Rocky Mountain High

Written By: Lissa Poirot

DON’T STAY COOPED UP THIS WINTER. BRECKENRIDGE IS OPEN FOR OUTDOOR ADVENTURES ON ITS SNOW-COVERED PEAKS NEARLY 13,000 FEET INTO THE CLOUDS.

I ARRIVED IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT. Landing at midnight, it took an hour in line to get a rental car and then it was a couple of hours into the Rocky Mountains to reach Breckenridge. It was pitch black and I couldn’t get my bearings. I was exhausted; I’d see it in the morning. 

The room in the Airbnb condo my friends and I rented had the heat cranked, which was necessary: It was freezing outside. But it was too warm and I cracked the window. I could hear the sound of water literally babbling the way my white noise app would had I selected a babbling brook. I wondered what was out there. But only for a second; it was 3 a.m. and 5 a.m. my time. Sleep was the only thing on my mind.

But come the next morning, I awoke to the noise of the flowing water and a bit like “’Twas the Night Before Christmas,” tore back the curtains to get my first look at Breckenridge.

A river was behind the condo with towering Evergreen trees and mountain views of the ski slopes. And there, unbelievably, was a gigantic moose just hanging by the river looking bigger than any wild animal I’ve ever seen up close. My friends and others in neighboring condos spotted him too and someone made a noise and, in a flash, he was gone.

 And that was my introduction to Breckenridge, Colorado.

STEPPING BACK IN TIME

With this world of virtual working, my friends and I arrived on Friday morning and a few of them had to work for the day, leaving me to my own devices. I headed out the door and within steps, I was in the heart of town, which, like so many ski towns in Colorado, was filled with outdoor seating, fire pits and heat lamps even before COVID changed the way we travel and dine. As I entered the village, signs indicated I was entering a “mask zone.” While it is required to wear a mask to walk through the village and enter the shops (and they will give you a hefty fine if caught without one!), in the nearby outdoor patios of restaurants, beneath heaters to ward off the chill, groups were laughing and drinking sans mask and it was like the “olden” days of visiting a ski village.

 Breckenridge is charming. Founded in 1859 as a gold mining town (hike during the warmer winter months and see aban- doned mines and even find flecks of gold), the city maintains its late 1800s architecture, albeit today in pastel colors. Strolling along Main Street, there are more than 200 stores, from the required tourist shops selling everything Breckenridge and Colorado to quaint bookstores, chic boutiques, art galleries, snow and hiking gear shops and everything in between.

 At Faith & Flair Boutique, it was a chance to grab a fuzzy sweater. At Creatures Great and Small, I picked up some trinkets and souvenirs. At Helly Hansen, I had to stop myself from buying more sweaters … there was only so much room in my suitcase!

 And there, on Main Street, a line formed in the cold and I headed over to see what the fuss was about. Crepes A La Cart, a quick-service creperie, was offering Sweet or Savory crepes. This wasn’t just your Parisian street creperie. No! The menu had crepes with ribeye steak, smoked salmon and “Breck”fast items like The Summit with a jumbo fried egg, roast beef, bacon, mushrooms and hollandaise sauce. No wonder there was a line! I chose a Sweet option, the Crepe a la Brie and Apple with melted brie, sliced green apples, toasted almonds and honey.

Later, with my friends done working, we would sample the pub fare at Breckenridge Pour House, where 64 taps are available; Rocky Mountain Underground, where live music still played (thank goodness!), and Mi Casa Mexican Restaurant, where Mango Duck quesadillas, Chorizo Fundido and Calabacitas Avocado Frito got shared and devoured. There are nearly 100 restaurants and bars in Breckenridge—too many to sample all of them, even if we were here longer than a weekend. But this trip wasn’t about shopping or food.

THE GREAT OUTDOORS

This trip was about being outdoors, which is pretty much what we’ve all been looking for since the pandemic started. But instead of the North Georgia Mountains, which peak at Brasstown Bald’s 4,784 feet, we were more than double that at 9,600 elevation in town.

In the mountains, it would be 12,998 feet!

In fact, Breckenridge is home to the highest chairlift in North America. In order to reach the top of Peak 8, the highest point, it’s a ride up the Imperial Express Superchair.

Our trip coincided with peak fall foliage, where the Aspen trees turned bright yellow and we were able to hike without snow covering the ground. But this winter, Breckenridge Ski Resort reopens November 13, which means 2,908 skiable areas across five peaks and 187 trails are available to you this winter so you can leave Georgia behind and enjoy fresh air in a safe environment. And the ski resort is managing how many people are on the mountains through a reservation system to make sure visitors are safe this winter.

When staying in town, you can ride the gondola up to Peak 7, which is best-suited to boarders and intermediate skiers. Just starting out? Then Peak 9 is for you. Ready to rip? Tree skiing in The Burn and black diamond terrain can be found on Peak 10.

But skiing isn’t the only winter fun to be had in Breck. Ride through the snow-covered trees for some of the best dog sledding in Colorado with Siberian huskies leading the way on a 6-mile run along Swan River Valley through Good Times, which is opening for the winter season on December 14. The company also provides private 2-hour snowmobiling tours, which gets you to the top of the Continental Divide at 11,585 feet—you won’t have better views. (And Breck averages 300 sunny days per year for clear views across the Tenmile Mountain Range.)

From scenic sleigh rides and Cat tours to winter zip line and sledding at Carter Park Sledding Hill and the new fat tire biking at the Nordic center, there is more than enough to keep you outdoors and shaking off the working-from-home dust that has been settling all fall.

REST YOUR HEAD

Condo stays like ours are a dime a dozen in Breckenridge, and so many places are within walking distance and connected via the free town shuttle. However, there are a few hotels located at the base of the mountain touting pandemic-cautionary-super-clean hotels to enjoy, including Marriott’s Mountain Valley Lodge, a residential resort, which means you can go condo-style with Marriott’s level of service at the base of Peak 9. These units are equipped with kitchens and living and dining areas so if you choose not to enjoy Breck’s dining options you can do the cooking at “home.”

Boutique property lovers will enjoy the intimate and trendy Gravity Haus located at the foot of Peak 9. With just 60 rooms, outfitted in a modern style, the property is brand new and offers rooms beginning as low as $104 per night.

Flights from Atlanta to Denver are direct, and although shuttles can bring you from Denver to the mountains, elect to rent a car for your personal space sans mask, which is required in Colorado’s shared spaces. Fines are given to anyone roaming Breckenridge’s “mask zone” without a mask, which means everyone is taking the proper precautions so you can feel safe making the journey.

Just to be out of the house and in a wide-open Big Sky space will have you for- getting, even briefly, that this winter break is quite a bit different than last year’s. But boy is Breck doing all it can to make you forget, relax and enjoy.

Winter Events in Breck

The winter season is filled with activities that at press time are still taking place — just don’t forget your mask! Here’s what you’ll fin d during the 2020-21 season:

DEC. 5: Lighting of Breckenridge and Race of the Santas

DEC. 9 – 19: Breckenridge Ullr Fest Viking Fest

JAN. 26 – FEB. 7: International Snow Sculpture Championships

FEB. 25: Mardi Gras

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