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Breckenridge is high up in the Rocky Mountains in Colorado, USA, about a two-hour drive from Denver. A member of the Vail Resorts Group, it’s a sprawling resort but the centre still has a Wild West flavour. It offers some of the highest and toughest ski terrain in this region, together with excellent slopes for beginners and intermediates, making it ideal for mixed-ability groups.

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In the mid 19th century Breckenridge was a booming gold mining town and its historic centre retains this flavour with its clapboard buildings in various different colours. The centre is bustling as loads of people stroll around the many shops and 100 plus bars and restaurants – and it has a real festive air thanks to all-season Christmas lights and decorations.

Breckenridge – or Breck as the locals call it – is only a two-hour drive from Denver – handy for international visitors, but this makes the ski resort busy during US holidays such as President’s weekend and Spring Break. Avoid these and you won’t find many queues for the lifts.

It is a very high resort so watch out for mountain sickness – it’s the altitude that you sleep at which is key. If you can, spend a night aclimatising yourself in Denver before you hit Breck.

As is the norm in Colorado, the snow is wonderfully dry. This means that when it melts and refreezes it remains soft and powdery and even the artificial snow, when needed, is lovely. There are five sectors, linked by lift and runs – Peak 9 (nearest the base), Peak 10, Peak 8, Peak 7 and new this season (2013-14) Peak 6 with an extra 543 acres of terrain.

Most of the slopes are cut through the trees and make for really beautiful skiing and boarding. Some steeper slopes tend to be above the treeline but as Breck is prone to high winds they are often closed.

Ski area

Breckenridge has a vast amount of skiable terrain in its five peaks and although many of the runs are short there are virtually no queues so you can travel from peak to peak getting a real feel of covering the miles.

Peak 9 is accessible from town by two fast chairlifts and suits all levels. Experts will love the wooded North Slope that’s sheltered and steep. At the top you’ll find a load of gentle, wide blues that are ideal if you're intermediate. Then at the bottom the flat, wide green runs are great for beginners.

Peak 10 is almost exclusively an advanced-level sector, offering steep pisted runs, ungroomed glades and tough mogul fields. The most challenging in-bounds terrain is spread across the ultra-high summit sectors of Peak 6, Peak 7 and Peak 8, which are laden with open powder bowls and super-steep chutes, headlined by the extreme terrain of the Snow White and Lakes Chutes sectors. The uppermost slopes are served by the Imperial Express Superchair quad chairlift on Peak 8, although the highest drop-in points off the summit ridges require a breathtaking hike.

Intermediates have a great variety of pistes and glade areas to explore across the lower and mid-mountain slopes of Peak 7, Peak 8 and Peak 9, together with a smattering of more challenging black-diamond routes to build up to. Even beginners needn’t be stuck on the nursery slopes but can get a feeling of travelling with the green runs here and a choice of green trails back to town. 

Breck is one of the best US resorts for boarders and hosts major snowboarding events during the season. Riders flock here, even beginners. The powder bowls at the top of Peaks 7 and 8 are a mecca for freeriders.

If you’re caught on that intermediate plateau look no further than Breck. The ski school is outstanding with world-class tuition and classes that aren’t too big.

A Nordic Center nestles in the woods from where cross-country skiers can access 32km of delightful wooded trails.

Breckenridge has the same owners as Vail, Beaver Creek and Keystone and a multi-day lift ticket covers them all plus Arapahoe Basin. It’s worth taking the bus to one or more of them for a change of piste.

Off the slopes and apres ski

Breckenridge has a wealth of alternative activities whether it’s learning about the environment while skiing with a forest ranger or flying through the air at 45mph on a 10-mile zipline. There’s also dogsledding with Siberian huskies, horse-drawn sleigh rides, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, tobogganing and ice skating. You can even visit a working gold mine. If you want shopping bargains, Silverthorne with its outlet shops is a mere 30 minutes away by free bus.

When it’s time to relax, there’s a staggering 100 restaurants offering everything from typical burgers and pizzas to gourmet dining. Go online and check out the Breckenridge Dining Guide to get the full list. Of note are the Hearthstone, which serves American food in an historic house, and Steak & Rib with photos and memorabilia on the walls.

Apres is relaxed when you come off the slopes in the afternoon – check out The Maggie at the base of Peak 9 for a chilled beer and music or pop into the Motherloaded Tavern for happy hour from 3-6pm. It gets more animated later on: don’t miss the Wild West fun of the Gold Pan saloon – said to be the oldest bar west of the Mississippi – and sip cocktails at Cecilia’s. Hit Three20South for its live bands. The Liquid Lounge is another hip nightspot.

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