It had been 15 years since I last skied Breckenridge and never at Loveland. A long, snowy winter this past season in Colorado had extended their season well into April and beyond, which was perfect for a late season road trip.
Breck was closing April 24 and Loveland was staying open into early May and, after a good Midwest ski season that also extended into April for upper Great Lakes resorts, I threw my gear into the car and headed west.
Looking forward to spring skiing in the mountains all my lightweight clothes were packed. Fortunately I had the foresight to pack my regular winter ski clothes as well. Even though the calendar read mid-April conditions remained winter like. They received snow almost daily and Loveland Pass closed the day after I made it through in a snowstorm. Driving allows you to pack more freely without worrying about taking too much.
Breckenridge is like an old friend that you always look forward to seeing. In an age of purpose-built Bavarian-style resorts, Breck's authentic Victorian Main Street is refreshingly real; homespun restaurants and shops. Some resorts excel on the slopes and some shine after the lifts close. It covers all the bases and makes you feel welcome even after years of absence.
The town hadn't changed much, except I found access to the slopes much easier than I remembered. Today there is a good free transportation system that will get you around town and the ski area with its many peaks. There's also a gondola that runs from town to Peak's 7 and 8. The best part is that you can now ski or ride back downtown at the end of the day on the Four O'Clock Trail from Peak 8. That wasn't available the last time I visited.
It saves having to ride a bus back down or downloading on the gondola. You come out at the gondola parking lot or in town across the street from the River Mountain Lodge, which is where I stayed. Nice condo hotel with multiple room arrangements and easy access to town. It's a block off Main Street, shopping and several good restaurant choices. I liked the fact that at the end of the day I could take my skis off and walk across the street to my lodging.
Trail choices are ample for filling three days of skiing, and I was skiing mostly blue runs with a smattering of black diamond thrown in. There are 155 trails scattered across four peaks and over 2,000 acres, and another 722 aces of bowl skiing. Nine high-speed lifts - two six seat and seven quads - make it quick and easy to navigate around the interconnected peaks.
Breck has it all. There are long, lazy blue cruisers scattered across Peaks 7, 8 and 9 with a few steeper black diamond's thrown into the mix. Peak 10 is all black trails with lots of bumps, and those looking for above timberline bowls and steep chutes head up 6-Chair and the Imperial Express Super Chair on Peak 8. It tops out at just a couple of feet below 13,000 feet.
Peaks 9 and 7 were my favorite playgrounds. Lots of long blue cruising trails with a few groomed blacks off Peak 9, and Peak 7 had some of the best intermediate terrain. The whole lower portion of the peak is a fine collection of blue runs with glade skiing in between the runs. It was an intermediate delight.
In town I experienced a great meal at Relish with its Colorado inspired cuisine. Chef Matt Fackler places an emphasis on locally grown and produced foods. Briar Rose is simply one of the best steakhouses in Colorado. It's been serving patrons since the 1970s, and its location dates back to the mid-1800s. The steak tartare is to die for. If you like pasta a visit to Rasta Pasta is a must for some of the most creative dishes you will find; pasta with a Jamaican twist. Breakfast at the Columbine Café is also a must, and the corned beef hash is the best I've eaten anywhere.
Breckenridge was hosting a month long Spring Fever Celebration, and many restaurants, including those above, were offering nightly dining specials for $18.59 that included a three-course meal. Lift and lodging specials were also abundant.
After three nights and four days of skiing at Breck I headed for Loveland and Georgetown for a couple of nights where I stayed at Hotel Chateau Chamonix, a charming boutique hotel with a strong European flavor. Sitting in my hot tub on the deck watching the evening sunset with a local brew in hand was a great way to end the day. The Euro Stop Café offers many excellent dining choices.
Straddling the Eisenhower Tunnel, where the I-70 ski corridor burrows under the Continental Divide, Loveland is arguably Colorado's most visible ski area. Well over a million people drive by annually on their way to Summit and Eagle County mega-resorts. Many will never ski there and don't know what they've missed.
Most of the terrain is above treeline. It gives the ski area a European-like flavor with a "if you can see it you can ski it" atmosphere, but it's laid-back, low-keyed approach give it almost a 1970s demeanor. Weekdays the crowd is largely retired, but come weekends, with its close proximity to Denver, it becomes much younger and larger.
Skiing at Loveland reminded me of earlier days at fledgling Midwest resorts as they were starting up in the 1970s and early 1980s. It was simpler surroundings and it was all directed to the skiing experience; no other distractions, plush villages or slope-side hotels, just a nice variety of runs. Treat yourself to a buffalo burger at the Wedge's bar in the lodge's main level after a great day on the slopes.
I'm sorry I had bypassed it for all those years, but a mistake I won't make again. Loveland Ski Area packages with many nearby lodging units including the Hotel Chateau Chamonix, offering some of the best lift and lodging combos along the Continental Divide.