Author Sam Polcer Photography Sam Polcer
DAY ONE It’s always a good idea to make note of what’s outside your hotel window. This fact occurs to me shortly after I awake in my room at One Ski Hill Place, the sprawling, bustling lodge at the base of Breckenridge’s Peak 8. When I raise the blinds, majestic mountains grazed by the morning sun are revealed, as well as a passing chairlift occupied by ski-schoolers of an impressionable age. Which reminds me, I’ve booked a lesson with Breckenridge Ski & Ride instructor Lee Sky (yes, his real name).
Over eggs Benedict with smoked trout in the hotel’s Living Room Restaurant and Bar, the Aussie ski instructor dismisses my puppy dog enthusiasm at the conditions outside: azure skies, several inches of powder atop a solid base. “Typical Colorado,” Sky says with a nonchalant chew. Still, I’m a little breathless at the prospect of getting out there. Or maybe it’s the altitude. Breckenridge is one of Colorado’s highest ski resorts—9,600 feet at the base. Up here, climbing a flight of stairs feels like an ascent
Four turns into the first run of the day, I wonder aloud how common it is for Sky’s clients to holler with glee, which is what I do while following him down an untouched run on Peak 8. “Pretty typical,” he says, smiling. It’s been a while since I’ve skied, but one thing I remember, aside from how euphoric those first turns on a perfectly groomed trail can feel, is that hardcore skiers often appear to have life’s mysteries figured out.
Sky decides to test my limits by leading me to the top of recently expanded Peak 6 to hit a trail marked with a black diamond or two. He nods to a group trudging up higher than the Kensho SuperChair allows. Their progress is slow—half the party seems to be lying down. “Shall we?” Within minutes, I too have collapsed onto the snow for a breather. When we finally summit, I get why the nearby bowl is named “Serenity”—up here, at 12,573 feet, the Rockies spread out before me like an Albert Bierstadt painting. A peek at the vertigo-inducing slope of the bowl below, however, dispels any romantic feelings. Pointing my skis downward at the gentlest entry available, I dip in, and pretty soon I’m
whooping again, all the way down. Typical Colorado.
I part ways with Sky at the base, but not before receiving some final words of wisdom: “Look down the mountain, moving forward into the future, not back to the past.” Which, I’m fairly sure, is code for “Don’t be a wuss.” In any event, I see lunch in my future. So, after dropping off my equipment with the hotel’s ski valet, I cut through the lobby, ignoring the crash of pins in the property’s two-lane bowling alley, and shuttle into town.
I’m eating at Downstairs at Eric’s, a kitschy neighborhood beer-and-burger joint that doubles as an arcade. Waiting for me when I arrive is Shannon Galpin, a renowned activist and adventurer, and longtime Breckenridge resident. I order a plate of nachos the size of my head and a side of wings, washing them down with a Breck IPA. Over the din of skee ball, a couple of versions of Pac-Man and several dozen TVs tuned to every manner of sporting event, I tell her about my morning on the slopes. “There’s such diversity of terrain here,” she says. “And we’ve got incredible back bowls that are lift-accessible, which is insane—as you found out.”
After lunch, I pass on Galpin’s offer of a skee ball match, assuming I’ll need my energy for our scheduled fat bike tour. A fat bike, for the uninitiated, is essentially a mountain bike with comically large, knobby tires designed to tackle mud, sand and snow—the monster truck of bicycles.
Soon, we’re following Nick Truitt, co-owner of Breck Bike Guides, through wooded trails also used by snowshoers, cross-country skiers and anyone with superhuman lung capacity. It’s hard work, but Galpin is unfazed. “Fat biking is just giggly,” she says. “You can’t help but keep laughing.” As I topple into a snowbank for the fifth time, she adds, “the downhills are super-fun but sketchy.” Falling into the snow is quickly becoming my preferred Rocky Mountain pastime.
On our way back into town, we pass through Wellington, a quaint neighborhood of colorful Victorian cottages housing a preponderance of Olympic athletes. “A lot of people feel driven to these mountains,” Galpin says as we pass a trio of huffing cross-country skiers. “I think it’s partly the fact that you can train right outside your door. Like, Denver and Boulder are optimal Ironman conditions, at 5,000 feet, but it’s urban running until you get to the trails. Here, to be able to wake up and look at the mountains every morning and know that that’s where you’re going to play on your lunch break—that’s irreplaceable.”
We’ve earned an après drink, so we drive 10 minutes north to the repurposed chairlift benches at Broken Compass Brewing, where Chicago-born co-founder David “Ax” Axelrod brings out a flight of samples that skew to the hearty end of the microbrew spectrum. Running a brewery at this altitude has its challenges, Ax says, but he seems to have managed. Every pour is outstanding, and after a pint or three I’m nearly brought to tears to hear that their brews, including a glorious rum barrel–aged coconut porter, are draft-only, so I won’t be finding them in the fridge at my local bodega anytime soon.
If brewing up here is a challenge, so is drinking. With our need for food approaching crisis proportions, we cab it back to the town center for dinner at the sleek, low-lit eatery Relish, where chef-owner Matt Fackler’s Colorado-inspired cuisine has been earning accolades for a decade. As I tuck into an Asian-inflected dish of lavender snapper crusted with wasabi peas and nori, I remark how this is the sort of place generally associated with upscale Aspen. “Oh, Breckenridge has the amenities,” Galpin says with a laugh. “Just not the attitude.”
Right now, the amenity I’m most interested in comes with pillows and a Do Not Disturb sign, so I hop into my private shuttle to Vail. An hour later, I check into the Sebastian under cover of darkness, retire to my room and hit the hay, but not before taking a quick look out my window at the shadowy peaks looming beyond the chalet rooftops.