The Colorado slopes are steep, but a ski trip there doesn't have to be. Breckenridge has less attitude than its posh neighbors, plus a price tag as soft as its powder.
8:30 A.M. I awake in my aerie on the top floor of the Four Peaks Inn (407 S. Ridge St.; 970/453-3813; www.fourpeaksinn.com), a cheerful red Victorian house set in the heart of this former mining town turned ski village. From beneath the mountain of down on my four-poster bed, I can peer out and see the Colorado Rockies rising beyond the window of my room ($139).
9:30 A.M. Downstairs, husband-and-wife innkeepers J. J. and Shannon Bosgraaf have laid out a full English breakfast (free) of sausage, eggs, bacon, and sautéed mushrooms and tomatoes in the light-filled dining room. I dig in, knowing that lunch on the mountain will be prohibitively expensive. J. J. is originally from Holland, and I linger at the table to discuss differences between American and European ski resorts with him and his brother Johan, who is visiting from Amsterdam. According to Johan, it boils down to one thing: Americans simply don’t embrace après-ski culture as heartily as Alpine sportsmen do. I make a mental note to investigate this.
10 A.M. The mountain beckons, but an $80 full-day lift ticket would break my budget. So I stroll over to Main Street, where turn-of-the-20th-century houses from the town’s mining days have been transformed into brightly painted boutiques. At Primo Outdoor (309 S. Main St.; 970/453-5383), a ski shop with choice gear, I’m tempted by a pair of flattering stretch ski pants (so retro!) but decide my budget doesn’t allow for such vanities. Farther down the street, I browse the shelves of the serene Hamlet’s Bookshoppe (306 S. Main St.; 970/453-8033) and eye the racks of Ben Sherman and Tracy Reese at Tom Girl (324 S. Main St.; 970/547-9117). In Racer’s Edge (114 N. Main St.; 970/453-0995), a two-story, one-stop shop for skiers on the north end of town, I find a snug-fitting Spyder ski hat ($15) on sale—and it’s orange, sating my retro craving.
11:30 A.M. There’s nothing like a hard day on the mountain to justify throwing your diet out the window, so I fortify myself with a dense cake doughnut (60¢) from Daylight Doughnuts (305 N. Main St.; 970/453-2548) and duck into the Food Kingdom grocery store (311 S. Ridge Rd.; 970/453-2398) to buy a peanut-butter Clif Bar ($1.69) for later. I then race back to the inn to pick up my skis and boots. I want to be the first in line for the 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. half-day lift pass ($60) at the bottom of Peak 9.
12:30 P.M. Breckenridge has traditionally been known for its moderate, gentle runs, but the challenging slopes around the new Imperial Bowl at the top of the mountain are changing that reputation. At 12,840 feet, I can see what the excitement is about. The lift is the highest in North America—and the jaw-dropping views from the top are alone worth the trip, even if the hill below looks a bit precipitous. Unfazed, I channel my inner Warren Miller ski bunny and head down.
2:30 P.M. After performing a head-first, lose-both-my-skis face-plant right under Chair E (on a run appropriately called Inferno) and eliciting cheers from the skiers overhead, I retire briefly to the mountainside Vista Haus to nurse my wounded pride. The chalet, newly refurbished with blond woods, has a mod-Scandinavian feel. From a seat on the terrace overlooking the fir-lined valley, I sip a hot chocolate ($2.09) and nibble on my Clif Bar.
4:15 P.M. The lifts are closing, and I decide to put Johan’s après-ski dictum to the test. I consider sidling onto the terrace of the Maggie, a bar at the base of Peak 9, but "Hot Blooded" by Foreigner is blaring. Down the hill, I find Quandary Grille (505 Main St.; 970/547-5969), an industrial-chic bar with Bob Marley on the sound system. Surrounded by flushed skiers and a handful of leathery locals, I buy a pint of Colorado’s Fat Tire beer ($2.25) a happy-hour special—then another ($2.25), with Johan in mind.
5:45 P.M. Back at the Four Peaks Inn, red velvet cake and tea (free) await guests in the living room. I indulge in a slice before changing into my swimsuit to hit the inn’s rooftop hot tub—I’ve had a very tough day and deserve the rest.
9 P.M. After dark, the town is transformed into a storybook winter village: fresh snow on the sidewalk, lights-strewn trees, and bracingly crisp night air. Below the pressed-tin ceiling of the South Ridge Seafood Grill (215 S. Ridge Rd.; 970/547-0063), I find real estate magnates and drawling snowboarders sitting side by side at a long marble-topped bar. Everyone, whether in a sports blazer or a ski jacket, wears the mark of the mountain: a goggle tan. Thinking better of the Things That Swim portion of the menu, I order a hearty dinner ($23), chicken and vegetable curry with rice and a glass of white wine. I consider a second glass, but my eyes are starting to close and the feathery bed at the Four Peaks beckons. Tomorrow, after all, is another day on the slopes.
TOTAL COST: $246
When to Go
Avoid the holidays, when prices are highest. The best rates are in early December, from January through early February, and in April following the spring- break rush.
Average Hotel Room Rate
From $165 (low) to $200 (high).
A tin of Dermatone windburn-preventing sunscreen ($5.49) from Norway Haus (127 S. Main St.; 970/453-2375).
Worth the Splurge
Comfortable custom-fit ski-boot insoles (from $140) at the Racer’s Edge ski shop (114 N. Main St.; 970/453-0995).
Breckenridge has a great selection of affordable inns and B&B’s. See the full list at www.breckenridge.snow.com.