In these financially testing times, your snowboard trip might be one of the luxuries you might think about cutting corners on. Maybe you’re considering a cheaper package holiday or just a few weekends away.
Flying to Colorado for a snow trip might price up a little more expensive than your usual trip. But is it worth the extra hours in a tin box in the sky to get there? Well I think it is. And my trip to Breckenridge convinced me why.
I was heading to Denver for a ladies only park and pipe freestyle camp run by the resort’s ski and snowboard school and to check out the area in general. Yes the accents, currency and burger sizes would be different – but what would persuade me that it was worth giving Geneva airport a bodyswerve in future snow seasons?
After a nine hour flight with a brain slightly numbed by cheesy chickflicks, you’re met at Denver airport by lovely senior volunteers in cowboy hats who assist you through the slightly terrifying process that is US immigration. Honestly if I could have adopted a couple of them as my Grandads and smuggled them home in my board bag then I definitely would have tried.
The Colorado Mountain Express is the easiest way to get to Breckenridge and just two hours later in a cosy minibus we’re at the door of our lush house. Dumping our bags in the door, we head straight out into Breckenridge for some food.
The low rise main street is covered in twinkly lights and you can see the piste bashers high above you preparing the mountain for the next day’s fun. Breckenridge has real character. It’s an old mining town celebrating its 150th anniversary in 2009. While there are lots of new developments and modern buildings, much of the growth around the original Victorian architecture has been sympathetic – giving the main shopping and eating area lots of character.
The restaurants are really busy and I get the impression that making reservations in peak season is a good idea, otherwise expect a wait at the bar. For our first meal out in town we head to a local bar/restaurant, Angel’s Hollow, for a pile of yummy Mexican food – we’re all a bit zonked from the long flight and soon after we’ve crashed for the night.
The next morning we’re up early to meet our camp leaders and fellow campers. There were plenty of us, about 20, but also plenty of instructors too. One girl had driven 11 hours from Iowa to come for the weekend while another had flown from Chicago.
There were two girls on the camp whose accents we couldn’t work out – we eventually found out they were from Turkey. They’d wanted to go snowboarding in the US and had looked up a list on the web of the ten best resorts in the US. The Breckenridge/Vail area had topped the chart so that’s where they’d booked. Genius!
Having been to a few camps before, it was really noticeable that the best riders amongst the campers were of a much higher standard than I’d previously seen. Girls capable of doing really cool and complex things in the park still wanted to pick up some new tips and advice and be part of a fun girlie gang for the weekend.
It’s always great to spend your first day in a resort in the sunshine so you can get your bearings and enjoy the scenery around you. Obviously clear skies mean no snow and the mountain hadn’t seen much new white stuff for a while. But what there was, was beautifully groomed and soft but not too slow. Perfect conditions for a day of park pounding.
There are two beginner, one intermediate and one advanced/nutter terrain park in Breckenridge, and after some warm up runs, we spent most of our first day in the beginner parks.
They’re all well maintained with a great selection of features. We spent most of the day hiking the kickers, rollers and pipe in the two beginners parks – hot and thirsty work in the sun but good exercise, that’s for sure.
I’ve got to admit that the hiking was seriously hard – it felt much harder than usual actually. Then it dawned on me that the altitude could be playing a part. Breckenridge is high. The base sits at 9,600 feet above sea level and the summit peaks at 12,998 feet.
Altitude sickness can strike anyone, anywhere and its symptoms are a headache with one or more of the following: loss of appetite, nausea or vomiting, fatigue or weakness, dizziness or light-headedness, difficulty sleeping, confusion or staggering gait.
It’s just something to bear in mind in case you’re wondering why hiking the length of a small set of rollers is proving as tiring as running a 10k race – so give yourself a break if you feel a little strange!
Gnu were involved in the girls camp – bringing local Gnu and Roxy sponsored riders to hit the park with us. They also brought out their goodie bag – a stash of next season’s reverse camber boards. The boards went down a treat over the next two days – everyone was raving about them. Our instructor even put her order in at the end of our lesson.
On day two we got to explore the mountain a little more – trying out the beginner’s halfpipe and being put to shame in it by tiny kids! We saw one in particular, Alexa and her teenage brother, at a few of the park’s features. She was about eight or nine years old – a tiny bundle in a helmet.
“Whatever happens make sure you jump!” shouted her brother as she popped perfect little jump turns all the way down the pipe. This is the kind of place where stars are born.
A two-day camp is a perfect way to keep your own skills tuned up – to stop those l’il ones giving you too much of a beating in the park. It’s long enough to give you a good set of runs and a plenty time to bond with your fellow campers, and maybe meet some people to ride with again in the future.
But it’s not the best way to see a whole resort and we were lucky enough to have another day of Breckenridge exploring before we headed to Vail (more to come on that in another article!).
Breck is vast. If you want an insider’s view on the best runs then take advantage of the free orientation tours every morning and afternoon. The resort rolls across four peaks and people talk about the location of runs, parks and restaurants in relation to the peaks.
Peak 7 has a ton of wide open blue runs with fun rollers and trees for you to play in – great place for improving and intermediate riders.
Peak 8 is a great place for new riders with some great beginners terrain including a portion of the 3.5 mile Four O’Clock run, the longest run in Breckenridge. From Peak 8 you can also take the T-bar up to the Imperial Express Superchair – the highest chair in North America at 12,840 feet to hit the high up Snow White area 150 acres above the tree line double black bowls (prepare for a little high-altitude hiking if you want to get to the best stuff). Two years back the resort built the BreckConnect, an 8 person gondola which takes people from the town to the Peak 8 base area and now up to Peak 7 too.
It’s also home to the Trygye’s terrain park which has a wide range of beginners features and a perfect pipe for newbies. Check out the Park Lane terrain park for some more challenging features and watch the pros in action on the monster kickers and rails in the Freeway park.
Peak 9 has loads more fun, cruisy blue runs, some easy green material near the bottom plus the popular Eldorado terrain park which features lots of beginners features. Here you’ll also find the medium/large pipe plus a terrain park featuring medium-sized features for more of a challenge.
Peak 10 is a good place for a challenge – plenty of double blacks, trees and moguls. I didn’t get a chance to do them but there are also some runs interestingly marked down as blue/black – I guess that makes them the equivalent of the European ‘red’ – a bit more challenging than blue but nothing an intermediate rider shouldn’t be able to handle.
So you’ll see there’s plenty to keep you busy. The pistes and shortcuts back to the various base areas are well signed, the lift queues are reasonably short and well organised. There are really nice touches such as tissues and water stations at all the lifts. One day there was even someone handing out free granola bars – subtle things that can make difference to your day.
It’s clear the terrain parks are a major attraction – there’s something for everyone and variety all over the mountain so you don’t feel stuck in one area of the resort.
The pisted terrain is wide open and cruisey – you rarely feel hemmed in and there are plenty of little tree clumps to pop in and out of without having to stray too far from the piste (unless you want to!).
I met a local retiree and his wife who ski several days a week. They’d been in the area more than 20 years and said they’d never been to Vail – we’ve got 155 runs here, he said. “Why would I need to go over there?”.
It’s true that there’s plenty to do – you could easily spend days exploring the resort, its parks, trees and hits. The quality of the grooming and facilities totally convinces me it’s worth missing a couple of Saturday nights out to save a wee bit extra cash to get you to the US this winter.
You can also save a few quid by booking your lift pass in advance. Visitors already in the US need at least 7 days notice while you need to make your booking at least 14 days in advance if you’re elsewhere.
If you’re planning the family trip, childcare is available for infants aged eight weeks to five years. Children over 12 months get a chance to play outside every day (weather allowing) at the slope-side centres, so you’re never too far away from your little ones. Reservations must be made in advance and can be arranged online. The Breckenridge Ski and Snowboard School also offers a wide range of group and private lessons for adults and children – check the website for full details.
If you fancy some girlie freestyle action, the next GNU & Breckenridge Ski & Snowboard School Park & Pipe camp takes place on February 6 and 7 2010. Coaching is in small groups with lunches and a party included. The camp is aimed at intermediate and advanced riders aged 14 and over (although park and pipe experience is not necessary). The camp costs $195 (two-day lift pass available for an extra $78). More information on the Breckenridge website.
And after a few day on the hill, here were few of our favourite non-mountain things:
1. The gorgeous food at the lush Relish restaurant – even us vegetarians felt spoiled!
2. The cute Christmasy keepsakes at Creatures Great and Small on the main street.
3. Lusting after ludicrously expensive massive ski lodges in the real estate magazines (yes there’s a recession on but you’ll still need a couple of million dollars for a proper swank pad!)
4. The classic snowflake jewellery at the Breckenridge Jewelers.
5. The huge lunchtime cakes in the mountain lodges – a day’s hiking makes you feel you’ve earned one!
Breckenridge deals with Crystal Ski
Crystal Ski offer packages to Breckenridge with British Airways flights from Heathrow to Denver and accommodation at the four-star Beaver Run Resort starting at £819 for a week.
Crystal Ski Plus deals which also include transfers, lift passes and ski/snowboard hire start at £909 per week for three-star accommodation in the Village Hotel and BA flights from Heathrow.
Crystal Ski customers can also receive an essential information pack,including downloadble piste maps and details of rep services available in resort. This is available up to nine days before departure from your PC Mac or internet enabled mobile phone.
More information at www.crystalski.com