Travel in the Time of Coronavirus: Breckenridge
Story & photos by David McKay Wilson
When I left Breckenridge after a brilliant three-day visit in late February, I kept my ski bag packed for another trip just four weeks later for spring break at Copper Mountain in Colorado’s Summit County.
What a week I had at Breck, part of the record-setting snow month of February that all but guaranteed some sweet spring skiing with my sons a few weeks hence. We looked forward to riding Copper’s new Three Bears chairlift up Tucker Mountain.
Breckenridge was simply off the charts that week, which promised a spring season with enough snow to make it to the planned May 25 closure with plenty to spare.
Ten feet of snow came down in February, breaking records, with the deep base piled halfway up the pines on Peak 8. I stayed with a long-ago buddy of mine, Doug, who had a townhouse on Four O’Clock Road – at the end of the Four O’Clock Trail – and a block from the Snowflake lift.
Each night, we’d turn on the news and catch the latest on the coronavirus outbreak, so far away, on the other side of the world in China and South Korea.
It was a time when I still shook hands with friends and strangers.
We watched college basketball too.
One day it showed 13 inches. The wind was blowing too so it was piled up, untracked, over our knees in the woods by Imperial Bowl. Everything was open. All the way up Imperial Bowl, a line of hikers made the climb to make lines down Nine Lives and the Lake Chutes.
The next day a squall dumped 7 inches in 3 hours, paralyzing traffic throughout the region. No matter on Four O’Clock Road. The snow was so deep we made fresh tracks down Four O’Clock Road that morning to the Snowflake.
After two days of light fluffy snow, the Breck mountain crew on our third day had decked out the groomers in velvety corduroy. The steeps were forgiving. In the woods, powder stashes still abounded.
By then, I’d seen the promotions about the Vail Resorts’ EpicMix app, which Doug had on his phone. One day we’d logged about 16,000 – not bad for a couple of Boomers, skiing the deep powder all day.
On the third day, Doug rested his bum knee while I headed out solo, with the EpicMix downloaded on my Pixel.
I hit all five peaks on the sprawling resort, transported by its multiplicity of lifts, guided by its well-marked trails, and comforted by the ubiquitous on-mountain restaurants that kept me refreshed on a day when the temperature remained in the single digits.
The groomers off the Mercury Superchair were a dream, and I warmed up with several top-to-bottom runs, no stopping, to tally up the vertical.
It was 2 degrees. My toes were cold by 10.10 a.m. so I went in to the Overlook Restaurant to warm up.
I’d logged 6,126 feet in 70 minutes, exploring the mountain I’d gotten to know over the past two days with Doug, who’d been out there for six weeks, skiing most days on his Epic Pass.
Peak 10 was a blast. Off the top, I felt like I was in a skier-cross racer winding through the banked turns. I explored the powdery edges of Devil’s Crotch, all the down to its narrow end. And the bumps on Tom’s Baby were flush with new snow.
By lunch, I was up to 14,237 feet. After a warm bowl of chili at the Overlook, it was time to head back for more.
I ended up over on Peak 6, finding my rhythm on trails called Bliss and Euphoria. By the time I made it back to the townhouse, I’d almost 28,000 feet of vertical.
“You did an Annapurna!” Doug exclaimed, referring to the world’s 10th highest peak in the Himalayas, which tops off at 26,545 feet.
I’d worked up an appetite, so we headed to the bustling downtown for dinner. There’s plenty of choices – 100 bars and restaurants in the one-time mining town that’s 2 miles wide by 7 miles long. It’s best to make reservations ahead of time at Breckenridge top eateries. We were able to book an early table upstairs at Twist, the home of eclectic American cuisine on Main Street.
I had the En Pappillotte Rocky Mountain Trout, delicately cooked in parchment paper, while Doug and his wife each enjoyed a Rocky Mountain Prime Burger, with arugula, Gruyere and a spicy pickle sauce. My reward for a hard day on the slopes was Triple Chocolate dessert, topped with nibs of cacao.
I headed back to the airport, on the Summit Express shuttle – a great deal at $135 for the roundtrip. Staying at Four O’Clock road meant you had no need to spend $400 to rent an SUV with good snow tires to feel safe driving in the snow.
I wished the driver well at Denver International and wondered if she’d be our driver three weeks later on our return to the condo we’d rented from Bighorn Rentals in downtown Frisco at the height of Colorado’s spring season.
But a week later, a lawyer in Westchester County, New York, contracted the virus, and it quickly spread in the county where I work. Concerns grew when the governor ordered a one-mile containment zone. But still no cases in Colorado. Our trip was still on by Friday, March 13.
By then cases emerged in Colorado resorts and in almost every state. Schools were closing down. The next day Vail Resorts announced they were still open, but you could only ride up on a lift with someone in your ski party. Then the Colorado governor announced the closure of all ski resorts.
My ski season was finished.
Southwest credited me for the plane flights. Summit Express refunded the shuttle rides, and Bolt Parking at LaGuardia made me whole for my parking reservation.
Lodging, however, was a different story. My contract allowed refunds only if you canceled more than 30 days ahead. I canceled just a week before arrival.
I hadn’t gambled $80 on travel insurance. It’s uncertain if I could have made a claim for a “medical emergency” when I wasn’t sick.
Bighorn Rentals stepped up to split the difference, refunding half my bill of $1,150.
Now all I can do is dream about my return in December.
I still want to ride the Three Bears up to the Tucker Mountain’s summit.
David McKay Wilson, a veteran journalist who lives in New York’s Hudson Valley, is an avid cyclist, skier and swing dancer. His travel writing has taken him around the world, with his work appearing in the Boston Globe, Philadelphia Inquirer, Hartford Courant, and several Gannett daily newspapers.