Everyone always says that if you really want to experience real skiing in the US you need to head out West. Our family enjoys skiing and we were lucky to recently be able to venture out to Colorado and try some skiing in real powder. Due to some 2020 trip cancellations because of the pandemic and other circumstances, we found ourselves with an opportunity to make one of our bucket list experiences come true.
We spent 8 glorious days in Breckenridge and Keystone, Colorado, but we will split up the blog posts based on those two locations.
The first 3 days we spent at Breckenridge where the base altitude is 9,600 feet and the peak is just under 13,000 feet. For those who come from lower altitudes, especially people on the coast, that’s a hefty change in altitude and a prime setup for altitude sickness. We took specific precautions ahead of our arrival and on the day of our arrival, which we will discuss in tips for a great vacation later, but all but one of us had some trouble on the first full day. We stayed at One Ski Hill Place, a slope side resort, at about 10,000 feet elevation. It truly is a truly marvelous place to stay with great amenities, and it is as ski in and ski out as a place can be. The town of Breckenridge is quaint and cozy, and the people are so nice it makes you want to live there.
One Ski Hill Place is located at the base of Peak 8, which is centrally located on the mountain with 4 lifts, allowing one to ski any of the 5 peaks with little effort. They have accommodations ranging from studios to 3 bedrooms, two indoor pools, and an outdoor hot tub. There is also a spa, bowling alley, and theater room you can use (but we focused on skiing while there). The gondola that comes up from the parking lot at the base of the mountain also stops at Peak 8 so you can also take it down to town at the end of the day. There is a secure parking garage in the basement with very convenient elevator access allowing easy loading and unloading of skis and bags.
We stayed in a 2 bedroom that overlooked the slopes and was very well appointed with a king in the master and two double bunk beds in the second bedroom. It had two full baths (the master has a steam shower), a full kitchen, indoor gas fireplace, and 3 televisions.
Breakfast was included each morning (we chose eggs, bacon, sausage, a muffin, fruit and a drink) from the hotel and it was not only filling, but also quite tasty. What a great way to get some energy prior to hitting the slopes! The hotel in non-Covid times also sports sunny slope side Skiers’ Plaza, Skier Restaurant, a lively après-ski bar, and a full-service restaurant that unfortunately were limited during our visit.
The ski valets are excellent and know you from the first time they check your skis. Each morning as we were walking out, they saw us and had our skis out and ready before we even got to the stand. What service!
There are several other great ski in ski out options at Peak 8 (the Grand Colorado), Peak 7 (the Grand Lodge and Crystal Peak), as well as the Condominiums at Breckenridge on Peak 9. Of course, there are many other options near the mountain as well, but if you can afford it, being ski-in/ ski-out is really a huge bonus.
Breckenridge mountain has 5 peaks (6-10). Each peak is easily accessible and has a different theme. We skied them all and below you will find our take and the various slopes and a brief description of the peaks. We skied the last week in March and conditions were amazing . We drove into town in a snowstorm making for lots of fresh powder for our first day. Breck is projected to close this year on Memorial Day, but sometimes closes in late-April or early-May depending on weather.
Peak 6– This is a windy side of the mountain and features numerous blues and above the tree line terrain. The Kensho super chair takes you relatively far above the tree line and allows bowl skiing to be available to many, with very reasonable blue routes to the bottom. With a short hike one can access even more challenging bowl skiing in the Beyond Bowl and Serenity Bowl. We skied here one day and loved the easy access the lift provided, but as it was very windy during our time there, our time spent on this peak was far less than the others.
Peak 7– This is a peak for those who love intermediate terrain that is very approachable and skiable by most established skiers. The family loved this peak and spent most of a whole day here. We loved Pioneer, Monte Cristo and Angels Rest, skiing all 3 at least twice. We also ate at Pioneer’s Crossing which is a beautiful venue and the newest in on slope dining. The only issue with Peak 7 is that the Independence Super Chair can get busy at times, especially if Peak 6 is closed due to wind. There are plans to add a new 4 person high speed lift on Peak 7 at the bottom of Wire Patch to address these concerns which will make Peak 7 an even greater place to be for intermediate skiers.
Peak 8– This peak is meant for everyone and is truly the center of it all. With 4 lifts accessing different areas of the peak and the wide variety of slopes available–from beginner slopes to long greens to terrain parks and extreme bowl terrain– there is truly something for everyone on Peak 8. This is where our lodging was located and we thought it was optimal for our family.
This peak is also home to a t-bar that takes you to some lower bowl territory and the highest lift in North America — the Imperial Express– which takes you to 12,840 feet. This allows easy access to the Whale’s Tail and Imperial Bowls, and with a short hike one can ski even more extreme terrain from just under 13,000 feet.
The boys skied the Whale’s Tail one day and although it was grueling, especially with the knee deep fresh powder, but it was an experience worth the trip. This peak is also home to the longest run called 4 o’clock. This run is 3.5 miles long and will dump you the whole way in town if one wants to ski the whole way down, or to the parking lot if you take the Gondola Ski Back branch. What a way to end your day on the slopes! This peak is also home to the Vista Haus eatery just below the tree line with wide views of the surrounding majestic landscape.
Peak 9– This peak is tailor made for families. It has many green slopes that start mid-mountain, family friendly blues higher up, and some expert terrain for those more skilled in the family. Many slopes here have a family designation and are heavily patrolled for skiers and boarders disrupting the gentle flow by skiing fast and out of control. We spent a good amount of time here the first day getting our powder legs under us and adjusting to the altitude and it was time well spent and very enjoyable. As with Peak 8, there are multiple lift options that space everyone out and make the lift lines very manageable. There is also little to no wind on these slopes so it’s a great place to ski on those gusty days. This is also home to the Overlook eatery which is another lovely place at the top to grab a bite.
Peak 10– This peak is for the expert skier. All slopes on this peak are black diamonds although some are easy enough for an intermediate skier who wants to push their limits. One example of such a slope is Spitfire if you enter off Crystal. Spitfire is a gentle trip through the forest, and Cimarron, which though steep, is very manageable for a skilled intermediate skier. The Falcon super chair services this peak and is rarely very busy. The Burn is a challenging, but fun, slope with significant tree skiing. A variety of moguls can also be found on many of the slopes on Peak 10.
Places to Eat
Due to Covid, all on mountain locations served a very similar menu of burgers, hot dogs, chicken tenders, fries, chili and other comfort foods, so the view was the only real difference. Although next season we are sure not only will the variety improve but each location will serve to supply its own unique feel on the mountain.
There are three eating establishments near the peaks: Pioneer’s Crossing on Peak 7, Vista Haus on Peak 8, and The Overlook on Peak 9. In addition, at the base there are several places to eat including The Maggie on Peak 9, One Ski Hill Grill, The Living Room, and T-bar on Peak 8 and The Sevens on Peak 7. Besides the restaurants associated with the mountain there are also places to eat at the base not owned or operated by Breck.
The town of Breckenridge has ~5,000 residents and sits at 9,600 feet. Main Street is where the action is (particularly apres-ski) and there are many great places to eat. There is everything from the Gold Pan Saloon to the Carboy Winery, Pho Real, pasta places, and much more. There are also multiple shops with everything from traditional tourist items like shirts and stickers, to more unique places that make beef jerky, crepes, homemade cookies, and everything in between. A stroll down Main Street is a great change of pace after a day of skiing. We liked it so much we drove over for a day when were at Keystone just to visit again.
The Gold Pan Saloon has stood on its current site since 1879 and boasts the longest continuous liquor license west of the Mississippi. It was originally a watering hole for local miners during the gold rush. Today you can still see the mirror behind the bar that patrons would use to keep an eye on their back, if you will, while enjoying a beverage.
Attached to the Gold Pan Saloon, you can find the Carboy Winery, which is Colorado’s fastest growing winery. While Colorado is not known as the best location to grow your own grapes, Carboy uses grapes from around the country (including Colorado) and the world to make its own wines that it keeps both in the bottle and on tap at its three locations. The Colorado grapes come from the Grand Valley American Vinicultural Area in Mesa County, Colorado which is home to some of the highest vineyards in North America.
Breckenridge Distillery is one of the up and coming small distilleries in the US. They have won several national and international awards for their spirits. There is a small tasting room in the center of the town and if you like whiskey then stop in for a small taste. Its well worth it. They also have a larger restaurant on the outskirts of town where they also do distillery tours.
Overall, with the 5 peaks, a large distribution of slope difficulty, multiple peak and on mountain places to eat and 3 lifts that service above the tree skiing, Breck has something for everyone.
Recommendations for skiers of all levels
Novice skiers who have spent little time on the slopes. Aside from considering a lesson or two, the best place for you to start is on Rip’s Ride at Peak 8 until you gain more confidence and stamina to take on longer and slightly more challenging terrain. The 5-chair from Peak 8 services two intermediate length green slopes called Springmeier and Powerline.
Skiers with some experience but not yet ready for intermediate terrain. There are multiple areas of the mountain good for this type of skier.
- The 5-chair from Peak 8 services two intermediate length green slopes called Springmeier and Powerline which are perfect step ups from the slopes serviced by Rip’s Ride.
- Peak 9 has many green slopes serviced by the Quick Silver super chair as well as a smaller beginner area similar to that on Peak 8. We found Silverthorne and Lower Lehman to be very nice slopes, and for smaller children, Riperoo’s Forest is a great little run through the trees with cute “obstacles” to ski around and through. There are several areas like this spread around the mountain, but parents must be accompanied by a child (much to mom’s) dismay when the kids wouldn’t go with her (lol).
The Sawmill slope offers a gentle way to get to Peak 9 from Peak 8 and the Peak 8 Super Connect lift allows one to return to Peak 8 easily from Peak 9 by taking the Red Rover cut across from multiple greens on Peak 9. This allows for a green level skier to explore a large amount of territory safely and comfortably between the two peaks.
Intermediate level skiers who can do some parallel skiing and long slopes but don’t have the confidence for steep slopes or mogul skiing. My wife fits in this category.
- Peak 7 is the mecca for this type of slope as it is composed entirely of blue square slopes of similar difficulty, but similar slopes can also be found on Peaks 8 and 9 as well.
- Peak 9 has two very nice slopes, Bonanza and Cashier, that are great step ups for those gaining confidence from the previous category, and Briar Rose and Country Boy were a great proving ground for those looking to head over to Peak 7.
- Peak 8 has a few intermediate level slopes with Upper Four o’clock being the most intermediate friendly.
Advanced skiers who can do moguls and steep terrain but don’t want to ski extreme areas like the bowls or challenging tree skiing.
- Peak 10 is tailor made for this type of skier, allowing one to build from Spitfire to Cimarron up to the much more challenging slopes like the Burn and the numerous double blacks.
- Peak 9 has significantly challenging terrain serviced by the E-lift, several of which are some of the steepest mogul terrain on the mountain.
- Peak 8 has slopes serviced by the 6-chair that are like those on Peak 9 and the Horseshoe Bowl and North Bowl serviced by the T-bar for those looking for some easier bowl skiing. Lower down on Peak 8 are a few great runs I did with my boys several times named Little Johnny and Spruce.
- Peak 6 also has some easier above the tree line skiing that although listed as blues, conditions and the line chosen will challenge even advanced skiers.
Expert Skiers. Those looking for the greatest challenge in fresh powder where hiking may be needed and expert skills required. My kids and I fall in between advanced and expert and I will say the upper bowls presented a challenge that we relished but also taxed our skills.
- Peak 8 is really the launching point for this type of skier with the Imperial lift allowing easy access to the Imperial Bowl and Whale’s Tail without the need for hiking. Depending on your fitness, a 10-15-minute hike will give you access to the Lake Chutes.
- Peak 6 allows a hiker spending 15-25 minutes to access the Six Senses, Serenity Bowl and Beyond Bowl.
- Though other bowls can be accessed, the hike from peaks 8 and 6 are the most accessible.
What do we think you have to do while at Breck:
- Explore the town.
- Get a drink, alcoholic or not, at the Gold Pan Saloon.
- If you like wine and small plates, the Carboy Winery is great (especially during Happy Hour) and we suggest picking up a couple of bottles while you are there.
- If you like whiskey, make sure to try the Breckenridge Distillery and taste their highly rated whiskey. We loved the PX Cask and High Proof.
What we did to get the most out of our vacation and avoid the dreaded altitude sickness.
- We all did squats twice weekly and rode a stationary bike for cardiovascular fitness 2-3 times weekly for five weeks.
- We did not have any caffeine or alcohol for the first 24-36 hours we were there.
- We drank copious amounts of water and some Gatorade from the day we left through the first 2 days
- We ate healthy and took it easy the first day with plenty of rest between runs.
- The adults did a couple days of acetazolamide upon consultation with a physician, and if you are coming from lower altitudes (less than 1000 feet) as we did, it’s worth considering this (if medically approved) to avoid losing a whole day to altitude sickness.
- We did not, but some advocate spending 24 hours at a lower altitude like Denver to help break up the altitude difference.
Overall it was an excellent few days and the addition of 6 inches of fresh powder the night we got there made the experience all the better. We would highly recommend Breckenridge for anyone looking to get some solid skiing out west. It caters well to anyone with some experience skiing or snowboarding up to the most advanced clientele. Not somewhere, however, we would recommend going if you haven’t skied before because although the instruction is great you will miss out on much the mountain has to offer.