An Expert Guide to Ski and Snowboard Resorts in Breckenridge
Ski expert Carl Beach overviews the top resorts in Breckenridge, Colorado.
Set ten thousand feet above sea level, Breckenridge, Colo., proudly displays its identity of a long-standing mining community that has shaped itself into one of the best mountain ski towns. Walk along its unique Victorian historic district and take note of the beautifully maintained 100-year-old buildings. Continue up and down Main Street and enjoy a multitude of shops, restaurants, nightlife, and entertainment. Ready to ski or get up to the resort? Hop on the completely free Breckenridge Connect Gondola right from town and be at the base of Peak 8 in ten minutes.
With so much to offer, why stray from Breckenridge at all? Well, while “Breck” certainly has enough to keep any rider, family, or non-skier happy for weeks, the surrounding area also provides easy access to four other world-class resorts, all within a short drive: Keystone, Arapahoe Basin, Copper Mountain, and Winter Park/Mary Jane.
So, whether you decide to stay in Breckenridge proper or in one of the towns or resorts that dot this part of Summit County, a one- or two-week stay will give you just enough time to experience the incredibly varied terrain of Breckenridge resort, the long, wandering trails of Keystone, the local feel of Arapahoe Basin, and the lift-accessible back bowls of Copper Mountain.
- Location: Breckenridge, Colorado
- Season: November through April
- Number of Runs: 187
- Number of Lifts: 32
- Summit Elevation: 12,998 feet
- Average Annual Snowfall: 370 inches of snow per year
- Pass: Epic
As if the near-perfect mountain town of Breckenridge did not already have enough to offer with its charming, walkable main street lined with shops, restaurants, and nightlife, the Breckenridge Ski Resort itself has slowly risen to the top of many lists of places to ride due to its expansive terrain that has a bit of something for every type of rider. From the wide groomers on the blue runs of Peak 7 to the four freestyle parks (including an 18 foot halfpipe!) dotted across the mountain, to the high-altitude expert-only runs that are accessible from each peak, Breckenridge has some of the most varied terrain of any ski area in the world, stretching over its massive, nearly 3,000 skiable acres.
For years, Breckenridge was known primarily as either a family-oriented resort with enough blue and green runs to keep everyone happy or as the first ski area that catered to snowboarders over 30 years ago! Even though snowboarders still come from miles around to take laps on the pro park and families continue to enjoy the lower mountain’s fantastic trails, Breck’s “limited” reputation began to change as the mountain expanded into the upper areas of the surrounding peaks (including the Imperial Express chairlift, an engineering marvel and the highest chairlift in North America), opening up some of Colorado’s most challenging inbounds terrain.
Expert skiers and snowboarders can jump from peak-to-peak, finding both lift-accessible and hiking-accessible chutes, trees, and bowls, all patrolled and avalanche-controlled, that range from very challenging black runs to double black runs and even “extreme terrain” double black runs. If black runs are your thing, grab the “high alpine” map and get all the inside tips on how to approach a day that years ago was reserved only for the most daring or knowledgeable locals, whether you’re lucky enough to get a storm that moved in from the west the day before you arrive or are in search of steeps and deeps a couple of weeks later.
For me, picking a peak and sticking to it works best, as traversing from one area of the mountain to another can sometimes be daunting, leaving you wasting time in lines or on long cat tracks. But once you’re on top of a peak on a clear, bluebird day and floating down a double-black bowl, you’ll almost forget that you are inbounds.
Best for: families (lower mountain), experts (high alpine), freestyle (terrain parks)
- Location: Keystone, Colorado
- Season: November through April
- Number of Runs: 128
- Number of Lifts: 20
- Summit Elevation: 12,408 feet
- Average Annual Snowfall: 235 inches of snow per year
- Pass: Epic
If you head north out of Breckenridge toward I-70, a quick scenic bypass around Dillon Reservoir on Swan Mountain Road will lead you to HWY 6 and just a few miles more to Keystone Resort, another Vail Resorts-owned ski area on the Epic Pass. Keystone is consistently favored among families, beginner skiers, and those seeking a lift-and-trail system that is incredibly easy to navigate. For the little ones, Keystone excels: it has a complete kid’s map that shows off a vast array of hidden trails and courses through trees, tunnels, and other fun obstacles. And for beginners, Keystone boasts some of the best green runs in Colorado, including its longest run: the 3.5 mile meandering, fun Schoolmarm.
But that doesn’t mean that advanced intermediates or experts won’t enjoy what Keystone has to offer. While the kids grab some hot cocoa at one of the beautiful on-mountain lodges, heading to the Outback gives you incredibly easy hiking access to the South Bowl. Or, head up one mile further to the North Bowl and you’ll find chutes, glades, and some fantastic tree skiing with an easy exit right back to the lift. A shuttle will also transport you, but the hike is reasonable and when the snow is good, you’ll want to get up there first. Finally, mogul-hounds will not be disappointed with some of the longer black runs branching off the Santiago Express.
Best for: families, beginners, intermediates, experts willing to hike
- Location: Arapahoe Basin, Colorado
- Season: November through June or July (depending on snowfall and demand)
- Number of Runs: 147
- Number of Lifts: 9
- Summit Elevation: 13,050 feet
- Average Annual Snowfall: 350 inches of snow per year
- Pass: Ikon
Just under six miles east of Keystone on HWY 6, Arapahoe Basin (also known as A-Basin) offers a stark contrast to the complex matrix of lifts and trails, the ski-in/ski-out hotels, and the amenities of the “bigger” resorts of Summit County. Although the resort only boasts nine lifts and a small base area, the terrain available for skiers and snowboarders is impressive. In the last thirteen years, A-Basin more than doubled its skiable terrain with the opening of Montezuma Bowl and The Beavers, giving this previously “small” resort a huge bump in both area and variety of terrain.
Perennially known as a challenging resort, three-quarters of A-Basin’s runs are blacks, double blacks, or extreme double blacks. And although the blue runs give an “easy way down” across the mountain, skiers and snowboarders looking for some laid-back cruising should probably look elsewhere. In fact, everywhere you look on the map at A-Basin, you will find some expert terrain. I love heading straight for the Lenawee Mountain Lift to get a good look at the East Wall Traverse. If it looks good, a quick horizontal ski gets you into some beautiful steeps and right back to where you started. After a few laps, hitting the backside of the Montezuma Bowl or heading over to The Beavers is just a pick-and-go scenario.
In addition, as A-Basin is one of the highest resorts in Colorado with above average snowfall, skiing often continues well into June and often into July. Closing date varies and is dependent on snowfall and demand. But if you are around and the A-Basin happens to be open, there is nothing quite like breaking out the grill and some beers to celebrate the Fourth of July in the free parking lot after skiing soft, cornball snow in your shorts.
Best for: experts, experts, and other experts
- Location: Wheeler Junction, Colorado
- Season: November through April
- Number of Runs: 140
- Number of Lifts: 24
- Summit Elevation: 12,441 feet
- Average Annual Snowfall: 305 inches of snow per year
- Pass: Ikon
From Breckenridge, head west and pass through the quaint town of Frisco on I-70, then continue on for seven miles to Wheeler Junction. You’ll run right into a local’s favorite: Copper Mountain. A very balanced mountain with a nearly equal distribution of trail levels, Copper is perfect for all skiers and snowboarders. In fact, the mountain itself is almost split down the middle with primarily beginner and intermediate runs dominating the west side of the resort and more advanced terrain towards the east and upper stretches. The layout provides people unfamiliar with the resort a straightforward approach to getting on the snow as quickly as possible. Scan the map and just go! Combined with being one the largest ski areas in Colorado (2,490 skiable acres), anyone can find their favored terrain here: cruisers, trees, steeps, moguls, powder stashes, and high alpine bowls.
Copper is sometimes overlooked because, as with A-Basin, the resort doesn’t provide lodging, entertainment facilities, or the mountain-town atmosphere of some of the other resorts. But the skiing at Copper is stellar, so taking a day or two to explore all that Copper has to offer is well worth the time.
I usually make a beeline (ha!) for Super Bee, as this lift provides you with the most choices straight from the base. For experts, a quick traverse to Storm King and you have hit the highest point. From here, it’s 360-degrees of blacks and double blacks. Don’t be shy, just dive in!
Best for: everyone
As you can see, not only does the town of Breckenridge offer vast amounts of entertainment, but the ski resort there is also a favorite among many. And for those who want to venture out, the surrounding areas are full of great choices.