It seems kids have no fear ... on ski slopes, anyway, even when it's dumping snow and the wind is howling on Breckenridge Mountain, located two hours west of Denver. We're above the tree line at the new Peak 6 bowls, which represent the biggest ski resort terrain expansion in more than a decade.
Some of the new 543 acres of new terrain on what is a top draw for family snow sports lovers is the most extreme at the resort—you must take off your skis and hike to reach it—but all of the buzz here has been about the above tree line terrain for intermediate skiers. But when it's snowing hard, and you can't see much, it can be a little scary—for grown-ups like me, anyway.
Not so for the young skiers I met.
"Awesome," declared 10-year-old Annika Erikson and her 8-year-old sister, Hailey, visiting from suburban Chicago. "It was hard at the top, but once you got in the woods, it was really cool."
"My favorite run on the whole mountain," added 16-year-old snowboarder Chris Sangiuliano from Philadelphia, who was here with his dad.
At the warming hut at the bottom of the lift, I stop to catch my breath and run into ski patroller Dave Leffler. "This is going to be more difficult for those used to groomers, especially on low visibility days," he said. "On a blue bird day, it is beautiful but the visibility can go away faster than below tree line and blue skiers may not be used to it."
Challenge is a good thing for all ages on vacation and Breckenridge offers it up in spades, whatever the kids' ages and ability—from the Four O'clock run, which is 3.5 miles long, the terrain parks, the kids' trails through the trees and kids' terrain features with names like Rip's Ravine and Dragon Trail. (Kids can rent gear free in Breckinridge when parents rent from Black Tie Ski Rentals, which brings the equipment to you.)
"It's hard but not too hard to have fun," explained Pavel Hamill, 9, visiting with his family from Boulder. That's one reason Breckenridge is the family's favorite mountain, said his dad, Paul.
"It's the perfect place for kids to explore," agreed J.H. Sava, a veteran ski instructor here with his family from Denver for a day of fun on the snow. The mountain manages to offer up plenty of challenges, he explained, without being too intimidating.
Clearly, the picturesque historic mining town of Breckinridge coupled with the big mountain resort run by Vail Resorts can provide an ideal family getaway to enjoy the snow. There's a first-rate ski school, as well as on-mountain day care for infants. No worries either, if one in your gang has special challenges. The Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center offers a variety of programs for people of all abilities using the latest in adaptive equipment and one-on-one instruction. When I was there, blind teens were confidently making their way down the mountain with two BOEC staffers.
On Breckenridge Mountain, you'll likely find blue skies, spectacular mountain vistas and sunshine—at least some days—and more than 2,800 acres across five peaks to explore.
Off the Mountain and in Town
Down in the valley, the town of Breckenridge, with a population of about 3,000, offers up plenty of apres ski activities to suit everyone—from the giant ice castle, over 9,600 feet, which will last till the end of March, to historic town tours, snowshoeing to the Breckenridge Distillery where parents can get a sample of the award-winning bourbon whiskey while the kids play with the resident pooch to shops and restaurants that welcome both junior foodies and finicky eaters.
"We will accommodate anything within our power," said Stacey Brooks Connolly, owner of the popular Warming Hut restaurant & bar on North Main Street. Connolly can serve up gluten free or vegetarian entrees for kids (and grown-ups) junior-sized burgers and mac and cheese or half portions from the sophisticated adult menu (elk medallions, shrimp and grits or hut meatloaf with homemade ketchup, perhaps.) No wonder half the customers at the cozy North Main Street eatery are families.
Need a night out? Sasha and Sophia Zeravkovich had no qualms leaving their 7 and 8 year olds—not when they were dropping them off for dinner and an evening of fun at Breckinridge's Mountaintop Children's Museum. For $65 for the two kids (less if there are more in the group), they get dinner from a local Mexican restaurant, the chance to explore the museum and special arts and science projects. "The kids love it and we love getting a break," said Sasha, a Southwest pilot from Maryland. And Museum Director Laura Horvath said they can accommodate families just about any night of the week, even if there are just a couple of kids.
Breckenridge Deals & More Tips
A trip here doesn't have to bust the vacation budget either, with deals like the one from Wyndham Vacation Rentals that can save you 25 percent on a four-night stay (use the promo code EPIC). Over at Beaver Run Resort, if you stay Sunday, the resort will cut you 40 percent off that night's stay. It's loved by kids for the indoor mini golf and huge arcade. Want to do more on a budget? The local chamber for the Breckenridge resorts guides skiers and travelers to family winter fun for less than $20.
The Late Season in Breckenridge
Come late in the season, starting March 22, to join the month-long Breck Spring Fever festival with more than 40 events both on the mountain and in town—everything from live concerts, kids' events and special eats—all while visitors can continue to ski and ride the best spring snow in Colorado.
Because of the altitude (make sure you stay hydrated here!) the snow lasts longer. There are even Easter egg hunts in the snow. Come in April and most places throw in a free night.
"The kids love that the mountain is so big," said Amy Krill, who is from Erie Colorado, skiing here with her 9-year-old son and 11-year-old daughter. "They want to conquer it all," she said.