Reviewed by Pieter Van Noordennen
Nov 06, 2008
The experience is more heli-skiing than resort skiing, but instead of dropping $800, you ride an old double chairlift all day for $99.
The term “champagne powder” was coined in Steamboat Springs, and the town boasts more Winter Olympians (63) than anywhere else in the country. Coincidence? No, sirree. The two big hills (Mount Werner and Storm Peak) gather some of the fluffiest, most consistent snowfall in the state, like this year’s 105 inches in 11 days.
Mary Jane—named for a mining-era lady of the night—and its sister area, Winter Park, offer plenty of prospects for good skiing, including bumps and powder-filled bowls. Forming one of the closest major resorts to Denver, the two areas spread across five mountains and 3,078 acres. Add 3,060 feet of vertical, 30 feet of snowfall, and a direct train from Denver and it’s no wonder why the Front Range packs the place on Saturdays.
People write off breck as the skiing equivalent of Lake Havasu: a debauched outpost rife with fur-bikini-clad coeds, pond-skimming boozers, and an après party scene that starts at noon and rages till the rooster crows. But the skiing at Breck rocks as hard as any party on Main Street. Start high, on the Imperial Express Super Chair, and spend the day dropping open bowls, tree-lined chutes, and terrain parks teeming with future X Gamers. Then, when you’ve earned it, swagger into a truly wild Western town brimming with carousers and more drink specials than you could exploit in a week.
Upgrade: It used to take a seven-minute T-bar ride and up to 45 minutes of boot-packing to access Cucumber, Horseshoe, and North bowls. Now, thanks to the Imperial Express, you can reach Breck’s 12,998-foot summit in under three minutes
Must Hit: Hang a right from the top of the Imperial Express into North Bowl for a half-dozen slalom-size turns. Then cut right into Horseshoe Bowl, where 40-degree faces refill with snow on a near-nightly basis.
The Stash: Aptly named for what it does to your quads, The Burn, skier’s left on Peak 10, starts off in closet-wide pines but funnels into 40-plus-degree gullies through dense foliage. Get there from the left side of Crystal and see what kind of snow you can stir up.
Local’s Tip: Just south of town, hit Quandary Peak for a purist excursion. But be careful: Exposed hikes and numerous 30- to 45-degree lines make this area notoriously avalanche-prone. Bang a left off the Imperial Express to the 50-degree Lake Chutes, the closest thing to couloir skiing in the area.
Park Newbies: Not up to the Freeway? Step it down at the mid-level Gold King park, which features a set of dual kickers right below the lifts. Stomp your landing and feed that needy ego.
Powder Day: Be waiting on Peak 8 when patrol opens Lift 6 (“Six Chair” to locals), usually around 10 a.m. Follow the fall line past natural wind lips and midget pines to curvaceous gullies like Psychopath, and then back to the lift. Or traverse skier’s left to 40-degree Contest Bowl.
Three Days Later: Finding fresh at Breckenridge is like finding caviar at a free buffet. Best bet? Hike the cat track directly above Mercury Superchair to the Windows— five 800-vertical-foot glades riddled with narrow escapes and winding creek beds.
Park and Pipe: Impress the homeys in the Freeway Terrain Park—one of the best in the country, thanks to big, creative features like the Up-C-Down rail, an 18-foot-high quarterpipe, and an easy-to-navigate layout.
Backcountry Access: Grab your avy gear and hike four hours from the Peak 10 gate to Fourth of July Bowl, where you’ll find wide-open, 40-degree runs, powder-filled meadows—and nary another person. Click the Colorado link at avalanche.org for info.
Weather: Because of its elevation (12,840 feet at the top of the Imperial Express), Breck has a longer spring season than nearby resorts like Keystone. Come in late January for the deep stuff, early April for pebbly snow, tank tops, and the occasional spring dump.
Après: Head to Mi Casa (across from the Peak 9 Village) for $3 baskets of wings, dollar tacos, and gold margaritas for $5.
Fuel: In the morning, hit Columbine Café on Main Street for fruit-filled pancakes, bacon, and OJ. For lunch, try the Bergenhof for $7 pork sandwiches.
Up All Night: The Salt Creek Restaurant and Bar gets sloppy on Tuesdays and Thursdays, when DJs play Top 40 hip-hop and pitchers cost four bucks.
Digs: The Fireside Inn offers rooms and suites for two to four people. Dorm-style quarters start at $36 (firesideinn.com).