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9 Things to Know about Visiting Breckenridge, Colo.

Checking out the mountains from the center of Breckenridge.

Checking out the mountains from Breckenridge.

My wife and I got our usual winter skiing itch. Over the past few years, we’ve left Arizona to check out Park City, Utah, and the Tahoe area. This time, we headed to Colorado; we hung our helmets for a few nights in Breckenridge, skiing there and at the nearby Copper Mountain resort. Here’s a bit of what we learned:

1. What’s better … Breckenridge or Copper Mountain? Well, Breckenridge is more groomed by far, and its runs are easier. If you can believe it, its blue runs are actually far easier than Copper’s green runs. Breck has way better/faster lifts, though. You should ski both – they each have runs that are great fun for all levels. If you’re a blue square sort like me, ski Copper first while your legs are still at their strongest.

2. Where can you grab a brew? Breckenridge Brewery is the easy answer. But go 10 miles down the road back to Frisco, where you’ll find Backcountry Brewery. The beer, the food, the service and the ambience at Backcountry absolutely pummel the better-known Breckenridge in a one-sided, viscious fashion. I hope for you that the Breakfast Stout is still available when you visit.

3. What about hotels? We stayed at the Village at Breckenridge. And jeez, we really liked it. We were walking-distance from lifts, food and all sorts of other fun. The hotel has hot tubs, a steam room and a sauna! The staff is very friendly. What could be better? Well, the hotel’s pub smelled like a cross between rotting lobster carcasses and stale popcorn. And the rooms really need microwaves.

Wandering Justin displays the remains of his snow disc.

Wandering Justin displays the remains of his snow disc.

4. Done Downhilling? Try some Nordic skiing, ja! Or even some snow-shoeing. The laid-back Nordic Centers are the perfect place to start. Everywhere I’ve been, Nordic and snowshoeing have offered a more relaxed vibe that can’t be beat. I felt like I was in Europe at the Breck center, with an accordian-playing dude and a bunch of people hanging out in the stove-heated main room. And it’s a great workout once you’re outside. I’d say Breck’s Nordic trails are the most scenic I’ve even seen. If you’re lucky (which we were not), you’ll see some moose!

5. Done wearing skis? Pick up a sled or a snow disc and hit Carter Park. We had just as many adults out there as kids. And we were all having a blast. Such shenanigans! If it’s been awhile since you’ve been on a sled, this will make you remember why you loved it as a kid. Caution, though: You may kick yourself for the wasted time. I had some extra fun on my $7 disc – following my wife’s advice, I crammed myself into a cross-legged position on my sled rather than my usual luge or skeleton style: About a quarter of the way down, my sled split into several pieces. I sat on the largest piece holding on with my right hand, while I waved the smaller piece in my left and the smallest and last piece chased me down the hill. Great fun success!

Post-skiing hot beverage time.

Post-skiing hot beverage time.

6. What about food? There’s only one place that got repeat visits from us: My Thai. (Of course, it would’ve been Backcountry had we stayed in Frisco) Delicious, fresh Asian eats served by really fun people. Empire Burger was merely okay. For a later or lighter snack, try the Crepes a la Carte. This place is always packed, so be prepared to wait. It’s a great way to meet people, though. Top-quality coffee is hard to come by – Abbey’s in Frisco is the only place I found where the baristas didn’t nuke the espresso into oblivion. The staff there knows how to make a proper cappuccino. I have a feeling The Crown Cafe and Tavern may have a clue, too, but I didn’t get to try it.

7. How’s the Vibe? It’s really fun to be in a ski town during the winter Olympic Games. It adds a festive, wintry flavor. Everyone was pretty friendly – locals and visitors alike. We wound up talking to a lot of fun people from all parts of the world.

If Crepes a la Carte doesn't have a line, it's probably closed.

If Crepes a la Carte doesn't have a line, it's probably closed.

8. Can you get gear? Darn tootin’, you can. This small town has more high-quality outdoor gear on offer than the entire Phoenix metro area. You can get all sorts of cool stuff just about anywhere, from base layers to awesome skis.

9. How did we get there? It’s about two hours from the rental depot near Denver International Airport to Breck in good weather. If you’re planning to return to the airport on a Sunday, leave yourself at least three hours. The traffic often comes to a standstill. And it might be wise to pony up for something all-wheel-drive. Our Subaru Outback made my life a lot easier in wet, sloppy conditions. Speaking of the airport, Denver International Airport has to be one of the coolest airports in the States.

Breck was great. Beautiful scenery, lots of fun. But next time, we’ll probably stay in Frisco for a bit more variety. Frisco is also a bit more laid-back, and isn’t far at all (about 9 miles). Plus it puts us closer to other mountains, like the popular Keystone. We’re very likely to re-visit Frisco/Breckenridge on our next trip, an urge we didn’t get from other trips to northern Lake Tahoe or Park City, Utah. Both were nice, but this part of Colorado is just too awesome.

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