By the time you ski off the Imperial Express SuperChair at Breckenridge, you’re within spitting distance of 13,000 feet above sea level, as high as you’re going to get riding a chairlift… anywhere. The ride begins on the shoulder of Peak 8, takes just a couple of minutes and, for the pedantic among us, actually drops you off at 12,840 feet. Kick off your skis, strap on your oxygen and you can get within two short feet of that magical 13,000ft mark after a short, exhausting climb.
The view from atop Peak 9 is said to be a spectacular panorama. The sprawling town of Breckenridge lays almost 3,400 feet below. Across the valley you can see Keystone and in the distance, the spectacular Ten Mile Range. That’s on a clear day. Two days ago, I could see the gloved hand at the end of my arm and the first several inches of my outstretched ski pole, doing double duty as a seeing-eye cane.
I couldn’t see them for long though because the wind — claimed by locals to be one of Breck’s most outstanding features, much in the same way Whistler locals like to brag about ‘variable’ visibility — was sending needles of ice through my body and threatening to blow me into Imperial Bowl like a human tumbleweed.
There’s lots of feel-good black and legitimate double black terrain accessible from Breckenridge’s highest chair and their kinked T-bar that rises from the bottom of North Bowl and drops you off on the ridge below the SuperChair about halfway along its path. But like the visibility on this day, most of it required questionable judgment to actually ski. The wind had scoured many runs to crust. But on the leeward side, the same blow had deposited knee-deep snow and the day’s rewards were garnered by the judicious in Imperial Bowl.
With the high alpine a crapshoot — it didn’t open until early afternoon — the day was spent exploring the cruisers mid-mountain. A spiderweb of blue and blue-black runs fall away from the confluence of three chairs on Peak 9. Lapping them from left to right never evoked a numbing sameness and there were more than enough opportunities to deek into nearby trees to spice up the loose powder that lined the runs’ edges and, like the motto tattooed on my psyche, any day you’re sliding downhill is a good day.
But beware the Falcon SuperChair and the terrain it opens on Peak 10 — Warning: Tangential Thinking Ahead. I know numbers are easy and Colorado is chock-full of peaks. But any peak worth skiing deserves a name, not a number. Attention marketing department.