For years, the peak tantalized skiers who wanted to test its untracked powder, but it was out of bounds, accessible only to those willing to hike more than an hour to reach it.
On Christmas Day, those hopeful skiers got their wish when Breckenridge opened Peak 6, adding more than 500 acres of skiable terrain. A new six-person chairlift allows intermediate skiers to sample the above-tree-line, open-bowl slopes that have been thrilling the resort's advanced skiers for years.
The wide-open terrain of Serenity Bowl feeds into six superb cruising runs as the skier descends to the tree line. With names such as Bliss, Euphoria and Reverie, they clearly signal the nature of the trails. Floating through 6 inches of fresh powder on these trails is close to Nirvana, which happens to be the name of another of them.
The Peak 6 expansion is the largest at any U.S. ski resort since Vail opened Blue Sky Basin in 2000, and while it is the newest reason to visit Breckenridge, it shouldn't be the only one. If you have never skied the mountain, or at least not recently, it is time for a return trip.
It had been more than 10 years since I'd last skied Breckenridge, and it was as if I were skiing a different mountain and staying in a different town. Few vestiges remained of the funky, laid-back ski town that sat at the base of a huge, hard-to-get-around mountain.
The town has taken on a more vibrant resort tone. Ski equipment and souvenir shops now far outnumber head shops, though the Breckenridge Cannabis Club proves that the lure of a Rocky Mountain high hasn't disappeared.
Starting in the late afternoon, Main Street hums with a diverse apres-ski crowd, shopping and discussing whether to stop for a drink or where to eat dinner. Those conversations often have distinctive accents because Breckenridge's proximity to Denver makes it a top draw for British skiers.
The dining landscape also has blossomed. No longer dominated by pizza places and steakhouses, options range from sushi to fine dining with award-winning wine lists.
Despite these changes, the mountain remains the real star in Breckenridge. It has evolved from a huge collection of mountain areas that were difficult to navigate into a skier's delight. With the addition of Peak 6, the resort comprises eight distinct skiing areas.
Peak 10 is farthest to the left as the skier looks up the mountain. It is a "black" area for advanced and expert skiers. Good skiers will find Centennial and Doublejack among the most fun runs on the mountain.
Moving to the right, Peak 9 and Peak 8 are the heart of the mountain, filled with a mixture of beginner, intermediate and advanced runs plus three terrain parks of varying difficulty.
A skier can spend several days just cruising the runs on these two sections of the resort, including the longest run on the mountain, Four O'Clock, which takes you from Peak 8 all the way into town, 3.5 miles.
Peak 7 is next, and it is covered with some of the finest cruising runs around. Runs such as Monte Cristo and Claimjumper wind through the trees and provide fabulous views both uphill and down.
The resort has solved the problem of getting from one part of this spread-out mountain to another by installing lifts that carry skiers from section to section. The Peak 8 SuperConnect links the base of Peak 9 with the top of Peak 8, and the BreckConnect gondola links the base of Peak 7 with the base of Peak 8 as well as connecting to the town itself.
These two lifts make it easy for skiers on different parts of the mountain to meet at a single location for lunch or at the end of the day, a real boon to families or groups with skiers of different abilities.
If Peaks 8 and 9 are the heart of the mountain, then the Peak 8 summit and Peak 7 summit are its soul. This is the above-tree-line, open-bowl and chute skiing that draws the experts to Breckenridge; trails marked with a single black diamond are the easier ones on this part of the mountain.
The Imperial Express Super Chair takes skiers to just under 13,000 feet. It usually is windy there, even below the summit, and the snow frequently is hard and crusted. The whistling wind and scratching sound of skis searching for an edge can unnerve a less-than-confident skier.
From the top of the lift, you pick your challenge: Hike to the even more extreme terrain of the Lake Chutes or Whale's Tail, or ski down the ridge called Alpine Alley, which feeds into more black diamond slopes before it finally connects to the top of Four O'Clock for a bit of relief.
The opening of Peak 6 completes the package by providing intermediate skiers with the exhilaration of open-bowl skiing without the knee-knocking fear of super-steep extreme terrain.
It should be the cherry on a huge ice cream sundae of a mountain.
If you go
Getting there: Most major airlines have nonstop flights into Denver. You won't need a car in Breckenridge, so book a shuttle through Colorado Mountain Express (800-525-6363, coloradomountainexpress.com). The fare starts at $66 each way.
Helpful hint: If you are susceptible to altitude sickness, consider staying in Denver the first night of your trip.
Staying there: The usual resort choices abound in town, but if you are looking for something different, check out the Allaire Timbers Inn (970-453-7530), a delightful bed-and-breakfast just blocks from the lift at Peak 9. If you don't mind being away from the hustle of Main Street, One Ski Hill Place is a gem of a resort situated at the base of Peak 8. Free shuttle service is available to take you into town. (800-290-3604, tinyurl.com/oneskihill).
Eating there: The dining scene has diversified greatly in recent years, but some classics still hold sway. Briar Rose Chophouse (970-453-9948, briarrosechophouse.com) has been serving superb steak and game for years, and the renovated historic building creates a wonderful ambience.
Seafood enthusiasts should check out the South Ridge Street Seafood Grill (970-547-0063, southridgeseafoodgrill.com). For an evening of exquisite food and wines, don't miss Relish (970-453-0989, relishbreckenridge.com).
In the local debate over the best pizza, Fatty's (970-453-9802, fattyspizzeria.com) and Downstairs at Eric's (970-453-1401, downstairsaterics.com) have their backers.