BY BRIAN FOSTER
A former mining town, Breckenridge is tops when it comes to snow, food and fun.
There are a lot of important annual traditions, like cleaning the gutters, celebrating your birthday, or that first night of Chanukah ritual you do with the kids. But no tradition is as critical to my well-being as the annual Five Guys & A Mountain skiing and snowboarding trip.
And for 2017, this crew of 12 misfits and I made it to Breckenridge, where we took up residence without wives, kids or girlfriends for six days and five nights.
Breckenridge is an Easy Choice
Breckenridge is well-known by anyone who likes lots of snow. Ski resorts all across the world routinely brag about how much snow they get. And Breckenridge is no different—but as they say, it ain’t bragging if it’s true. When you get 350+ inches of powder in the months between Thanksgiving and April Fools Day, you are practically guaranteed to have great conditions.
Our annual Five Guys & A Mountain trip rotates locations every year, but we have been back to Breckenridge three times, and for good reasons. Certainly that champagne powder could be reason enough. After all, there’s no better feeling than surfing the mountain’s fresh powder on my 158-cm snowboard.
But for a guys’ trip, there are so many other great reasons to hit this resort, it’s an easy choice.
I’m built for convenience, not for speed, and I love Breck because it is such an easy mountain to reach—Breckenridge is the closest big resort to Denver airport. It’s nice to fly direct to DIA and then, thanks to all the shuttle services available, we can get to the condos by the early afternoon. That gives us plenty of time to rent equipment, grocery shop, and settle in with the first few beers of the trip.
The mountain is huge and well designed. This means tons of variety for every skill level, and on a guys’ trip, there will be a few beginners who want to stick to the green easy runs. But even a double-black snowboarding demon like myself can enjoy these runs, because on Breckenridge Mountain, they are long, fast cruisers that a big group of guys can enjoy.
And when we want to break away from the pack to tackle the expert terrain, Breckenridge has some of the craziest, steepest and deepest runs that will leave your heart pounding and your legs feeling like Jell-O. Begging for mercy will not help once you are at the top of Peak 6, where the treacherous Kensho Bowl has a sign welcoming you to the highest peak in the region accessible by a chair lift.
The other factor that puts Breck head and shoulders above so many other resorts is that it’s a real town. You can’t knock amazing resorts like nearby Vail or Copper Mountain, which are both tons of fun and I would go back there in a heartbeat. Breck was a real mining town 150 years ago, long before the ski lifts got here. That history is everywhere and it makes this a special place.
Eating, Drinking, and Eating
For our trip this year, we took full advantage of everything the area has to offer, and we packed it all into six days.
We set ourselves up at the beautiful and relatively new Main Street Station, a condo development at the tip of Main Street near Maggie Pond that was a quick walk to shops, equipment rental and the ski lifts. Most important, they had convenient outdoor hot tubs. Have you ever jumped out of a hot tub, rolled in the snow and jumped back into the water?
Lunch on the mountain is always an adventure, and this year, Breckenridge opened a brand new facility at the top of Peak 7 called Pioneer Crossing. The gigantic, beautiful new building only started serving lunch a couple months before we got there and featured panoramic views of the surrounding mountains through some massive windows, with plenty of seats to squeeze in all the skiiers and snowboarders.
Some of the best meals we had were also a quick walk from the condo. No trip to Breckenridge is complete without a trip to Breckenridge Brewery, which opened in 1990, making it the third-oldest brewery in Colorado. The brewery is as famous for its Avalanche Ale as it is for smothered cheese fries.
Lucky for us, our Sunday on the mountain coincided with Super Bowl 51, which meant another excellent reason to throw a party in the condos. We set up a big screen and had way too much Chinese food delivered. It’s hard to forget who won that crazy game, and we will always remember the great times we had cheering on our teams.
And if you think skiing, snowboarding, eating and drinking are all we did on our annual guys’ trip, you would be mostly correct. But we managed to squeeze in a morning of backcountry snowmobiling on our last day before heading back to catch our flight home from Denver. This year’s tour took us up to the top of the Continental Divide where we had some incredible views.
With any luck, we will be back at Breckenridge soon. I’m anxious to find a spot at that whiskey bar so I can sample some more craft bourbons.
My Top 5 runs at Breck for adrenaline junkies and GoPro footage:
Peak 6: Beyond Bowl
Take the Kensho Super Chair to the top, then take off your skis/snowboard and hike up to the top, where you can drop in to the isolated back-bowl, double-black diamond runs known as Unbound or Breathless. Even if you don’t do the hike, just getting down from the top of Kensho is an epic, steep, wide open ride to the bottom.
Peak 9: Devil’s Crotch
I’ve only done this once and it’s crazy. Take the E-Chair on Peak 9 for a no-joke, super tight mogul run. Prepare to get hammered all the way down.
Peak 10: The Burn
A favorite! Ride up Falcon Super Chair, go skier’s left and take a long, fast run that is spotted with thick trees. Not a difficult run, but tons of fun and different every time.
Peak 10: Doublejack
Some of the first double-black diamond runs I’ve ever done were on Peak 10, and Doublejack has a special place in my memory after kicking the crap out of me and my friends on several occasions.
Peak 8: Horseshoe Bowl
You have to take the T-Bar up to get to this run, but it is worth the pain. If you’re on a snowboard, you’ll grit your teeth the whole way up, and laugh yourself silly the whole way down.
Breckenridge was founded in 1859 by a small group of prospectors who struck it rich when they discovered gold along the Blue River.
In 1960, the population of the town dwindled to less than 400 people. But when the ski resort opened later that year, the population soared. The first Breckenridge area to open was Peak 8. Peak 9 opened in 1971. Today, Breck is home to Peaks 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10 and around 3,000 skiable acres.
Breckenridge’s leaders truly showed their genius by becoming Colorado’s first major resort to allow snowboarding in 1984. Nearby Steamboat Springs and Vail didn’t allow snowboarding until 1987. You may not remember, but when snowboarding first got started, most resorts banned it. Today, you still can’t snowboard at Deer Valley, Utah.
Colorado has 53 peaks that rise 14,000 feet or higher, and Breckenridge has three of them—Quandary, Grays Peak, and Torreys Peak.
Breckenridge resort has the highest chairlift in North America. The Imperial Express rides up to 12,840 feet—the views are awe-inspiring and the ride down is epic.
The town of Breckenridge has one of the largest historic districts in Colorado with more than 200 structures on the National Register of Historic Places.
Breckenridge’s Gold Pan Saloon is the oldest operating bar (meaning, oldest continuous liquor license) west of the Mississippi River.
A perfect day trip to the perfect resort
I’ve got a couple hundred million in the bank and I’m going to design the perfect ski and snowboard resort, from scratch. Here goes:
First, I’ll give it a perfect layout, with three peaks, each one dedicated to black (expert), blue (intermediate) or green (beginner) trails. The black runs will be crazy, back-bowl screamers, and the greens will be wide open and family-friendly.
Then I’ll put the condos right near the lifts, nestled into a base area full of restaurants and shops.
And of course, I’ll make it convenient – about 90 miles from Denver and right off the highway. I’ll sandwich it between my two favorite resorts – Breckenridge and Vail. And I’ll put it 10 minutes away from Frisco, a neat little mountain town with its own legendary brewery.
It just so happens this perfect resort already exists: Copper Mountain.
Copper is perfect because it is a big resort (2,490 acres, 23 chair lifts) but it’s not huge. The condos, shops and restaurants are very nice, but not fancy. The service from everyone working the mountain is warm and super friendly. Our Five Guys & a Mountain crew took a day trip from Breck over to Copper just for all these reasons.
Copper appealed to everyone in our big group. A few of the guys (like me) stuck to the East Peak’s black and double-black runs. And a couple guys stuck to the West Peak, with its green corduroy cruisers. We all met for lunch at Solitude Station, 11,250 feet up at the top of Center Peak, it gave everyone a chance to ski together on some of the longest blue runs in the region.
At the end of the day, we met up at Incline Bar, in the Center Village area with great views and plenty of brews. After a long day exploring everything Copper Mountain has to offer, it was good to relax and contemplate some other uses for all that money I’ve got in the bank.
In case you were wondering:
Top elevation: 12,313 ft
Base elevation: 9,712 ft
Skiable area: 2,465 acres
Double-Black: 18% (yeah baby!)
Lifts: 23 total
Snowfall: Average 310 inches per year
Year opened: 1972
Important to know: The ski scenes in the 1994 film Dumb and Dumber were filmed at Copper. However, the old-school chairlift in the scene has since been replaced by a high-speed quad.