In the latest dispatch from his North American travels, Pingu takes a look under the surface of Breckenridge, Colorado. Illustrations by Kieron Black.
Breckenridge has been firmly planted in the consciousness of the British shredding populous by the triple-flipping feats of Billy Morgan, the GB Freestyle team’s training videos and the siren-like images of Parkway’s perfect jumps. However, rather than focus on what you know already, I would choose to characterise Breckenridge in three words: Bogies, Balls and Beer.
Bogies (or, “The Consequences Of Altitude”)
Breckenridge is high. Not because Colorado has legalised the use of marijuana (pronounced – marry-joo-ah-nah, or gan-jaaah or w-eeeeeee-d), but because it is much closer to the sky than just about any other ski resort in the world. Breck village, which (at the risk of stating the obvious) is the bottom of the resort, is near-as-dammit 3000 metres above sea level – putting the pubs, art galleries, pool hall and snowboard shops some 600 metres above the peak of Avoriaz.
When people talk about resort altitude, it is usually in the context of a sub-Daily Mail gobshite dinner party debate about where will have the best snow during February half-term – namely the overly simplistic equation of Low = Bad, High = Good. But I don’t make the point about Breck being nearly a mile closer to the sun than Morzine to contribute to that discussion, rather to highlight that you will, as a result of this altitude, experience the following:
Rich pickings – I have never, in my entire life, produced so many massive crusty bogies, ripe for picking and sticking on the underside of the chairlift safety bar, than I have in Breck. Combine this with the fact that your nasal capillaries are more likely to burst due to the low air pressure and extremely dry atmosphere, and you will start to the think that half your brain has come out every time you blow your nose. It can be scary when your frontal lobe appears to have attached itself to your forefinger, but fear not; in Breckenridge, you can keep picking and your nose will just keep on giving. Comparing morning bogeys with my kids has given me some huge belly laughs and enabled me to find new ways in which to bond with them at their level [sure, Pingu – their level…].
Being completely knackered just by standing up – Snowboarding, at least the way I do it, has not proven itself to be particularly demanding at 3900m above sea level (i.e. the top of Breck). However, brushing my teeth, taking orange juice out of the fridge and wiping my arse have taken my breath away. Prepare to be exhausted by the most menial of tasks, at the most unexpected times.
However, if you are a big fan of walking uphill and wearing a backpack (for which there is plenty of opportunity here, with some fantastic hike-to terrain accessible from Peak 9 and Peak 6), then you can properly wipe yourself out if not careful. I would consider myself to be fairly keen on fitness and thus confident about taking on an alpine ascent, but had a full-blown whitey after a 15-minute hike in the pursuit of some freshies. It was worth it, but I felt very, very weird a couple of hours after my exertion. All was rectified by a couple of gallons of Gatorade and a Macadamia nut cookie, but the altitude properly handed me a can of whup-ass that day.
“Prepare to be exhausted by the most menial of tasks, at the most unexpected times”
The mother of all hangovers, without even drinking – Everyone will know the sensation of waking up in a ski resort feeling like they have been wrestled to bed by a sweaty bear, with a mouth full of deep-shag carpet and eyes encrusted with guacamole and underpant gunk. It’s usually precipitated by several Mutzig, a clutch of Jagerbombs, some shouting, nudity and possibly some Greco-Roman head-locks with your mate – invariably whilst still in your snowboard boots.
You can get this very same feeling in Breckenridge without any of the expense or embarrassment of the aforementioned drinking/horseplay. Basically every day is a hangover day; irrespective of how much water you drink, you will wake up so badly dehydrated that you look like a cross between Ghandi after a week in the desert, and a monkey nut.
It would however be remiss of me not to highlight the flip-side of being high and dry; the snow here is incredible.
Stripped of all their moisture, the flakes in Breckenridge collaborate to create some of the lightest, fluffiest, floatiest powder you can imagine. If you have ever been to Whistler and experienced a foot of wet concrete falling out of the sky, or been rained on in the Alps, then you will be all the more appreciative of the mystic potion concocted by Mother Nature here in Colorado.
What’s more, for several days after a storm the snow will remain every bit as good as it was the day it fell (presuming that it hasn’t been snaffled by someone on fat skis). I did get the sense however that the locals (or perhaps the ill-informed visitors) do somewhat take the quality and volume of snow for granted, because I overheard someone calling a twelve-inch dump “dust on crust” at one point. Whilst I was tempted to scoff, there was an element of truth to what they were saying – because the snow is so ridiculously light, it can be brushed or blown away with much greater ease than the stickier stuff you get back in Europe.