Originally a base camp for the Colorado Gold Rush in 1859, Breckenridge has grown into one of the state’s most iconic towns. “Breck,” as it is called, sits comfortably in the middle of the Colorado ski town spectrum, combining two extremes: the fanciful, luxurious tourist offerings of Vail, and the down-home, rugged mountain-town vibes of Steamboat. Don’t let the cost of a walk-up lift ticket ($154) fool you. From fine dining sans dress codes to dollar-beer dive bars, there’s plenty of value, and plenty of blue-collar people, that keep Breck as down to earth as ever.
|Where to Stay
The first decision you need to make when it comes to lodging in Breck is whether you want to be on-mountain, in town, or in between. On-mountain lodging provides instant access to the slopes and full-service amenities, with hot tubs, pools, restaurants and game rooms all in one place. Lodging at the base of Peak 8 and Peak 7, such as One Skill Hill Place and the Crystal Peak Lodge, are at a higher elevation and are more remote than those on Peak 9, like the Doubletree, which has better access to town.
One of the best options for lodging in the downtown is to rent a one-, two-, three- or four-bedroom condo. Many have hot tubs and steam rooms, and are within walking distance of Main Street. Browse different options from rental companies like Ski Village Resorts to find one that fits your trip. The Bivouac, nicknamed The Bivvi, is a mountain hostel that offers private apartments and rooms as well as standard dorms with free breakfast, a hot tub and a youthful après bar scene. The definition of its name — “an improvised encampment constructed of natural materials such as those used in scouting and mountaineering” — sets the tone for what is a basic yet beautiful, down-to-earth Rocky Mountain hangout for budget travelers. Located right downtown, the Abbett Placer Inn Bed and Breakfast is in a restored Victorian house and is a nice compromise between a condo and a hotel. It serves a daily breakfast and has a free ski shuttle stop right across the street.
|Where to Eat
All of Breckenridge’s nightlife, food included, is located in and around Main Street, which goes directly through the center of town. For breakfast any time of day, check out the casual coffee-shop atmosphere and health-focused egg dishes at Amazing Grace. If you crave a burger after a long day on the hill, Empire Burger is heralded for its homemade patties and twenty-some dipping sauces; Downstairs at Eric’s has a well-rounded bar menu for families, plenty of televisions and an arcade. For steaks, try Hearthstone, set in an old Victorian House, or the family-style Briar Rose, which offers two-for-one cocktails, beer and wine in its buzzing adjacent saloon during happy hour. For years, Relish has been the best restaurant in town, and it continues to impress today. Start with a selection of local cheeses and move on to Rocky Mountain trout or braised beef short ribs, served by a tenured wait staff that has mastered the art of mingling.
There are two breweries in town. Breckenridge Brewery was recently purchased by Anheuser-Busch, and is accompanied by a pub-fare restaurant on Main Street (ask to try the specialty beers not listed on the menu); Broken Compass, located a few miles outside of town, is a garage-door-style hangout, made personable with Colorado mountain swag (like sleds painted the color of the flag) and repurposed ski lifts as seats. One of the more unique buildings in town, The Dredge is the remains of an old mining dredge boat, set in the middle of the river. The upstairs bar is a local secret for patrollers and lefties, offering $1 Miller High Life to residents ($3 for visitors). When you go, check out the various artifacts on display from its days of operation. Breckenridge Distillery has two locations — the main distillery just outside of town and the tasting room on Main Street. Go to the distillery if you’re interested in a tour. Otherwise, go to the tasting room or belly up to any bar in town to try their award-winning bourbon on the rocks.
|What to Do
As a ski mountain, Breck breaks down into five peaks, named 6 through 10 from north to south. Peak 6, the newest, opened in 2013. Its main attraction is the big-mountain upper bowls, including a series of hike-to runs known as “The Six Senses.” Lower Peak 6 is mostly blue runs, both groomed and ungroomed; Peak 7 is all intermediate and expert terrain, highlighted by the “Whale’s Tail” adjacent to the Peak 7 bowl. Below that, it’s loaded with rolling groomers from mid-mountain to the base. Peak 8 is the most well-rounded area down below, equally comprised of green, blue and black groomed runs. But the top of Peak 8 is the largest expert area on the mountain. The Imperial Express Chairlift is America’s highest chairlift access, taking you up to 12,840 feet. The “Lake Chutes” are the Peak’s most extreme hike-to terrain, with a series of bowls, including Imperial and Horseshoe, leading back to mid-mountain. Peak 8 also contains Breck’s terrain park, widely considered amongst the best in the country. Peak 9 contains a Jekyll-and-Hyde mix of some of the mountain’s easiest and toughest terrain. Use the Quicksilver Chair to access the former, and the north-facing E Chair to access Breck’s most expansive tree terrain via “The Windows” run. Peak 10 is known for its single black runs, steep groomers and bump runs, and a great tree run called “The Burn”. Download the EpicMix app (free) to view real-time lift line wait times and track your ski statistics throughout the day. The Breck Guides program, launched in 2013, offers courses in avalanche awareness, slope identification and high alpine skiing. (You can view a full trail map here.)
There are plenty of alternative adventures to skiing. Wade into the Blue River for some winter fly-fishing with Breckenridge Outfitters; learn to ice climb with APEX Mountain School; shred the Continental Divide on a snowmobile or go on a six-mile dogsled ride with Good Times Adventures; cross-country ski at the Breckenridge Nordic Center; go touring on Quandary Peak (14,265 feet) with CBST Adventures.
Breckenridge is a two-hour drive from Denver International Airport. (Be aware of Colorado’s new traction law that requires vehicles to have four-wheel-drive, snow tires or chains during winter storms, something to keep in mind when renting a car.) The two-mile-high town of Leadville, located at 10,152 feet, is under an hour from Breckenridge and a haven for outdoor recreation, surrounded by the Mount Massive, Buffalo Peaks and Collegiate Peaks Wilderness areas; another iconic Colorado mountain town, Vail, is an hour from Breck; Arapahoe Basin, Keystone and Copper ski areas are all very close if you’d like to experience different mountains.