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Breckenridge

Breckenridge

Travel Rockies
By Charlie Meyers
posted: 02/11/2004

The group calls itself "Sacred Tuesdays because come hell, high water or—God willing—a blizzard dumping a goodly layer of powder, nothing is stopping them from skiing today. The participants, a dozen or so depending on the time of year, represent a cross section of local women with a single bond: "We ski hard, generally nothing less than double black, says Carre Warner, who runs an interior design shop in town. "Usually, we go straight to Horseshoe Bowl and pound the powder all day.

But last January, when Breckenridge cranked up the Independence lift, which serves newly cut Peak 7 terrain, their agenda changed.

"I thought Peak 7 was a place to avoid so I wouldn't bump into all those beginners and intermediates, Warner says. "Instead, it was a gas, absolutely great.

That the group now makes the roller coaster ride down Peak 7's undulating face a part of its weekly routine validates the claim Rick Sramek, Breckenridge's vice president of mountain operations, has been making all along. "The new area completely changed our skier patterns and gave us some elbow room, Sramek says of the stash of cruisers unveiled last season. "It's very different from the rest of Breckenridge: The terrain is different, even the timber. It feels like it's on top of the world, a place most intermediates never go.

Over time, Breckenridge has added runs in bunches and lifts in clusters—including the nation's first high-speed quad in 1981. It's even tacked on entire mountains, proceeding in a math-challenged pattern from Peaks 8 to 9 to 10 to 7. And Vail Resorts has poured in a total of $50 million since it bought the area in 1995.

Yet nothing has caused more excitement than the relatively obscure couple of lifts and 165 acres of seemingly ordinary blue-square terrain on Peak 7. Starting at an elevation where the aspens reach their limit of habitation, the runs flow like waterfalls, winding down through the trees. In a swing away from the rest of Breckenridge, the trails point northeast, toward the twin 14,000-foot summits of Gray's and Torrey's peaks—dramatic views most visitors never see. Skiers slalom among islets of trees, catching fresh powder deep into the morning—long after other spots have been worn out.

No other resort counts four distinct mountains, and sorting them out can be a challenge if you stand too close. But meander to the opposite side of the valley and there they are, all lined up in numerical order at the top of a snowcapped range, with juicy bowls tucked into the proper creases, the clean definition of a spider's web of runs spilling down.

It's an imposing spread, and for skiers navigating the tangle of trails, getting around has often been a chore. A longstanding grumble among Breckenridge's loyal devotees: "It took me all morning to make it over to Imperial! (It's one of Peak 8's powder stashes.) Enter the second part of last season's makeover: the SuperConnect, a high-speed quad ferrying skiers from lower Peak 9 to the top of Peak 8.

Perhaps more than the terrain, the SuperConnect is generating a renewed love affair between the mountain and its minions. On a recent afternoon, a pair of skiers, fresh from a lap off the Beaver Run quad, spy the new chair with surprise (and certain delight). In eight minutes, they're deposited high up on Peak 8 for a quick traverse to a T-bar that vaults them above the timberline and unlocks the chutes and bowls at the top of the range. (Less-aggressive skiers can use the same route to Peak 7.) Before the SuperConnect, they'd have taken two slow chairs, a long traverse and a gnarly access chute (the aptly named Tunnel, which no longer exists).

Gripes over Breckenridge's layout "have disappeared from our skier comment list, says Sramek, for whom the words "makeover and "expansion are something of a mantra. That's par for the course when an area sees as many ownership changes as Breckenridge has—at least nine, depending on who's counting. (It's the only resort to have beenn owned by both Aspen and Vail; the list also includes Twentieth Century Fox and Victoria Ltd.) And throughout the feast-and-famine surges that accompany such diverse proprietors, Breckenridge has stayed the course, at times adding terrain in chunks larger than whole other resorts. Peak 7 is the latest, but it is certainly not the last.

Make your way to the base at Peak 8 and you'll find the resort's next canvas. Feel like lingering over a late-afternoon latte? Try a tepid cocoa in the circa-1960 cafeteria. There are no shops, services, even a place to get a decent cuppa joe—just a parking lot and an eyesore of an administration building. Within five years, however, the base will be reborn as a modern village, with a gourmet restaurant, a hotel and convention center, and clusters of condos, cafes and shops intended to freshen up what's been the equivalent of a dowdy relative.

But down in Breckenridge's historic core, business owners are nervous: Will skiers spend their dining and shopping dollars at the new base in lieu of town?

Not to worry. The town, with its merry twinkle, is still the pulse of this resort, as well as the biggest lure of Summit County (encompassing Keystone, Copper Mountain and Arapahoe Basin).

And in numbers that overwhelm those same neighbors, people keep coming back for the skiing. Credit the constant upgrades—or the element of surprise they bring, reigniting sparks of passion in even the most timeworn affairs.

"I completely undersold it, says Sacred Tuesdays ringleader Warner—who confesses to 40 years on these slopes—of the Peak 7 terrain. "Especially on the part near the end, I got the feeling as if I were flying. It's so much fun.

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