Celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, Colorado's Breckenridge Ski Resort (www.breckenridge.com) is definitely all grown up, typically running neck and neck with sister resort Vail for the title of the most popular ski resort in the U.S. It's easy to see the attraction: The resort offers plenty of terrain for skiers and riders of all skill levels, spread across four peaks. Off the slopes, you'll find diversions for skiers and non-skiers alike.
Centered on the Blue River and a picture-perfect historic core, "Breck" is a prototypical ski town, featuring some of the best nightlife in the Rockies. This longstanding tradition pre-dates the chairlifts: The Gold Pan Saloon (www.thegoldpansaloon.com) is said to be the longest continuously operating tavern west of the Mississippi. But the off-slope activities extend well beyond the après-ski hour: There is plenty for families as well as party-hardy types in Breckenridge -- and pretty much every skier and snowboarder in between.
What's New at Breckenridge
After a flurry of improvements for the 2010-11 season -- including the luxury ski-in, ski-out One Ski Hill Place (www.oneskihillplace.com), a 22-foot halfpipe, and the year-round Gold Runner Coaster -- the most recent off-season was a relatively quiet one.
Not to say there hasn't been any news. This season kicked off in late November with the grand opening of the DoubleTree by Hilton (or re-opening: it's the former Great Divide Lodge). The slope-side hotel, located at the base of Peak 9 in the heart of the ski village, features comfortable guest rooms within easy walking distance of the lifts.
Nearby, in the historic downtown is a pair of notable new restaurants: The latest from Mat Fackler of local standout Relish, Twist (http://twistbreck.com/) offers a creative spin on comfort foods (chipotle-pork poutine or lamb meatloaf, anyone?), while Cuppa Joe is a much-needed new coffee shop. Also new are the year-round Breckenridge Pedicabs, featuring studded snow tires and a variety of tours around town.
Ski Deals at Breckenridge
Breckenridge Accommodations has a unique last-second auction for lodging, which can save you 15%-30% on the condos and homes they manage. Another perk: Check-in is at a ski rental shop, so you can take care of gear checking in and out.
You can also save on lodging by staying in the town of Frisco, just 10 miles to the north and convenient to not only Breckenridge but also Copper Mountain, Keystone, and Arapahoe Basin, as well as the Frisco Nordic Center and an in-town tubing hill.
Breckenridge Turns 50 & Other Must-See Seasonal Events
Dec. 16 is officially Breckenridge's 50th birthday, and the town is celebrating with a big bash highlighted by a free concert by L.A. rockers Los Lobos.
Other fun events include Ullr Fest (Jan. 8-14, 2012), one of the zaniest winter events in the Rockies. Ullr Fest is devoted to its namesake, the Norse god of snow. The Ullr King and Queen will be crowned on Jan. 9, followed by the inimitable Ullympic Games on Jan. 10, then culminating with the spectacle of the Ullr Fest Parade on Jan. 12.
Next up is the Budweiser International Snow Sculpting Championships; sculpting takes place Jan. 24-28, followed by viewing week from Jan. 29-Feb. 5.