I have a vivid memory of the first time I ever saw a mountain. I was about 8 years old and we were driving up into the Rockies from Denver. We came out of the Eisenhower Tunnel and my eyes were absolutely glued to the windows, mouth agape, amazed at the landscapes I was seeing around me. I remember thinking “This doesn’t make sense. What am I seeing right now because it is incredible and different”.
I still think about this childlike wonder when I see the mountains today, even though I’ve seen mountains all around the world and understand the physical geologic processes that go into creating them. Their towering silhouettes reflecting against the cloudless mountain sky is still one of the most beautiful things in the world to me.
Throughout my childhood, my family came to Summit County, Colorado for ski vacations. After my parents bought a vacation rental home in Breckenridge in 2008, I have returned to Colorado for a ski vacation at least once a year. I am lucky to say that I’ve skied in Breckenridge more times than I can count, so with all this experience, I have a few tips to share for planning the perfect ski vacation in Breck.
How to Get to Breckenridge
Most people will arrive to Colroado via flight into Denver International Airport. If you haven’t explored Denver before, I highly recommend spending at least a day getting to know the city. I’ve even got a Denver city break itinerary perfect for helping to plan a visit! From Denver, there are two ways to get to Breckenridge: via shuttle or via car.
The Epic Mountain Express shuttle is a good option if you’re not comfortable driving in the mountains or if you are meeting a group who all have different arrival times. Epic Mountain Express is friendly, runs on-time and has multiple timetables and drop off points each day. It is really convenient and definitely a useful option for those who need it.
Having a car in Breckenridge is immensely helpful, so I would recommend going with a rental car over the shuttle if you can. Depending on where you’re staying in Breck or Summit County, a car may even be a necessity. There are plenty of rental companies at DIA to choose from. Make sure to choose an SUV or 4-wheel drive car because Colorado’s I-70 (the main highway to get to Breck) has a traction law that applies throughout the winter season.
The drive from Denver to Breckenridge takes about 2 hours with low traffic conditions. HOWEVER, I-70 is notorious for congestion and bad traffic, since it is the only way in or out of the Rockies. As such, it is best to plan your driving times around peak traffic. Typically, Friday afternoons and Sunday afternoons are horrible for traffic as well as holiday weekends. I find that it works out best to plan a ski weekend from Thursday to Monday to maximize time on the mountain and avoid frustrating time on the road.
Once you’ve arrived in Breckenridge, the town is pedestrian-friendly which is good because parking along Main Street can be very difficult. There is also a free trolley that runs along Main Street as well as Summit County Shuttles to travel between Breckenridge and other nearby towns and ski resorts. There are also daily ski shuttles to-and-from the main parking lots and gondola pick up.
Pack bottles of water in the car as you depart Denver towards Breckenridge, because you’ll want to be hydrating in preparation for the altitude. As you arrive into Breckenridge, you will see the stunning backdrop of the 13,000 feet tall (3,900 km) mountains of the ski resort towering town. Don’t let the beauty fool you — high altitude conditions can take a toll on even the most physically fit of visitors.
Our AirBnb property is located on Peak 9 at about 9,000 feet (2,700 km) and no matter how many times I’ve visited, adjusting to the altitude never gets much easier. If you are not accustomed to high elevation, you are likely to start feeling the effects almost immediately upon arrival. You’re likely to notice that you become out of breath easily and may feel a headache or nausea. For your first day in Breck, try to take it easy and get settled in. I always budget my first day as a rest and recovery day because I know I’ll need it.
You should be drinking double the amount of water you normally do, and plan for at least 100 milliliters a day while in the mountains. If you’re consuming alcohol during your Breckenridge ski vacation, you need to drink 1 glass of water for every alcoholic drink you consume, otherwise you’re going to wake up with an awful hangover!
While I certainly believe in challenging yourself to do new and difficult runs during your ski vacation in Breck, keep your expectations in check and ease into it. It’s easy to get overly ambitious about what you’re physically capable of, especially when you see young kids doing double black diamonds. I know how much it hurts the ego to see people doing better than you, but trust me, if you exhaust yourself early in the weekend, it will be incredibly hard to recover. The mountain takes a toll on your body, and you will certainly be sore and tired after a full day on the slopes.
Renting Ski Equipment + Ski Lessons
If you are a regular skier with your own gear, feel free to skip this section because it is all about renting ski equipment and taking lessons in Breckenridge. If you’re not a regular skier or snowboarder, it’s likely that you don’t have your own gear and will need to rent. This is an economical way to quickly and easily get ready for your weekend on the slopes. I did this for YEARS before buying my own equipment, so I totally understand the ease and appeal of it.
Here are a few tips for rentals:
Rent from an independent retailer rather than Breckenridge Ski Resort itself — Unless you get some kind of deal or bundle when you buy your Breckenridge Resort lift ticket, it is best to rent your equipment from an independent retailer. The selection and quality tends to be better, the wait times are shorter, and the staff is knowledgeable and helpful. Plus the prices are typically better! Personally, my family always rents from Christy Sports or Charter Sports because of their good selection and close location to our house.
Test out your gear before skiing all day — Make sure you learn how to use all your gear before heading out of the shop. Check the bindings and snapping boots into the brackets. Make sure that everything fits comfortably. Check the condition of the skis. If you’re staying close to the mountain, I would recommend skiing a short run or two right before heading out for an entire day to make sure all the equipment is good to go. There is seriously nothing more frustrating than being uncomfortable during a long day on the mountain or stranded not knowing how to get your boots/skis back on after a tumble.
Remember where you rented it from — I know this seems obvious, but keep track of your rental agreement and which shop you rented from. There are A LOT of places to rent in Breck and they have similar names, so it is easy to get confused. This is also helpful if you have to go in for a quick tune up or tightening during your ski vacation. My rule of thumb is to pick up and return it to the exact same store, even if there are alternate locations.
Taking ski lessons at all skill levels — Whether you are just starting out or looking to perfect your technique, Breckenridge Resort offers a ski lesson option to fit your needs. I am an advanced skier, but every now and then, I still sign up for a lesson to learn something new (or fast track the lift lines!). You can take large group lessons, small group lessons or even private lessons. For beginners, Peak 9 is an oasis of opportunity to learn thanks to its wide-open, welcoming terrain across a number of mild green runs at the entire base of the peak.
About the Mountain
Characterized by the expansive Horseshoe Bowl nestled between peaks and ridges, it’s safe to say that Breckenridge (or ‘Breck’ as it’s known to locals) ranks among the most impressive-looking ski resorts in the world. Offering the highest chairlift in North America at 12,840, Breckenridge Ski Resort is a world-class destination for skiing and it is personally my favorite resort in Summit County. The sheer size of the mountain is incredible — 5 different peaks with 34 lifts, 187 trails and nearly 3,000 skiable acres — with available terrain for every type of skier from beginner to advanced. The size is a great perk for longer ski vacations because you can ski for several days without repeating runs too frequently or getting bored.
Breckenridge is owned by Vail Resorts, a massive corporation with dozens of mountains around the world. This means that when you buy a ski pass for Breckenridge, you will also get access to nearby Vail resort partners like Vail, Beaver Creek, and Keystone. This includes night skiing at Keystone if you’re into that!
I also recommend downloading the Epic Mix App which allows you to track the runs, altitude and distance skied. It’s a fun way to see how much you ski during your Breck vacation, but it is also a source of friendly competition. I can promise you’ll get excited about the ‘pins’ you receive for your various mountain accomplishments.
Because Breck is a popular ski destination for Coloradans and visitors alike, the ski lift lines can get really long as the day goes on. As such, it’s a good rule of thumb to hit the slopes as soon as the mountain opens. Lifts start running around 8:30am, and you can easily fit in 3-5 runs before 11:00am when the lines start to swell with a pre-lunch rush. Plus, then you can go in for a warm up and snack while everyone else is out there waiting!
Deciding where to ski on the mountain is a perennial question and the answer really lies in your skill level and what time of skiing you hope to do. If you are looking for tough backcountry style skiing, then the bowls on Peak 9 and 10 will be your favorite areas. If you’re a beginner, the base of Peak 8 and 9 are friendly to novices. If you like blue zoomers like me, then you are likely to stay around the Mercury lift on Peak 9. If you like more scenic rides with lots of rolling hills, then Peak 7 is a great choice. There is a corner of the mountain for everyone!
What to Do After Skiing
In addition to a wonderful ski resort, Breckenridge the town is a charming former mining outpost that will make you feel right at home! Breck dates back to the Gold Rush in 1859 when a small group of prospectors founded the town. Main Street runs directly through the center of Breck, making it the primary thoroughfare filled with lots of shops and restaurants. Main Street is actually the largest historic district in the state of Colorado and some of the original 1850s buildings still remain!
Many of the mountain towns in Colorado are directly associated with the ski resort, giving them a bit of a curated corporate feel, but Breckenridge isn’t like that. The friendly local people and cute small town vibe has this amazing ability to somehow make every tourist feel like a local. There are lots of stylish boutiques on Main Street for shopping, as well as a number of tasty restaurants. I summarize all of my favorite Breckenridge eateries in a separate post!
If you are traveling with a larger group for your ski vacation, cooking at your vacation rental might be a better option than going out for dinner. There is only one major grocery store in Breckenridge, otherwise you have to drive to Frisco. As such, it is usually packed with people when the lifts close and selection of fresh ingredients tends to be minimal. I recommend doing your grocery shopping and meal planning early, because everyone comes back starving from a ski day—aka there is no patience and hangry people be hangry. It’s easiest to plan meals that feed a lot of people. Think chile, pulled pork, corn chowder, etc. Make sure to pick up ample snacks, like granola bars, pretzels, jolly ranchers and tortilla chips.
How to Pack for a Breck Ski Vacation
Packing is an essential part of preparing for a ski trip. There is a lot of necessary gear to consider that you might not normally pack when traveling, so it’s important that you make an organized list. Forgetting small things like gloves or a water bottle can become a costly expense since the ski resorts have a hefty mark up on commonly lost or forgotten items. It is best to make sure you have everything you need before you leave home. Double check the really important items like gloves, hat, socks, goggles, and lift ticket.
Below you will find my suggested packing list for your upcoming Breckenridge winter vacation! I’ve sorted my packing list into four sections to make it more manageable — Mountain Gear, Ski/Snowboard Clothes, Important Items and Mountain Attire.
Skis or snowboard
Ski or snowboard boots
This is essential for ALL skill levels. Stay safe out there!
Should be UV protecting
Only necessary for spring skiing if you aren’t wearing goggles
Great if you get cold easily
Ski & Snowboard Clothes
Should be water resistant and windproof.
Light Snow Coat
Can be used as only jacket in springtime or layered under a big coat for very cold conditions
Should be water resistant and windproof.
Top Layer for Upper Body
Sweaters or Fleeces are great for this!
Mid Layer for Upper Body
Usually only need it for really cold weather
Mid Layer for Lower Body
Yoga pants make a great layer here
Upper Body Base Layer
Sweat wicking is best
Lower Body Base Layer
Sweat wicking is best
Make sure it fits under your helmet
Base Layer Gloves
These stay on your hands all day. Should be thin and tech friendly in case you need to check your phone
Top Layer Gloves
Should be water resistant
Neck scarf or balaclava
This is my most important accessory item
Other Important Items
Great for packing water or snacks on the mountain
Camelback is my favorite brand
SUPER important. Make sure you apply multiples times
SUPER important. Make sure you apply multiples times
Cell phone or walkie talkies
Make sure it’s full charged before you head out!
Can be used for adjusting bindings
What you change into at the end of the day
Long Sleeve Shirts
If your hotel/rental has a hot tub!