When to Go
Thanks to its spot high up in the mountains, the ski season in Breckenridge usually lasts for around five months, from mid-November to mid-April. Slopes can be a bit patchy at the start and end of winter, but an extensive snow cannon network keeps the lower trails white for as long as its cold! As far as proper snowfall goes, it really starts cranking from January, tailing off by the end of March. Events like Ullr Fest and the International Snow Sculpture Championships are held in January, making that month an awesome time to visit. If there was ever a time not to visit Breckenridge, it’s the Christmas and New Year holidays, Martin Luther King Day, and Presidents’ Day. Crowds peak during these times, leading to monstrous lift queues and a spike in accommodation prices.
Where to ski - Best for Beginners
Beginners, rejoice! Breckenridge has some of the best beginner skiing in Colorado (especially on weekdays, when it’s not as crowded). The lower half of Peak 9 is almost entirely beginner terrain including everything below the top of QuickSilver SuperChair and A-Chair. These are wide and gentle runs with just enough of a slope to keep you going and plenty of room for easy wedge turns. The base area of Peak 9 includes a platter and two magic carpets which is where most of the ski school’s beginner classes are held. There is an additional magic carpet at the base of Peak 8, where the beginners’ terrain is a bit of a step up. The trails that access the ski-in/ski-out accommodations between Peak 8 and Peak 9 are easy terrain, so beginners can easily make it home at the end of the day.
The resort designates a few areas below the tree line as speed-controlled Family Zones. These include Bonanza (which runs beneath Mercury SuperChair and is accessible from Beaver Run SuperChair), Springmeier, and Powerline (both between 5-Chair and Colorado SuperChair). If your family or group has a range of abilities, the area below the tree line between Peak 8 and Peak 9 includes a fair amount of black and double-black, so newbies and budding rippers can all stay in the same part of the resort and still find terrain to keep everyone happy.
Best for Intermediates
When you’re ready to link some turns together and spending more time with “french fries” than “pizza”, you’ll find intermediate terrain spanning all five of Breckenridge’s peaks. In fact, with how wide and mellow many of these runs are, they’re suitable for more confident and comfortable beginners, too!
On Peak 6, you can escape some of the crowd and enjoy an expansive view across the valley from the top of Kensho SuperChair before you hop on the wide open first half of Reverie to either Nirvana or Daydream.
On Peak 7, you’ll find plenty of nicely groomed and gently rolling runs. Our favourite here is Claimjumper, which starts on skier’s right off the top of Independence SuperChair and takes you all the way down to the base area on broad, sweeping turns that will invite you to channel your inner racer. On Peak 8, in addition to the blue runs, try out Spruce or Rounders between Colorado SuperChair and Rocky Mountain SuperChair to challenge yourself! They show up as advanced runs on the trail maps, but they’re pretty mild for advanced runs and are usually groomed. They should be well within the abilities of strong intermediates.
The intermediate runs higher up Peak 9 area offer you good cruising where it tends not to be as crowded on busy days. Cashier at skier’s right off the top of Mercury SuperChair to Country Boy is another favourite of ours - you can follow these wide-open cruisers to the base of A-Chair and stay above the beginner’s area below. Columbia, American, Peerless and Volunteer are all great runs and are more examples of Breckenridge’s advanced runs that are wide and smooth enough for experienced intermediates. The same goes for Cimarron, Doublejack and Centennial, all on skier’s right as you get off Peak 10’s Falcon SuperChair, as well as Crystal directly below the chair if the snow is relatively fresh (otherwise, sometimes these runs can get skied off and icy).
Best for Advanced/Experts
Don’t think that just because some of the black diamond runs are groomed that Breckenridge isn’t a blast for expert skiers. Almost half of the terrain at Breckenridge is either black or double-black diamond, offering you a vast array of challenging terrain. Some of it is downright adventurous, often with slopes as steep as 55 degrees and vertical cornices you have to drop over (not a good place to fall!). Much of this expert terrain is in the high alpine, well above the tree line - not something every Colorado resort offers. Whereas other nearby resorts have longer groomed runs and better tree skiing, this big-mountain experience is one of the things that really sets Breckenridge apart. Many of these runs are served by their own lifts - so you don’t have to go all the way down the mountain to the crowds and then all the way back up to keep getting gnarly turns.
On Peak 6, Intuition and Wonderland along the resort boundary at skier’s left are great. From the top of Kensho SuperChair, a short uphill hike takes you to the top of Peak 6, where the panoramic vista includes Copper Mountain across the valley to the west. The combination of the terrain and the lack of crowds on Kensho makes this a good place to stay for several laps. The ridge running south from Peak 6 toward Peak 7 gives you access to the experts-only, ski-movie-worthy lines in Serenity Bowl and the Six Senses area (though this area, with its steep narrow chutes and cornices, is prone to closure for avalanche control).
On Peak 7, between the top of Independence SuperChair and Rocky Mountain SuperChair, is the T-Bar, which accesses all sorts of advanced high mountain terrain. Turn right off the T-Bar and you can drop into the North Bowl. Turn left and you can access Contest Bowl, Horseshoe Bowl, and Cucumber Bowl with the rest of the resort and the town below spread out before you. Horseshoe Bowl’s south side is out of the wind and in the shade, so the snow stays fresher longer. Between storms, that same wind often blows in more snow from other parts of the mountain for you to enjoy.
When you head up Peak 8 SuperConnect, if you turn left you can get to 6-Chair. To skier’s right off the top of 6-Chair is a load of short advanced pitches that could keep you busy for quite a while, burning laps until your legs are burning. If you turn the other direction off the chair, you can also hop on Imperial Express SuperChair, the highest chairlift in North America and Breckenridge’s crown jewel. To skier’s left is the expansive Whale’s Tail between Peaks 7 and 8.
Keep hiking north and you’ll be able to drop into The Dunes, an iconic big-mountain landscape for the truly ambitious. A short 15-minute hike from the top of Imperial Express takes you to the top of Peak 8, the highest point in the resort at 12,998 ft. Be sure to take a moment to enjoy the view - though you’re surrounded by the Rocky Mountains, from this vantage point, all of it seems far beneath you. The rest of the mountains seem to roll away in gentle ripples as you stand on the roof of the world. From here, you can drop into the steep Lake Chutes and Snow White Bowl, though this is another area that is sometimes closed due to hazardous conditions. Another option is to come back down beneath Imperial Express in the Imperial Bowl. Below the Imperial Bowl, Alpine Alley and Upper 4 O’Clock are groomed black runs that give you the option to head back to the 6-Chair or over to the E-Chair and Peak 9.
Crossing Between Ski Areas
Getting from one side of the resort to the other requires a few lift rides and connecting trails. It can be time consuming unless you plan it out. From the Peak 6 area at the resort’s northern edge, the quickest way is to ski down Lost Horizon (a gentle intermediate run) till it merges with Monte Cristo which takes you to the Peak 7 base area. From there, hop on the BreckConnect Gondola for the quick trip over to Peak 8’s base area, where you can ride Colorado SuperChair up to the Vista Haus where advanced runs can take you straight to the bottom of E-Chair.
If you want a cruiser journey, the easier 4 O’Clock can take you to Crosscut, which gets you to C-Chair headed up Peak 9, where several options on skier’s right can take you to the base of Peak 10. To go the other way, get on the Peak 8 SuperConnect near the base of Peak 9, which will have you back at Vista Haus with several options to get to the base areas for Peak 7 and 8. If it all sounds confusing, fret not: good signage around the resort and the detailed trail map help make it clear. There’s plenty of beginner-friendly connecting trails, so new skiers don’t have to feel trapped in one corner of the resort.
Off-Piste & Backcountry
Trees, bumps, and backcountry aren’t Breckenridge’s calling cards but you can still find some action to spice up your day. Wanderlust and the Ore Bucket on Peak 7 offer some tree skiing, although it’s on a relatively tame pitch and the widely spaced trees mean the area can get skied out relatively quickly. Try your hand on Peak 10’s The Burn where the trees are closer together and the pitch more challenging (especially if you veer towards the right) – definitely our run of choice when it comes to tree-skiing.
There are smaller (but fun) stands of trees along Frosty’s Freeway between the top of Peak 8 SuperConnect and the base of 6-Chair, and in the runs on skier’s right off the top of 6-Chair. The farther to skier’s right, the less defined the runs become and the more it feels like genuine gladed tree skiing. The north slope of Peak 9, including Tom’s Mom, Devil’s Crotch, and Mineshaft offer brief chances to dart into the trees alongside the runs (which can also develop some sweet bumps). The northern exposure means the sheltered snow stays soft, although the steep angle means that if it’s been a while since it last snowed, it can get scraped down to the dirt.
All the runs to skier’s right of Peak 10 have widely spaced trees and an almost backcountry feel. The only downside? The trail you’ll likely empty out onto (Flapjack) is rather flat, and will be frustrating for snowboarders.
While there’s not a great deal of dedicated mogul terrain, there’s a lot of ungroomed slopes that quickly turn into bump runs as people attack them after a snowstorm. If it’s been a while since a dumping, those moguls can get slick with deep troughs between them, making these areas truly expert only terrain. Tiger and Southern Cross, between 6-Chair and Peak 8 SuperConnect, can develop good bumps and make for good skiing when their southern exposure softens them up. Spitfire and Corsair on Peak 10 have some of the best bump skiing on the mountain, and even though most of Crystal is groomed, they often leave a bump lane before the chair (because if you’re going to shred bumps, you might as well have an audience, right?).
There are plenty of places where skiers can exit the resort at their own risk, but the only official gate is at the top of Peak 10 (the gates you see on Peaks 6, 8, and 9 control access to in-bounds hike-to terrain). Once you’re outside the resort’s boundaries, there’s no more avalanche control and ski patrol won’t come rescue you (rescue out here is the responsibility of the county, and can be costly). Only people who are properly trained and equipped (beacon, shovel, snow probe, and partners) should be venturing out this way.
Prep for Pow days!
The high elevation, which keeps the snow so nice, can also mean the top of the mountain can actually be in the clouds making for dangerous visibility, especially on the more adventurous runs. Extreme cold, high winds, and/or low visibility can all cause the upper mountain to shut down, including the Imperial Express SuperChair, the T-Bar, and Kensho SuperChair. However, everything below the tree line generally stays open.
After a big snowstorm, at a resort as popular as Breckenridge most of the fresh stuff can be tracked out quickly. Even the above-treeline bowls and their massive acreage will be chewed up within a few hours of ski patrol dropping the ropes. However, if you’re willing to hoof it, the resort has some hike-to terrain on Peaks 6, 8, 9, and 10 where you can find fresh powder. The amount of avalanche control work some of this terrain needs means that the powder will stick around longer. The trick here isn’t always to be able to catch the first chair up in the morning, but it’s to be there when the upper-mountain lifts open and the ropes closing off sections of terrain drop. Keep an eye on the EpicMix app and the sign boards at the top of lifts for the most up-to-date status. All of this means that you have the chance to ski fresh powder even days after a storm – if you happen to be in the right place at the right time.
One other important thing to remember about Breckenridge’s weather is the wind chill. It gets more severe with elevation, and once you’re above the tree line you’re quite exposed. You can prepare for this by bringing an extra layer and dressing warmer than you think you should as you’re sitting in town. If you’re at the base of the gondola and starting to feel a bit hot, you’ll probably be alright at the top. Having something to cover your lower face will help keep the wind chill from being more uncomfortable than it has to be.
Ditch the Crowds
Speaking from experience, definitely avoid Independence SuperChair on Peak 7 during weekends or holidays; Peak 8, while also crowded, at least splits the sea of people between two chairs so traffic flows a little bit better there. The farther away you get from the centre of the resort, the less crowding you’ll find; Peak 6’s Kensho SuperChair and Peak 10’s Falcon SuperChair are usually good bets for avoiding the worst of the mob.
Be sure to take the guess work out by downloading the EpicMix app for your smartphone, which will show you real-time updates on lift line times so you can plan your runs to avoid the queues.
Freestylers, prepare to fall in love. Breckenridge was the first Colorado resort to allow snowboarding, so it shouldn’t surprise anyone that their award-winning terrain parks are consistently ranked as some of the best in the world. In fact, it’s an annual stop for the Dew Tour – and December 2017’s Dew Tour visit is going to be the US Ski and Snowboard Olympic qualifying event for halfpipe and slopestyle!
If you’re not quite ready to go for the gold, Breckenridge still has you covered with multiple parks designed to accommodate different ability levels. Trygve’s at Peak 8’s base area is where the smallest shredders (under 3 ft tall) can get their start with appropriately sized features, while Highway 9 – running between Peak 9’s Mercury and Beaver Run SuperChairs – is the entry-level terrain for everyone else. Two more parks on your right off the top of 5-Chair offer more ambitious features: Park Lane Terrain Park has a reputation as the “locals’ park” and has plenty of features to keep most seasoned freestylers satisfied, while Freeway Terrain Park and Pipe has giant features, including a 22 ft superpipe. This is the place where the pros put in their work while we watch on in awe.
Breckenridge doesn’t offer any night skiing, though after a full day on the slopes, not many folks would be up for it anyway! And once you head into town, you’re probably not going to mind.