The last time I saw Breckenridge, Colorado, was about 16 years ago through the rear window of my family’s oversized dirt-spattered truck. I didn’t know then how much time would pass before I returned, and for years I treasured my cache of childhood memories: leaping off our porch into a mammoth pile of soft snow; fishing in the stream that ran through our backyard; hiking wildflower-strewn trails that led to abandoned—and in my young mind, mysterious—19th-century cabins. My family moved around a bit afterwards, but for years, Breckenridge set the bar and no place could compete.
Sure, we settled by the ocean, but with a child’s obstinance, I deemed myself a "mountain person." Even later, as I explored new and exciting foreign cities, there remained something untouchable about the small mining town. Of course, as I grew older, I came to understand that a pair of rose-colored glasses had settled firmly on my nose, a realization reinforced by the way Breckenridge was discussed by others in conversation: as a ski resort, and little more. I wanted to explain how beautiful and pure it was there, but held my tongue, thinking that I sounded a bit silly.
So, when an opportunity arose to return, I booked my ticket months in advance. At first, excitement. But then, a tendril of fear: What if my memory had failed me and it wasn’t what I had always believed it to be? What would that mean about who I was and what I believed? As a travel editor, it’s no surprise that I spend a lot of my days thinking about destinations all over the world—those familiar as the back of my hand, those I haven’t yet explored—but never has a trip felt so personal, like there was so much at stake.
At last, I arrived. I wandered the Victorian-era town on foot, picking up a delicious pumpkin-and-cream cheese concoction at Daylight Donuts; getting an hour-long Swedish massage—the best I’ve ever had—at the Blue Sage Spa and tucking into bacon-wrapped filet mignon with sautéed mushrooms at the aptly named The Steak & Rib. My run down the slopes was challenging and exhilarating. I was delighted to recognize a few side streets and the winding ascent to my family’s former home. The mountain views were as startling as I remembered them to be; the people were as friendly. And come evening, sinking into a steaming hot tub and looking up at a crisp sky unencumbered by skyscrapers and artificial light was the most connected I’ve felt in a long time.
I’m happy I returned, and I took plenty of pictures that I planned on stowing in an album, a project I’ll probably complete. But I don’t think I’ll take it out much. I choose the memory.
Bree Sposato is an assistant editor at Travel + Leisure.