The Kaiser family built their house in Breckenridge, Colorado during the last gasps of the 19th century. Breckenridge itself wasn’t four decades old; founded and named after John C Breckinridge in 1859, the 14th President of the barely United States, the pro-Union town changed its name by a single letter to signal a break from its Confederate namesake. With the Civil War came the Gold Rush, and then, 100 years later, a ski resort – now considered one of the finest in the world. And perhaps the best food in Breckenridge Resort is served at Hearthstone Restaurant – located in the same house the Kaiser family built, some 125 years ago.
It hasn’t changed much in the interim, although, with all due deference to Madam Kaiser, one suspects the food has been upgraded. With an interior that can only be described as ‘quaint’ – honestly, remove the diners and you’ve travelled back in time – and the likes of Colorado lamb, Norwegian elk, and crispy lobster on the menu, Hearthstone is a great place to relax and replenish after a long day spent on the slopes.
And what slopes! Spread across five distinct peaks, Breckenridge offers some of the best skiing on the planet (although enthusiasts of neighbouring Vail will argue it’s not even the best skiing in the state. More on that in due course.) The soul is stirred simply by the names of the runs: take the Peak 9 cluster of Hades, Inferno, Purgatory, Mine Shaft, and Devil’s Crotch. (Along with fast food, white teeth, and TV channels, christening ski runs is one of the great American strengths.)
On a resort such as this, the best run is entirely subjective; pretty much anywhere with snow will see you right. But, if you wish to know our personal favourite (oh, you do?)… Take the Imperial Express to the top of Peak 8 – at 12,840ft this vantage point offers the views you would expect after ascending the highest chairlift in North America. (Be warned: it gets breezy.) A sharp descent down Imperial Ridge, so steep on either side that you feel as though you’re balancing on the edge of the world, brings you to the top of Horseshoe Bowl, and then the real fun begins.
The bowls of Colorado, smooth white cones down which crowds of skiers cascade like the cavalry of Genghis Khan across the Steppes, offer icy shots of exhilaration that can be retaken over and over again. The double-diamond Horseshoe is one of the finest, with no fewer than eight named descents to choose from. On reaching the bottom, follow the relatively flat Columbine across the mountain and into Clayjumper, a fun, feisty blue that leads down into the resort – where you can hop on the Colorado Super Chair and start the whole thing all over again.
The town of Breckenridge (population a touch under 5,000) is basically a Disney set come to life
Alternatively, try Needle’s Eye: a double-diamond on Peak 9, basically a vertical bobsleigh run through the trees – so narrow it isn’t even marked on the map. But maybe do the rest of the day’s skiing first, just in case.
The town of Breckenridge (population a touch under 5,000) is basically a Disney set come to life: the high street is a succession of immaculate facades, any of which look as though they could yield up Uncle Sam or Yogi Bear to invite you inside for a slice of maw’s delicious apple pie. However Breckenridge isn’t all homeliness and how-de-do: anyone looking for a little apres ski will find plenty of decent bars once evening falls. Start at the top of the high street and try a shot per bar: you won’t make it halfway.
Equally worthy of your attention is Vail, the largest ski resort in Colorado and just a short drive up the road. With 33 ski lifts and 193 marked skiing trails spread across the three faces of Vail Mountain, you’ll be here a long, long time before repetition becomes an issue. Stay at The Arrabelle Hotel: a snow-dusted chalet risen from the pages of a fairytale, the Arrabelle offers an ice rink and the kind of a spa that one loses afternoons in. Complimentary hot chocolate is served on the covered bridge that links its two residences every afternoon. A lovely way to round off a massage – but you’ll be on the slopes, right?
Incorporated specifically to serve the newly opened ski resort in 1966, it’s no surprise that the town of Vail has plenty to keep you entertained. If you haven’t sated your competitive streak on the moguls, Bol offers the rather irresistible combination of fine dining and ten-pin bowling: more Mayfair than Elephant & Castle. Food can be ordered to the lanes, but the menu is strong enough to warrant your full attention in the restaurant itself before the party goes full Kingpin.
If you’re seeking something even more upmarket – emphasis on the up – then Game Creek is quite literally a members’ club on a mountain. It’s surreal to step into the same gondolier that was ferrying you up the slopes a few hours earlier; only now you’re suited and booted, nary a ski pole to hand, as the yellow lights of Vail recede into darkness.
On reaching the summit, a snow taxi ferries you five minutes across the mountain to the door of Game Creek, which opens onto what can only be described as a luxury hunting lodge – the kind of place Davy Crockett might have designed if he’d survived the Alamo and struck oil. Gird the loins, loosen the belt, and opt for the five-course chef’s table set menu: you’ll float back down on the chairlift afterwards, blissful and semi-comatose.
Nobody should visit Colorado and not go skiing: it would be like visiting Vegas and not playing roulette
Finally, as a keen skier I share the prevalent skier’s snobbishness toward any snow sport that isn’t skiing. (Snowboarding is the alpine equivalent of a top knot and tribal tattoo. Or non-prescription glasses. Or Segways.) Therefore, I approached the Top of the Rockies snowmobile tour with scepticism: why spend a morning impersonating a Bond henchman when I could be flying down a double-diamond?
Well, consider me converted – a journey through the picturesque perfection of the White River National Forest, and views from the crest of a 12,400ft mountain, does that to a man. And those machines pick up serious speed: clearly SPECTRE doesn’t source its snowmobiles from Colorado, otherwise 007 would have been a goner long ago.
Of course, nobody should ever visit Colorado and not go skiing: it would be like visiting Las Vegas and not having a whirl at roulette. But if the après ski hits a little hard, the weather is foul, or the jet lag takes its toll (pick an excuse, any excuse), then I suppose, just possibly, you might be able to find some alternative form of entertainment. Enjoy the spa, eat like a king, and promise yourself that as soon as the lifts open tomorrow you’ll be speeding down Devil’s Crotch.
For more information, see vailresorts.com
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