Lifts & Terrain
Breckenridge Ski and Snowboard Terrain
is a large ski resort with 2,358 acres (954 hectares) of skiable terrain. Breck cheekily claims the vertical drop to be 1,036 metres (3,398 feet) but this includes hike-to-terrain. The lift accessed vertical drop is about 970 metres, the continuous vertical is much less than this, and the last 60 metres or so are just mellow green home trails that drop into town.
The ski area can be divided into sections according to the four peaks, although the majority of the terrain isn’t really on the “peaks”.
mainly consists of blue groomed trails that are below the timberline, whilst the alpine area is hike-to-terrain for experts. The lift queues that can develop at the Peak 7 base are horrendous because there’s only one lift. The crowds are exacerbated in the mornings because the BreckConnect Gondola dumps hundreds of day trippers into the base area.
is the original part of the ski resort and has a bit of terrain for everyone. Below the treeline are terrain parks and green, blue and black trails that feed into the Peak 8 base. Even though there are a handful of chairs that ascend from the base, this area also gets incredibly crowded. The BreakConnect Gondola terminates at the base area, which also contributes to the crowding in the mornings. The upper reaches of Peak 8 are the ducks nuts of Breck where the alpine provides lots of challenges for expert riders.
is the mellowest of the mountains with mainly blue and green groomed trails, a few of which drop into the town of Breckenridge. The upper part of Peak 9 also has some steep mogul runs and hike-to-terrain.
The Peak 10
terrain is below the treeline and is the least trafficked of the mountains. The terrain consists solely of black and double black trails and gladed runs.
Of the 31 lifts, 9 are high speed chair lifts which service the majority of the terrain. Even the upper alpine bowls have an express chair lift, the Imperial SuperChair, which deposits skiers off at a soaring 12,840 feet. If this chair lift is closed, experienced riders have to resort to the 6-Chair (a slow double chair lift) and the T-Bar (which is good for windy days). Both can develop lift queues on powder days. Unfortunately another lift for advanced and expert riders, the E-Chair, is also a slow chair, and one of the chairs for the Freeway 8 terrain park is also an old clunker.
The lift layout is just OK. As to be expected for a ski resort with such breadth, it can be rather time consuming to navigate laterally across the ski resort between the peaks. The Peak 8 SuperConnect (from near the base of Peak 9 to the upper part of Peak 8) has improved access significantly, and good signage and hints on the trail map also facilitate the transit between areas. Thankfully many of the lifts have a trail map on the safety bar, but it definitely wouldn’t hurt to carry a trail map too!
Breckenridge is extremely popular, particularly with day trippers due to the inexpensive season passes and its proximity to Denver and Boulder. On weekends and holidays, many of the lift lines are ridiculous and lift accessed freshies don’t last more than an hour. On weekdays the ski resort is still busy, but manageable.
If you buy a single day lift pass at the window, the prices are a killer and amongst the most expensive in the country. Breckenridge is owned and operated by Vail Resorts, so it’s covered on the Epic Pass. An Epic Pass makes the skiing much more affordable if you plan to spend multiple days skiing or boarding. It’s valid at Breckenridge
, Beaver Creek
, and Arapahoe Basin
, so it’s a good lift ticket to sample various ski resorts.
A 7 day Epic Pass for an adult costs the equivalent of about five and a half single days, whilst an early purchase of a season pass only costs about the equivalent of 7 single day tickets. It’s great that the season passes are so affordable, but it’s easy to see why this ski resort gets completely swamped with crowds.
Breckenridge Snow Conditions
The Breckenridge ski resort receives an average of 300 inches (7.6 metres) of snow per season, which is middle of the road for a Colorado ski resort. They also have lots of snowmaking that covers about a quarter of the ski resort. Further “man-made snow” is produced by cloud seeding, a technique that can increase the amount of precipitation from each storm by about 10 percent.
The snow quality is enhanced by the elevation of the ski resort. The town is one of the highest in Colorado at 9,602 feet (2,972 metres) and Breckenridge has the highest lift accessed terrain in North America at 12,800 feet (3,900 metres). Whilst this keeps the snow delightfully cold, the altitude can also be a curse for the snow. Breckenridge commonly has windy conditions which can wreak havoc with the snow up in the alpine areas.
For the Beginner
Breckenridge is one of the best ski resorts in Colorado
for beginners, particularly on weekdays when it’s not too busy. Fourteen percent of the trails are dedicated to beginners, which are located on Peak 8 and 9. The trails are wide and very gentle, and they are largely exclusive areas, so beginners can learn in peace. The exception to this is at the end of the day on Peak 9 when faster skiers return to town.
Ski school has lots of magic carpets right near the accommodation hubs, and then novices can progress onto other easy surface lifts or high speed chairs. For confident beginners, lots of the blue trails could easily be tackled.
Another pro is that there are a lot of ski-in ski-out accommodations at Peak 8 and 9 that are accessible via green trails, so beginners are never far from home.
Intermediate Skiing Breckenridge
At Breckenridge, 31% of the trails are designated for intermediates, but these wide mellow blue runs are primarily geared towards lower-end intermediates.
Peak 7 is dedicated to rolling blue groomers so this is a great place to play on weekdays, but the lift lines at the base on weekends may frustrate the crap out of you. Peak 9 is probably the best place for cruising without the hordes.
The run ratings at Breckenridge are much easier than many other ski resorts, so intermediates will be able to manage some of the black runs. The tricky bit is figuring out which runs are OK. Unfortunately in 2010-11 Breckenridge re-categorised many of the blue-black trails into black trails, thereby minimising the ability to delineate between the ratings, but if intermediates stick to the groomed black runs, all should be fine.
Terrain Parks & Pipes
Breckenridge has one of the best terrain park set ups in North America, with multiple parks and pipes to cater for different ability levels.
The Freeway Terrain Park & Pipe is the mega terrain park located on the Freeway 8 run on Peak 8. It has one of the best superpipes, possibly because Breck was the first in the USA to build one, so they’ve had plenty of time to perfect it. Other features are also mega sized and designed for experts. The local talent is pretty impressive and if you’re not a pro, you may feel a little intimidated.
The adjacent area on Peak 8 also has terrain parks with medium and small sized features, whilst Peak 9 has a pipe and a couple of small terrain parks for up and coming champions.
Advanced Skiing Breckenridge
The advanced ski and snowboard terrain at Breckenridge is pretty impressive. There are a huge range of options to choose from.
Advanced riders can go flying on the groomed black runs (that are really blue runs) and dodge the moving obstacles, or there are lots of ungroomed black piste that quickly turn into moguls. Many of the double black diamond runs that are below the treeline are really just single black mogul runs (e.g. double blacks on Peak 10, Mach 1 and Southern Cross on Peak 8). Of course if the moguls get slick and nipple high, then they become for experts only!
The trees are a good place for advanced riders to play, although at Breckenridge there are lots of cut pistes so there are very few wide and secluded gladed areas. An exception is the large Ore Bucket area on Peak 7, however the trees are very widely spaced and it becomes tracked out pretty quickly. Another exception is The Burn area on Peak 10. This area is popular but because the trees are a bit tighter the powder lasts a fraction longer. Fun but small tree zones can be found off Frosty’s Freeway and on Peak 10, although the long trail out on the latter may drive snowboarders bananas.
The alpine and sub-alpine areas also provide plenty of merriment. Skiers’ right of the 6-Chair can be easily attempted by advanced riders, and skiers’ left of the T-bar is also aptly rated as single black. In good visibility, the Horseshoe Bowl and Contest Bowl are also OK for advanced riders, so long as they avoid some of the features. These bowls are snow collectors, so they’re great for some deep turns on a powder day!
Expert Ski and Snowboard Terrain
Breckenridge offers some fabulous experts’ terrain. Whilst the stats indicate that 36% of the terrain is for experts (double black), Breck has embellished the ratings of some of the trails. As described above, many of the double black trails below the timberline are really single blacks. Exceptions would be some of the runs off the E-Chair that are pretty steep (and get BIG moguls). Also, some of the tight trees in this area are for experts only.
Most of the entertainment for experts is up in the alpine, a joy that some Colorado ski resorts
don’t offer. The steep pitches don’t have huge vertical, but thankfully these upper reaches have their own lifts, so you can do laps and avoid the mayhem at the base areas.
The Imperial Express Super Chair drops riders up at phenomenally giddy heights, and if you aren’t the expert you claim to be, the snow quality in Imperial Bowl or some of the chutes to the skiers’ right may also make you feel woozy. To get to the freshies, there’s also hike-to-terrain, and a traverse to the right will take you to Snow White Bowl and the Lake Chutes which are particularly steep. As to be expected for any steep alpine pitch, this area is sometimes closed due to inadequate snow cover or windy conditions.
The hike-to-terrain off Peaks 7 and 9 are also good spots to find freshies.