Travel Snow Adventure

Dogsledding, snowtubing, sleigh rides-in Breckenridge, downhill skiing is only the beginning.

An overnight snowfall had created a pristine trail and a crisp winter tang in the early morning air of a back- country area outside Breckenridge, Colorado. “Hike, hike!” Eric yelled. Eight Huskies-four teams of two dogs-trotted briskly over the trail, slowly at first, then picking up so much speed that, in one downhill portion, Eric could do nothing but hang on for dear life, his face plastered with a semiterrified grin and Andrew screaming, “Wheeoo….”
At first tentative, my oldest son Eric, 15, developed more confidence as he and his 12-year-old brother Andrew traded turns, one sitting as the passenger and the other standing as the driver of the dog sled. From a snowmobile-drawn sled up ahead, I watched as the two of them tried to figure out the physics of sledding (“Lean into the curves,” the dog handler said) and the dynamics of the gorgeous 80-pound dogs.
In uphill portions of the trail, the driver had to get off the rails and-shouting the approved dog mantra “Hike!”-help the animals slide the sled until they picked up speed. Then after the gray-and-black Huskies began running faster, the driver leaped on the rails and used his weight to lean into the turns. In the snow-coated wilderness, the scene came right out of a turn-of-the-century boys’ adventure story.
At the end of one great run, I heard snarling and turned around to see a furious ball of fur in the middle of the team. The two youngest dogs, White Fang and Burrito-brothers, of course-were growling and snapping at each other, pulling the sled off the trail while the other dogs tried to remain above the fray. The boys looked on wide-eyed; this wasn’t in the brochure. The dog handler calmed the disagreement. (Probably a quarrel over the remote control.) We continued our run.
By the hour’s end, the dogs were panting, and so were the boys. As a light snow began to fall, they hugged and petted the patient dogs, canine and boy breath mingling in the air. Both pairs of brothers were getting along tine. I realized after four days in Breckenridge that I’d just seen a perfect metaphor for our family trip: lots of fun and teamwork in the snow, punctuated by bursts of bickering.
Breckenridge turned out to be an ideal place to find a variety of snow activities for family members with different personalities. interests, and levels of abilities. The second most popular ski destination in North America, the resort sits just on the other side of the Continental Divide at an elevation of 9,603 feet. One of four ski destinations (along with Vail, Keystone, and Beaver Creek) operated by Vail Resorts. Breckenridge stretches across four peaks and is renowned for its above-timberline skiing on tough terrain. But it also offers more sedate fun at lower levels.
The late March trip started in a snowstorm. Public transportation in the town is free and easily accessible, making a rental car unnecessary, so we took a shuttle van from Denver International Airport west to Breckenridge-just as a blizzard hit. A 98-mile drive, normally about 90 minutes, look almost three hours, making me ?lad I fed the boys at the airport and grateful that I had not tried to drive it myself. Most accommodations in the Breckenridge area are condos- great for making lunches and snacks, but not great for arrival late at night. Next time, I’ll carry along fixings for at least one meal.
We stayed at a shuttle-out, ski-in condo: We had to take a shuttle bus to the lifts, but could end the day by skiing into our parking lot and walking to the quaint Victorian-era downtown to eat. The condo at Saw Mill Creek was comfortable but not distinctive; the boys’ favorite amenity (apart from the cable TV) was the dial-a-fire-place. Turn the timer to 60 minutes for an hour of flickering comfort from gas logs.
Unlike many resorts built strictly to cater to skiers, Breckenridge is an old mining town that dates back to 1859. Though it has a few pricey hotels, the resort is somewhat cheaper than sister resorts Vail and Beaver Creek, with a wide range of quaint bed-and-break-fasts and moderately priced condos close to the town’s historic area along die Blue River.
Each afternoon after skiing, we went exploring. I meandered around looking for houses and other structures mentioned in the history books. With 354 preserved buildings. die town makes up one of the state’s largest National Historic Districts. Oddly, I kept running into Europeans who had moved to the town to live/ski/work; many spoke very little English. Eastern Europeans, in particular, seem to be coming to Summit County to fill jobs in the hotels and restaurants. Their presence gives the town the same exotic flavor it might have had 100 years ago, when adventurers poured into Colorado in search of gold.
(With its history of prospectors, fur trappers. saloonkeepers, and outlaws, Breckenridge has its share of ghost stories:, the spirit of a woman named Sylvia supposedly haunts the Prospector Restaurant.)
The hoys listened to my tidbits of history with tolerance; they were more interested in finding places that offered kid-friendly food and arcade games or loud music. Those are everywhere, but expect typical resort prices-$7 for a burger and fries at Breckenridge Brewery, barbecue plates for $ 11 at Bubba’s Bones. The boys would have been happy to settle into a sports bar called Downstairs at Eric’s; it has 21 televisions, plus two giant-screen TVs, and a video arcade-oh, and burgers and pizza.
My favorite restaurant in Breckenridge was the casually elegant Blue River Bistro, which had fabulous fried calamari and shellfish ciop-pino, plus more basic kid-friendly pasta dishes. {One bonus for a ski vacation is that you expend so much energy on the slopes, you don’t feel guilty about pigging out.)
On the mountain, conditions were close to perfect: after a good snow season, the blizzard had dumped an additional five inches of powder the night we arrived, and it snowed off and on over four days. One of the first resorts in Colorado to allow snow-boarders on its ski runs. Breckenridge now is known for its terrain park and halfpipes, which require enormous amounts of man-made snow and extensive grooming. Even those who don’t snowboard find it fun to hang out near the resort’s Freeway Terrain Garden on Peak 8 and Gold King on Peak 9 and watch the daredevil maneuvers.
But we were really interested in trying other snow activities offered at Breckenridge and its sister resort Keystone: There’s dogsledding, sleigh rides, snowshoe-ing, snowtubing, and snowmobiling. Snowshoeing sounded too much like hiking for the boys’ tastes. (“But it will be so beautiful in the woods,” I said. They rolled their eyes as if to say. “The point of snow is speed, Mom.”)
To the boys the most intriguing activity was snowmobiling, which brought to mind a James Bond movie. The bad news: Drivers have to be over 16 and licensed to drive a car. The boys contemplated riding on the back with their known-to-be-cautious mom and turned up their noses. Since it cost about $75 each for an hour-long ride. I was glad to pass. Dogsledding proved a great alternative.
But our favorite activity was snowtubing. One afternoon after our last ski run. we took the free KAB shuttle to Keystone, about 20 minutes away, and rode the River Run Gondola to Adventure Point, where three giant undulating slides-1.000 feet long at a 42-degree pitch-have been scooped out of the snow. Looking down, the slides seemed very steep. A little apprehensive at first, each of us grabbed a giant inner tube and plopped on our bottoms for our turn to be pushed- with a deliberate spin-down a slide, screaming as the tube hit one snow wall then another before coming to rest at the bottom.
Exhilarated, laughing, we grabbed our lubes, attached them to a rope pulley for the backward ride up to the top, then did it again-this time in a “train” of three tubes- by grabbing each other’s feet. We tubed over and over and over, spinning in four-leaf clover patterns, joining other people’s trains. We took a break for hot chocolate in a warming hut, then ran back out to go again. Tubing is the most fun you can have with a freezing butt in an inner tube.
The slides are open from noon to 9 p.m.; Keystone even offers night skiing from Adventure Point, which is at 1 i ,640 feet. But as it grew darker and more frigid, we decided against hitting the lighted slopes. Famished, we took the enclosed Outpost Gondola to Der Fondue Chessel on North Peak. (The gondola is free if you have reservations for dinner, and reservations are a must.)
Anchored at one end by a massive, blazing fireplace, Der Fondue Chessel is a cavernous, yet inviting space, festooned with flags dangling from the broad wooden beams of the high ceiling and enlivened by men in lederhosen wandering the room playing polka favorites on accordians and tubas. Everyone sits at long family-style tables and eats essentially the same thing from the traditional Bavarian menu.
After excellent Caesar salads made table-side, our waiter brought us fondue pots with melted cheeses, into which we dipped fresh vegetables and hunks of bread. From the list of entrees-beef, lamb, quail, bratwurst, shrimp, salmon, and lobster-we each chose three or four, depending on how hungry we were. The waiter brought several raclettes, which are small grills, lighted them, and left us to cook our own meal.
We sprinkled our meats with spices and plopped them on the grill to sizzle, while we melted cheese and butter and talked and cooked and giggled until the band came around and sang “Happy Birthday” for someone at our table. We sang along and laughed at the tuba player’s corny jokes. It was entertainment disguised as dining.
We finished with chunks of cake and strawberries dipped in chocolate fondue and stumbled out into the snow to catch the gondola down before the last shuttle run, sorry that we had to leave the next day. We hadn’t had time to try snowbiking.

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