Colorado Travel: Breckenridge’s Best Winter Activities for Families and My Adventure of a Lifetime!
posted by: Amber Johnson
My husband and I dream of owning a cabin someday and Breckenridge has long been at the top of our list. Only a 1.5-hour drive from Denver (I-70 traffic snares notwithstanding) this authentic mining town has everything I love: a world-class ski resort, the Blue River (a tributary of the raging Colorado River), an idyllic Main Street, gourmet dining, glittering boutiques, endless hiking possibilities and it is part of an 80-mile network of paved, motorized bike paths that connect other Summit County resorts like Dillon, Keystone, Copper Mountain and Vail.
We have spent long, languid summer and fall days in Breck but here’s my confession: we have never been there once the snow flies. And if you love winter like I do, you know that Breckenridge is one of Colorado’s best family vacations.
When you have young kids, no vacation is perfect but we were fortunate to have a nearly perfect trip with huge winds (the downside), huge snow totals (the upside) and knocking off an activity has been on my bucket list since I was born. Maybe I started dreaming about it in the womb because this trip was what dreams are made of.
If you’re looking for a fantastic getaway in Colorado’s mountains, these are my top recommended activities.
Only in Breck for the 2013/14 season, the giant 1-acre Ice Castles are a cut right out of Disney’s musical fantasy Frozen where you’ll swear you’ve been swept away in an eternal winter with magic at every turn. Each ice castle takes thousands of man-hours to make. More than 5,000 icicles are “grown” each day to be harvested and sculpted together. Newly placed icicles are then regularly drenched in freezing water. By day the Ice Castles are beautiful with glacial tones of blue. By night they stun with a kaleidoscope of lights that are actually frozen inside of the ice.
My kids’ favorite part was a tunnel that cut through a wall of ice. They convinced me to slither through it with them and after a slow downhill slide, we were ejected onto the snowy floor. Think: Winnie the Pooh. But even though my landing wasn’t pretty, the rest of it sure was. General Admission, age 12 and up: $10. Children 4 to 11: $8. Young Children under 4 years old: Free. We’re giving away four family four-packs of tickets so be sure to enter here.
I can’t talk about Breckenridge without mentioning the mountain that makes the town. I’d obviously never skied it and initially the 2,908-acre resort overwhelmed. But I’m a quick learner and getting schooled on this mountain is my kind of education. After dropping our kids off at ski school, my husband and I did the “freedom” shout. For the first hour, the wind was unrelenting but with 45 inches of snow in the last seven days we took a course in Sucking It Up and it paid off. We hunkered down and sought refuge by skiing under the cossetted C Chair and when the winds died down a bit, we had the best powder day we’ve had in a year. We particularly loved skiing Peak 6, Breck’s new 543-acre addition that features high-alpine, intermediate bowl skiing (a true rarity).
At the end of an exhausting day, we picked the kids up and were later able to track their progress via EpicMix’s newest feature, EpicMix Academy. Though the wind kept us from the Golden Runner Alpine Coaster and spending much time on Peak 6, the kids are already begging to take us back to their favorite haunts that included Trygve’s small terrain park with moderate jumps and boxes. There’s no parking at the base of Peak 8 but a free shuttle runs throughout town and delivered us right in front of Pine Ridge Condos where we proceeded to soak in the hot tub and then burrow up to a fire and a movie while a storm raged outside. That, my friends, is what a ski vacation is all about.
Shop, Eat, Play, Repeat.
“I wish Denver had places like this,” sighed my daughter Hadley. “Like what?” I countered. “Like this,” she said pointing to Main Street’s charming Historic District dotted with boutiques, eateries and galleries. Even at 9 years old, she gets what makes a great shopping district and Breckenridge has it all. My kids are huge fans of the unique Peak a Boo Toys (and the big indoor play area is a bonus on cold days). The town’s Arts District continues to expand and Ready Paint Fire offers a nice respite where you can paint functional pottery like holiday platters to commemorate your trip. Indulge at Mary’s Mountain Cookies and if you stop at the Welcome Center head upstairs for some cool old ski exhibits and a great view of the slopes. If you want a parent’s night out, check-out the Mountain Top Children’s Museum or the 69,000-square-foot Breckenridge Recreation Center which also has indoor tennis courts, lap and leisure pools, a water slide, a racquetball court, basketball courts, indoor rock-climbing wall and more.
Our favorite tradition is grabbing crepes from Crepes a la Carte , a longtime fixture on Main Street. Choices range from breakfast to savory to sweet to ice cream crepes and our favorites are the German Apple Strudel or Cheesecake Crepes. All crepes are made-to-order, which is a nice way of saying they are fresh, delicious and take a while so be sure to hunker down by the fire pit in the outdoor seating area. During our half-hour wait, my daughter and I discovered our new favorite shop across the street, Magical Scraps Boutique and Studio. It’s Etsy comes to life with disarmingly darling crafts, fabrics and whimsical accessories like handmade belts, hats, scarves and jewelry. We could have (and would have) spent a fortune had my husband not plucked us out of our chick reverie to inform us our crepes were ready. But Magical Scaps, we will be back to feel more magic.
Last but certainly not least is Dog Sledding. The sport has recently received a bad wrap from the controversial practices of its Aspen counterpart but I was thrilled to Good Times Adventures runs the highest quality of practices as the only snowmobile and dog sledding tour operator in Summit County. Trip Adviser ranks it the No. 1 activity in Breckenridge and you’d better believe it was that good.
Dog sledding has been on my bucket list for years (read: borderline obsession) so I was like a kid in a very whitewashed candy store when we booked our outing. We opted to keep it a secret from our children and they were both ecstatic when we pulled up to the lodge, particularly my dog-loving daughter who repeatedly raved, “I never thought we’d get to do something like this in a hundred years!” It was the adventure of a lifetime,which begs the question: what more do I have to live for?
After signing our waivers and getting outfitted in our snow suits and boots, we met our guide Wes and team of Siberian Huskies. With a dog yard that is home to 140 dogs (with five litters to be delivered around Valentine’s Day), this huge operation allows dogs adequate recovery time as they are rotated in and out of their runs. We quickly learned their names and personalities. Rocky and Bullwinkle were our lead dogs, next in line were the “swing dogs” Gimly (who had a crush on Hadley) and Red had a squirrel-chasing fetish. Blizzard was grumpy but when paired with Savage he performed like a champ and the “wheel dogs” (in the back) were Scarlet and Maverick who, at 9 years old, is in his last year of sledding and trunky for retirement.
Wes explained that the dogs are attached to the sled with a series of lines called rigging that includes the tow line (or gang line), tug lines and neck lines. Each sled had a basket where gear or a passenger was carried and were outfitted with a braking device. I volunteered to drive first (this was, after all, my dream) with Hadley in the basket. Wes, Jamie and Bode rode ahead of us in a snowmobile-pulled sleigh.
Before I knew it, the dogs enthusiastically surged forward upon command and I effortlessly balanced on the back tracks of the sled as we raced past old rough-and-tumble mining camps on the 50 acres that bordered a National Forest wonderland. “I’m mushing!!!” I squealed. It started lightly snowing as we soared across the endless snowfields and I was certain we’d been plunked right into an idyllic snow globe in the aptly named Swan River Valley.
Good Times offers various levels of dog sledding and we chose the tamer “Disney” experience. I had no expectations going in but was thrilled when Wes announced the kids would get to drive the team during our slow and steady uphill climbs (many dog sledding operators only let their clients sit in the basket). They were in their element; rosy-cheeked, their “MUSH” commands echoing through the trees as the pitter-patter of husky paws on snow distilled Colorado’s wilderness to its purest incarnation.
After my son’s turn, he moved to the basket while I drove him for the first time. Notoriously cautious when faced with new challenges, he lectured me, “Now, Mom. Lean into your turns and remember…have a good time!”
With Good Times Adventures, it’s tough to do otherwise.
For more information on visiting Breckenridge this winter, be sure to check-out GoBreck.com. A special thanks to them for hosting this visit; we’re already planning our return.