By Eric Smith
“The mountains are calling and I must go.”
— John Muir
As the leaves change and temperatures drop, my thoughts turn to winter and my travel planning shifts westward to Colorado, where the high country awaits the season’s first snow and the mountains begin calling. Autumn means it’s time to start thinking about our annual ski trip to Breckenridge, Colorado, a place that has beckoned us back again and again for 15 years.
My wife, Sandy, and I have been partial to Breckenridge – or simply Breck, as the locals call it – ever since we spent a winter there as ski bums in our 20s. Now living in Memphis, we escape the flatlands when we can for the 1,100-mile drive west to enjoy everything the town and the mountains that rise above it have to offer.
The allure of Breck is strong for us. On one road trip, in 2006, we braved a massive winter blizzard that blanketed the Midwest and stymied numerous ski vacations. We navigated around the storm and eventually arrived, although what should have taken 18 hours along interstates took more than 40 as we detoured farther south on back roads to avoid highway closures in Kansas and Colorado.
It was worth it then, and it’s worth it every time we point the car toward the Rocky Mountains. Ski trips aren’t cheap, with lodging, lift tickets and travel being the biggest budget items, but finding ways to reduce those makes them affordable. Here’s how we do a week in Breck for $2,500.
$636: Seven nights lodging Breck
$150: Additional lodging on trip
$700: Four days of skiing
$114: One week ski rental
$450: Food and beverage
When to Go:
Ski season runs from mid-November to mid-April, depending on snowfall. We typically hit Breck toward the end of January and beginning of February, when most, if not all, of the lifts and trails are open. Ski weekdays to avoid crowds, and be wary of the holidays: crowds and prices increase dramatically during Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, President’s Day and Spring Break. Resorts like Breck place restrictions and blackout dates on certain lift tickets.
Getting There and Around:
We always drive to Colorado so we can bring our dogs but also because it cuts down on cost. Airfare could almost double a ski trip budget, but if you do fly into Denver and want to avoid renting a car, shuttles like the Colorado Mountain Express can bring you right to your hotel or condo. Also, Breck has free parking lots and buses to bring you to the chairlifts, and Summit County has a free bus line called the Summit Stage to get you around.
Where to Stay:
Breckenridge has hundreds of lodging choices at all price points, most of them at the higher end, but we have stayed at the Breckenridge Wayside Inn for years because it is cheap and pet-friendly. At less than $100 a night, the Wayside is the best bargain in town. It’s a few miles north of town, so having a car is key, but the value far exceeds the inconvenience. The Wayside offers free breakfast and après ski snacks, an outdoor hot tub and a lobby with a fireplace. And they let our two dogs, Rainey and Cosmo, stay in the room while we’re skiing.
What to Do:
In winter, the Breck lifestyle revolves around downhill skiing and snowboarding. When looking for lift tickets, check websites like Liftopia for bargains, and Breckenridge Ski Resort for deals on multi-day ski passes. The earlier you buy, the better the deal. If you wait until arriving in Colorado, buy lift tickets at a grocery store in Denver en route to Breck, which is cheaper than buying at the resort’s ticket window. As for ski gear, Sandy has her own snowboard and I rent skis at Carvers Ski Shop; book online in advance for a 10 percent discount.
“Go that way, really fast. If something gets in your way … turn.”
— “Better Off Dead”
Après ski (French for “after skiing”) is the second biggest pastime in Breck. Most bars and restaurants have Happy Hour drink and food specials waiting for skiers coming off the mountain. We have a beer on the T-Bar patio at the base of Peak 8 before heading back to the hotel hot tub with a six-pack of Colorado brew from the liquor store. Solid après places in town are Breckenridge Brewery, Rita’s and Quandary Grille.
Where to Eat/Drink:
The other essential activity in Breck is walking Main Street, which has shops, restaurants and bars along the main drag and on its side streets. You’ll find every kind of culinary offering imaginable, but here are some affordable places we visit most trips.
To save money, lunch is usually a peanut butter sandwich and Clif bar on the chairlift – get your ski snacks at City Market. Our favorite cheap eats in town are Downstairs at Eric’s, Ollie’s Pub & Grub, Northside Pizza & Wings and Lucha Colorado Cantina.
If you’re in the mood for a cold beer, some free tacos and a game of air hockey – and, really, who isn’t? – the Historic Brown Hotel is a must visit to end the day. The Victorian home is allegedly haunted by former “lady of the night” Ms. Whitney and is certainly a regular haunt for Breck’s ski bums. Sandy and I spent many nights here with our friends back in the day, and we always venture back for a laid-back nightcap.
Thanks to Lance for letting me contribute a guest blog about skiing Breckenridge on a budget. If you go, perhaps you’ll find, like we have, that the place works its way into your soul and never leaves.
Eric Smith (@editorericsmith) is an editor at The Daily News in Memphis. His favorite travel experiences include backpacking Europe after college, spending four days in a cabin on the side of Mount McKinley in Denali National Park and anytime he visits a new place with his wife, Sandy Smith (@alaskansmith).