- Pam LeBlanc and Kristin Finan American-Statesman Staff
What happens when a solo-adventure junkie hits Breckenridge, Colorado, for a quick visit — and how does her trip differ from one taken by a mom and her 5-year-old? Fit City columnist Pam LeBlanc and travel editor Kristin Finan compared notes after each spending 48 hours at the popular ski resort.
Pam: I spent a few days in Crested Butte Mountain Resort in January, and that just amped up my craving for snowy adventure. I decided to head to Breckenridge for a second dose, picking the resort because I love the terrain (especially a spot called Whale’s Tail) and knew some friends who could join me on the mountain. For this trip, I left the driving to Mountain Express, which shuttled me from the Denver airport to the doorstep of the new Residence Inn by Marriott (600 Ridge St.; marriott.com). I left my skis at home but brought my ski boots so I could test some demo performance skis from Breck Sports (127 S. Main St.; breckenridgesports.com). As soon as I arrived, I walked over and picked them up, poked my nose into a few shops along the way, then headed to Breckenridge Distillery to treat myself to some gourmet food and bourbon before my adventure began. When you get up early and ski until the lifts close, fuel is important.
Kristin: My husband and I decided to become foster parents a couple years ago, which meant that our two biological daughters, 8 and 5, also became foster sisters. While they have done an amazing job welcoming new siblings into our home, we could tell they were craving some one-on-one time, so this year we decided to let each of them pick a weekend trip to take with one of us. Our 5-year-old, Mirielle, wanted to see snow; so earlier this month we left her dad, big sister and foster brother at home and set off for a mom-daughter adventure. We boarded our nonstop flight in Austin — Mirielle wearing her short-sleeved “Frozen” jammies, because what else would you wear to a ski trip? — and two hours later were in Denver, where we rented a car to make the drive to Breckenridge. Once we arrived, we checked into Mountain Thunder Lodge (50 Mountain Thunder Drive; breckresorts.com/lodging/mountain-thunder-lodge) and settled into our two-story townhome. The only must-do items on our agenda? Attempt to ski, drink a lot of hot chocolate and build an awesome snowman.
Pam: I meet instructor Mike Chick at the Village base area and we set out to hunt down the resort’s best powder stashes. The snow has piled up this year, so we have no trouble finding it. We’ve got nearly 3,000 acres to explore, including the newish Peak 6 area, 11 bowls, four terrain parks and the highest chairlift in North America.
Kristin: Mirielle and I are both beginners, so we opt for a family lesson with guide Lee Sky, who is from Australia and has been teaching at Breckenridge since 1996. We can tell Sky is our kind of guide when I suggest Mirielle wipe her runny nose and he replies, “Boogers are fun! That’s the best part of going skiing!” His teaching approach is methodical yet thoughtful — he makes sure we understand the mechanics of what we’re doing, even if we’re just repeating our “pizza” and “French fries” ski positioning on the near-flat bunny hill. “It’s really important to know how to do things before we go and do them,” he says. By the end of our morning lesson we even take a ski lift — granted it’s not exactly expert territory; there’s a cartoon dog on the front of it — and feel accomplished as we make our way back down.
Pam: We break for lunch with ramen noodles at The Overlook, then head back out. I’m itching to blast down Whale’s Tail, but high winds have closed the highest lifts, so we find our bliss in bump-filled gullies around the E Lift. My favorite trails? Two double black diamond runs — Devil’s Crotch and Mine Shaft. The T-Bar (experts only) opens around 2 p.m., and that gets us up into some interesting terrain around Horseshoe Bowl and Contest Bowl. (I’ll head back up there in a few days with a friend who likes to launch himself over cliffs and boulders.)
Kristin: We’re going to have to take a pass on Devil’s Crotch today. Although we’ve had a blast on the mountain, three hours of skiing is more than enough for us amateurs. We kick out of our skis and return our rented gear to the Breck Sports location on Peak 8, then head for lunch at Robbie’s Tavern (1627 Ski Hill Road; robbiestavern.com). After all that talk about pizza and French fries, we’re craving both, so we order some as well as some pretzel nuggets to start. Mirielle is impressed by our waiter’s joke-telling abilities — including gems like, “What did the ocean say to the other ocean? The ocean doesn’t talk! It just waves!” — and I’m impressed by the quick service. The stunning views of the mountain don’t hurt, either.
Pam: My nose won’t stop running, my toes have frozen and my legs are shot, but I can’t wipe the smile off my face. We call it a day and ski back down to the base. I walk back to my hotel, where I flop on the bed for an hour, then shower up for dinner.
Kristin: Eager to fill our open afternoon in a place that’s warm and toasty, we head to Ready, Paint, Fire!, an art studio where you can make your own ceramic, glass or canvas creations (323 N. Main St.; readypaintfireco.com). Next, we stop by Peek-A-Boo Toys (117 S Main St.; peakabootoys.net), which we both instantly deem a winner — there’s even an in-store playground. And the shop gets extra points for selling large and sturdy plastic sleds, perfect for sliding down the hill at Carter Park (300 S. High St.; gobreck.com/on-the-snow/sledding) and a steal at $15.
Pam: I head to Relish (137 S. Main St.; relishbreckenridge.com), considered one of the best restaurants in Breckenridge, for dinner. A plateful of Japanese lantern scallops, served with chili roasted cauliflower and Parmesan polenta, help fill my gotta-ski-‘til-I-drop fuel tank. I’m yawning by 8 p.m., so I head back to the room, post some pictures on social media and hit the hay.
Kristin: “I’m so happy I’m gonna cry!,” Mirielle exclaims midway through our dinner at the Living Room restaurant at One Ski Hill Place (1521 Ski Hill Road; oneskihill.rockresorts.com). She isn’t referring to her pasta — which, she’d add, was great — but the fact that our cheese board arrived with carrots, the last item we needed for building a snowman. From the “reserved” card and flowers on the table when we arrived to my perfectly cooked shrimp dish, it was a mom-daughter meal to remember. We head back to the hotel with brownies and ice cream to-go and the carrots stowed safely in my purse.
Pam: It’s First Tracks Friday, and since I’m staying in one of the resort’s official lodging partners, that means I can start skiing at 7:30 a.m. — an hour before anybody else. The Quicksilver Express lift whisks me up the mountain, and I make four runs before the crowds arrive. But I’ve got places to go and things to do, so I pop off my skis at 9:30 a.m. and head back down to get ready for my next adventure.
Kristin: I wake up to the repeated phrase of “Do you want to build a snowman?” and realize quickly the only way to make it stop is to get Mirielle outside to make her very own Olaf. We grab our materials — M&Ms for the eyes and mouth and the aforementioned carrots for the nose — and get to work. It’s not long before Mirielle is smiling proudly next to her snowy new friend.
Pam: A van picks me up at my hotel for the 30-minute ride to Good Times Adventures (6061 Tiger Road; goodtimesadventures.com), where I’m booked for a dog sledding session. Honestly, I’m a little hesitant to give up even a moment of downhill skiing, but it turns out that mushing a team of eight exuberant dogs over a rolling trail that cuts through the woods makes me feel like Yukon Cornelius, my favorite gold-mining character from the holiday classic “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” It’s a hoot! For an hour, three other guests and I take turns mushing a sled, led by a pair of Siberian huskies named Ox and Hatchet. They’re well-rewarded for their hard work, guide Jack Yeaton says. After each run, the dogs each get a bowl of warm soup, and local restaurants donate food scraps, so sometimes they nosh on lobster, lamb or steak.
Kristin: Today we swap skiing for ice skating, making our way to the Stephen C. West Ice Arena (970-547-9974; breckenridgerecreation.com/locations/stephen-c-west-ice-arena) for a public skate. We lace up our rented skates and in no time are sliding around like puppies on freshly waxed linoleum. Mirielle, all ruddy cheeks and sheer determination under her orange helmet, falls over and over again and gets right back up, ready for more. It pays off. By the end of our two-hour session she’s zooming around the ice and has even taught herself to spin in a circle.
Pam: Back in Breckenridge, I head to Amazing Grace (213 Lincoln Ave.; amazinggracebreckenridge.com), a locals’ favorite for baked goods and sandwiches, to meet old pal Ryan Whaley. We chow on veggie sandwiches in the cozy shop, owned by former world champion adventure racer Monique Merrill. We don’t dally, though, because we’ve got another date with adventure.
Kristin: It’s Day 2 of our trip and we still haven’t had any hot chocolate, so we remedy that at Cuppa Joe (118 S. Ridge St.; cuppajoebreck.com), where our orders come topped with decadent peaks of whipped cream.
Pam: Sam, the 13-year-old blind and deaf shop dog, greets us on our way into Breck Bike Guides (411 S. Main St.; cyclebreck.com), where Jimmy Duddy fits me on a fat bike with 5-inch knobby tires so wide they look like they’d work fine on a tractor. We ride out from the shop, grinding up a paved road for an hour, taking in views of town and the ski mountain beyond. Then we duck into a forest, where we crunch and roll down a snowy, pine-lined path. It’s tricky — you’ve got to stay on the packed stuff, and if you dip into powder you’re a goner. I take several puffy spills, but it’s like crashing into marshmallow fluff. I want more!
Kristin: I have been dragged into children’s museums all over the country, and I call tell you that some of them are terrible. So as we enter Mountain Top Children’s Museum (605 S. Park Ave.; mtntopmuseum.org) I have zero expectations. Blessedly, I am blown away. The museum — a 501(c)(3) nonprofit — is filled with heart and imagination and drives home the idea that kids can be anything they want to be. Over the course of an hour, Mirielle crawls through a bear cave, conducts a science experiment, shoots for the stars as an astronaut and, dressed in scrubs as a doctor, diagnoses some unfortunate random man with a 190-degree fever. We leave begrudgingly, and only because the museum is closing.
Pam: By the time we roll back to town, it’s happy hour. Whaley and I head to Rocky Mountain Underground (114 S. Main St.; rmuoutdoors.com), a combination ski manufacturer and bar (you read that right), to meet another pal. I sip a hefeweizen as I watch Alex Neuschaefer wax a brand-new pair of skis. Before long, it’s five deep at the bar.
Kristin: Mirielle and I are not exactly fine-dining types, but we find that we fit right in at Briar Rose Chophouse & Saloon (109 Lincoln Ave.; briarrosechophouse.com), which is considered one of the best restaurants in Breckenridge but also has a blessedly unpretentious vibe. I splurge on lobster; Mirielle orders the kid’s-cut prime rib; and we share sides of mac and cheese and Brussels sprouts with chorizo. It’s crowded but no one rushes us.
Pam: The night is young, so we head next to the Canteen Tap House and Tavern (208 N. Main St.; thecanteenbreck.com), where we climb a staircase so steep we practically need carabiners and harnesses. There, it’s pizza and burgers ‘til we can’t keep our eyes open. And I’ve got to get to sleep, because I’m skiing again in the morning. I just can’t help my craving for snowy adventure, and Breckenridge is always one of my favorite places to satisfy it.
Kristin: The night is young, so we head around the corner to Mountain Top Cookie Shop (108 S. Main St.; breckenridgecookies.com), where the lines are long, the cookies are decadent and the tip jars force you to designate your money for either skiers or snowboarders. We retire to our condo, where Mirielle is excited to watch a movie in her room (“It has a TV!”) and I’m sad to start packing for the trip home tomorrow. It’s been an incredible bonding experience in an actual Winter Wonderland. I cross my fingers as I watch the snow fall that we can make this an annual tradition.