetheless. We suggest you grab a film camera and give it a go.
More than 50 years in the making, the 540-acre Peak 6 opened on Christmas Day, 2013, bringing a fantastic mix of terrain that fills a surprising gap in Breckenridge’s arsenal. Breck’s always been praised for its huge amount of bowl skiing above the treeline, but that experience has been exclusively tailored to advanced and expert skiers. Peak 6 brings this same open terrain to intermediate skiers with runs like “Elysian Fields”, “Reverie”, and “Bliss” (Peak 6’s signature run). That’s not to say Peak 6 is devoid of impressive expert terrain. “Intuition” is fantastic, and “Wonderland” offers top notch terrain that transitions beautifully between above-treeline bowl and below-treeline glades.
Yet oblivious to these excellent runs, I’m still bumbling my way up Peak 6’s main hike. It’s a reasonably pitched ascent, probably no longer than a couple hundred yards, but in my head I’m a slightly out-of-shape Sir Edmund Hillary making the final push to Everest’s summit. Finally I crest the top, take in a somewhat socked-in view of western Colorado between breaths. A quick traverse over past Serenity Bowl and I’m peering over a steep, snow laden “Six Senses” — home of the inaugural GoPro Big Mountain Challenge earlier this year. Before long I’m working through 15 turns of absolute perfection, focused on little more than the next turn and how to lobby for a breather before my group does it all again.