Pros: Not too expensive, not snobby, good trail layout, good family skiing, and affordable ski-in-ski-out.
Cons: Crowded, especially the QuickSilver Super6
I have been skiing mostly in Europe; however, I have also skied in the United States, including Beaver Creek, four times in Breckenridge, and also at some smaller places. If you want to see my Beaver Creek review click here. Breckenridge is the most popular ski resort in the United States, and that does not surprise me. First of all Breckenridge is large and it has a lot of good trails for both advanced skiers, beginners and families, and it accommodates both skiers and snow boarders, and is fairly close to Denver. When we visit Breckenridge we fly to Denver airport and drive to Breckenridge. I do not think it is worth flying to Eagle when you are going to Breckenridge. The drive is easy and not too bad unless there is a bad snow storm. It takes about one and a half hour. Major ski resorts are typically expensive but Breckenridge is still affordable. Lodging for six people ski-in and ski-out, right at the slope, is only around $500, which is expensive but a lot less then some other places. Beaver Creek ski-in-ski-out is $1,500 to $2,000 per night if you are more than four people, and Vail is also more expensive. I can add that Breckenridge is also highly favored among out-of-state and international travelers.
The biggest problem with Breckenridge being so popular is that the ski lift lines become long and you will loose a lot of time waiting in line. There are also more people in the slopes, which I think is only a minor problem, however, not being able to find a seat in one of the mountain restaurants during the lunch break is a more irritating result of a crowded mountain. I do not like crowds and I do not like waiting in long lift lines; however, when I ski with the whole family I need two important features that Breckenridge provides; affordable ski-in-and-ski-out, and a good trail layout. With a good trail layout I mean that trails for beginners, intermediate skiers, and advanced skiers are well separated and that it is easy to figure out where you are on the Mountain. Another feature that Breckenridge provides are fun things for the kids like Ripperoo's enchanted forest trail, kid's castle and sledding. However, because Breckenridge is crowded it is impossible to give Breckenridge five stars. I was debating between three and four stars. The most problematic lift is the QuickSilver Super6 and I would like to suggest to the Beaver Creek management that they build another 6-seat ski lift parallel to, or close to, the QuickSilver Super6 as well as one or two more mountain restaurants, or that you extend the existing mountain restaurants. I believe; that those two actions alone, would make Breckenridge a lot more likable.
The ski slopes
I would like to begin with by comparing Breckenridge with a few other well known ski resorts with respect to ski slope and trail statistics. I copied this statistics from respective ski resort web sites and I also double checked by looking it up in Wikipedia. This is the comparative ski slope statistics as of January 6 2009. This statistics is more up to date then the product information here on epinions.
Vertical rise is 3,398 feet
Summit elevation is 12,998 feet
Total ski terrain is 2,358 acres
55% advanced (19% black diamond, 36% black double diamond)
Five terrain parks and three half-pipes.
Vertical rise is 4,040 feet
Summit elevation is 11,440 feet
Total ski terrain is 1,815 acres
Four terrain parks and one half-pipe.
Vertical rise is 3,450 feet
Summit elevation is 11,570 feet
Total ski terrain is 5,289 acres
Four terrain parks and one super-pipe.
Vertical rise is 3,128 feet
Summit elevation is 12,408 feet
Total ski terrain is 3,148 acres
Two terrain parks and one super-pipe.
As you can see Breckenridge has a lot of trails for advanced skiers and almost as many ski lifts as Vail. However, Breckenridge is still pretty good for beginners because of the concentrated cluster of beginner and intermediate trails at the bottom half of Peak 9. The Breckenridge ski area is divided into four peaks, Peak 10 with trails for advanced skiers (black) and intermediate-to-advanced skiers (blue-black), Peak-9 for beginners and intermediate skiers with the beginner trails towards the bottom of the peak. Peak-8 and Peak-7 are for advanced skiers and experts, however, towards the bottom of both Peak-8 and Peak-7 there are several trails for intermediate skiers. If you can remember this then you have the entire mountain under control. This is very easy.
The highest lift in North America is the Imperial Express Super Chair which takes you almost all the way to the summit of Peak-8 (12,998 feet, 3,963 meters). From here advanced expert skiers (black double diamond) can chose from several large open ski areas called "Bowls". This is far above the tree line and these Bowls are hardly ever crowded, so this is were you can do some awesome advanced skiing in peace. There is the Contest Bowl, the Imperial Bowl, the Horseshoe Bowl, the Cucumber Bowl, The North Bowl, and by walking you can reach the Whales Tail, and the Peak-7 Bowl. From the Imperial Express Super Chair Lift you can also reach more than two dozen black diamond trails, many of them with funny names like "Too much", "Forget-me-not", "Amen", "Adios", "Psychopath", and "Lower Psychopath". This is a really fun place to be and I have skied in the Imperial Bowl when it was foot deep powder snow (high altitude) and that was wonderful.
As I mentioned the lay-out of the trails and the lifts is good. For example, if you want to ski the intermediate trails on Peak-7 you take the Independence Super Chair which stops where the intermediate trails begin. If you want to ski the expert trails on Peak-7 and Peak-8 you can take the Independence Super Chair and then the T-bar to the top, or the Peak-8 super connect, or the Colorado Super Chair and then the Imperial Express Super Chair (which will take you the farthest). The risk that a beginner skier will get stuck on top of black trail or even an intermediate trail is miniscule. The trail that most beginners use is the Silverthorne which is served by the Quicksilver Super6 lift. The Silverthorne is a one and a half mile long, large, wide and easy slope that is perfect for beginners. OK it has a thousand people in it all the time but beginners often like that. It is safe to stop in the Silverthorne and chat with people; it is not steep and it is wide open. This is where my daughter and my wife learned to ski and it is where my boys became decent skiers (before they became good skiers and snow boarders). Right next to the top of the Silverthorne is Ripperoo's enchanted forest trail. This is a trail for children along which they have built fairy tale artifacts, cabins, huts, mines, creatures, and a tunnel you ski through and a bridge you ski over. This is really supposed to be for the ski school, however, when the ski school is not using Ripperoo's enchanted forest trail parents and their kids are using it, and it does not seem like anyone has a problem with it. Ripperoo's enchanted forest trail is a lot of fun even for me.
Peak-10 has a mixture of less challenging black diamond trails and blue-black trails. I like Peak-10 because even though I can ski on double black diamonds and the more challenging black diamonds I can more easily let go and go faster on blue-black trails without getting exhausted or feeling uncomfortable. Blue-black trails are just right for me. There is one trail which worries me and that is a trail mostly for beginners called "Four O'clock". "Four O'clock" is a three and half mile long trail that ends in Beaver Creek and there is no lift at the end. Many people have taken the "Four O'clock" trail without having the intention of going home, and have thus been forced to take the bus to go back to skiing. "Four O'clock" is a nasty trap that can ruin an hour of skiing. Another annoying trail is another green trail, the "Lower Sawmill". If you take the "Tunnel" and continue on the "Lower Sawmill" you will have a fantastic and relaxing ski experience. You will just glide down a gentle slope through thick forest and it is beautiful. However, towards the end of the "Lower Sawmill" you will go slower and slower and then you will have to work to get back down to the lift. Unless you have good speed the last quarter mile of the "Lower Sawmill" turns into a nasty cat walk. I have had to push my kids and wife on the last quarter mile of the "Lower Sawmill" many times.
So in summary, the skiing is for the most part good, and the trail lay-out is good, however, the ski lift lines can be a major bummer in Breckenridge.
The mountain restaurants
"Ten Mile Station", the "Peak nine restaurant", and "Vista Haus" are three large and popular mountain restaurants. Unfortunately they are often very crowded, especially the "Ten Mile Station". "Vista Haus" is the nicest and least crowded but it is not easy to reach for beginners and it closes 2.30 PM. At lunch time there is nowhere to sit in the "Ten Mile Station" and I think this is poor service. This kind of stuff ticks off people. Luckily there are several restaurants at the bottom of Peak-9 (by the QuickSilver Super6 and Beaver Run SuperChair lifts) and they also typically have an outside kitchen with hot dogs, hamburgers, sandwiches, and drinks and beer. At the bottom of Peak-8 there is also the Bergenhof restaurant and Borders Burritos. However, it would be nice with some mountainside restaurants that were not so over crowded and with somewhere to sit. I think the Breckenridge management should compare with Beaver Creek and learn from them in this regard. I would not mind higher food prices or higher ski lift ticket prices if that could be taken care of.
Breckenridge is a fairly large town considering that it is just a ski resort. There are a lot of restaurants and shops along Main Street. Breckenridge is not as picturesque and cute as, for example, Beaver Creek village, but it is quite convenient and offer a lot of choices. You can take a shuttle back and forth between your hotel and anywhere in Breckenridge, however, we walked most of time, and sometimes we drove our rental car. The restaurant we liked the best was "Swiss Haven" a fondue place that was a memory for life. However, there are also some other nice restaurants and an outside crepe making place that my wife fell in love with. We also ate at a good French restaurant pretty close to Beaver Run resort and also at a French Sea Food place we found to be unappetizing. The problem was that they tried to overdo the "French" and it came out weird (my wife grew up in France, she knows this stuff). There was an Octopus leg in my wife's fish which looked like the bait they caught the fish with, and the Octopus ink sort of made the dish less appetizing too. This other "French" restaurant clearly had a problem with making a nice presentation of the food, but I can't remember the name of the restaurant, but you can figure it out. There were also pubs, a super market, a lot of stores, a nice book store, and several nice toy stores in Breckenridge Village. Breckenridge Village provided something for you to do in the evening. Breckenridge is located at a high altitude so I sometimes get a slight bout of altitude sickness when I am in Breckenridge. They do sell oxygen in the stores but I did not buy any.
Conclusion and final recommendation
The mountain and the trails in Breckenridge are well planned and the lay-out is nice. Breckenridge has good skiing for the family, and good skiing for both advanced skiers and beginners. Breckenridge is clearly oriented toward families. In summary this is my exhaustive pro-con list for Breckenridge:
There are a lot of good advanced trails and bowls
There are a lot of easily accessible trails for beginners
Good lay-out of the trails
Breckenridge village provides a lot of things to do in evening
The lifts are terribly crowded
The slope is crowded
Breckenridge is too popular
The high altitude could cause dizziness and exhaustion.