In the mid-1800s, Breckenridge, Colo., was accidentally forgotten on a United States map. Even though the mistake was rectified nearly 50 years later, the well-preserved Alpine town still feels like uncharted territory. Though it originally started as a gold-mining settlement, skiing is what truly put Breckenridge back on the map. But if you’re hesitant to hop on a pair of skis, there are still plenty of outdoor adventures that allow you to carve up the Rockies. And no matter which activity you choose, you’ll likely strike gold.
About an hour and a half outside of Denver, Breckenridge has a population of around 4,000 that hikes to 40,000 when flurries start flying. Most of the dining and shopping options are located on Main Street, which is lined with Victorian gingerbread house-style facades, strands of holiday lights and snowbanks that sheen like polished metal. Since the street’s Christmas tree stays up year-round, this downtown strip feels like Whoville without the Grinch. To fuel up for the next morning’s backcountry sports, head to dinner at the Warming Hut, where comfort food and fuel collide in dishes like elk medallions and bison chili. Located in a historic late-1800s home, it has a drink menu that preserves Colorado’s suds legacy, by only serving microbrews made in the state.
A snowball’s throw from Main Street lies Mountain Thunder Lodge. Though the exteriors resemble a log-cabin mansion, framed by snowcapped pines right out of a Christmas village diorama, the lodge’s interiors pleasantly cater to those who only want to immerse themselves in nature during the daytime. Multi-bedroom condos are outfitted with plasma TVs, Starbucks products, gas fireplaces and mountain-facing windows—making them the perfect luxury boxes for viewing skiers, snowboarders and snowshoers.
Now that you’re well-fed and rested, it’s time to operate some heavy machinery. White Mountain Tours offers a snowmobiling and zip-lining package that tests confidence levels from some 12,500 feet up. The morning begins with a snowmobiling trek around Chalk Mountain and the Continental Divide, filled with ups, downs and powdery, unpaved trails. Guides explain the techniques for driving winter’s motorcycle to participants of all experience levels, but if you’re too uncoordinated to even navigate your way to the practice area (i.e., me), the guides will happily let you hitch a ride with them. The route, filled with sharp turns and massive animal tracks, leads snowmobilers to the “Top of the World,” where the line between sky and snow blurs, giving you the feeling of floating in a cloud—until a natural speed bump bounces you in your seat and brings you back to earth.
After navigating your snowmobile through the heavily wooded paths, zip lining almost seems relaxing, since the only skill it requires is a tight grip. Five zip-lining stations, most being dual lines, wind their way around a property that contains more than 25 abandoned gold mines and boasts plenty of pure snow. But revving up your heart rate is as easy as looking down, especially at the “Leap of Faith” station, which requires a quick drop off the wooden platform and leaves your Sorels soaring just above the treetops.
For those who feel more comfortable in a pack, the Siberian huskies at Good Times Adventures are always willing to go for a ride. You can dogsled through the tree-lined paths of Swan River Valley, with eight canines who take their roles as chauffeurs very seriously, until they flip on their backs and ask for a belly rub. Though steering and braking are the sleigh driver’s responsibility, a guide leads the pack with a snowmobile to help motivate the mushers. Besides the occasional bark, it’s likely the closest experience to riding in Santa’s sleigh. The huskies don’t expect presents for their hard work at the end of the six-mile run, but they do require gratuity in the form of petting.
If drinking is your preferred sport, Breckenridge offers options to keep you warm during a single-digit day. The Breckenridge Brewery & Pub, located toward the end of Main Street, brews most of the craft beer it serves on site, with options such as an agave-nectar-infused wheat ale and a stout with notes of oatmeal, chocolate and coffee. Along with producing more than 1,000 barrels a year, they also offer a hefty lunch, dinner and late-night menu with cheers-worthy options like buffalo chicken beer cheese soup, made with the brewery’s own IPA. Those looking for black-diamond-level liquid courage should head to the Breckenridge Distillery, the highest elevated distillery in the world, for a tour and tasting of its award-winning bourbon whiskey, vodka and bitters. The factory resembles what Willy Wonka would have designed if he preferred alcohol over Everlasting Gobstoppers. Even the shape and color of the main room’s copper still resembles an Oompa Loompa, and a sugary smell permeates from the open-top fermenters. After sampling their sweet corn-based vodka, three-year barrel-aged bourbon and sippable, syrupy bitters, ask for a shot of their “Dude, Sweet” dark-chocolate sauce mixed with bourbon and agave. Even though tasters won’t turn into a giant blueberry, they might still have to be rolled out of the factory.
The pioneering days of the gold rush may be over, but there are still plenty of treasures left in Colorado.
-Mountain Thunder Lodge offers a complimentary on-call shuttle service so guests can avoid testing out their snow tires.
-Make an early morning stop at Amazing Grace for homemade, just-out-of-the-oven vegan chocolate chip oatmeal cookies.
Mountain Thunder Lodge | 50 Mountain Thunder Drive, Breckenridge, Colo. | 970-547-5650 | breckresorts.com
The Warming Hut Restaurant & Bar | 207 N. Main St., Breckenridge | 970-389-3104 | thewarminghutrestaurant.com
White Mountain Tours, 6492 Highway 91, Leadville, Colo. | 800-247-7238 | whitemountainsnowmobiletours.com
Good Times Adventures | 6061 Tiger Road, Breckenridge | 970-453-7604 | snowmobilecolorado.com
Breckenridge Brewery & Pub | 600 South Main St., Breckenridge | 970-453-1550 | breckbrewpub.com
Breckenridge Distillery | 1925 Airport Road, Breckenridge | 970-547-9759 | breckenridgedistillery.com