Thursday, February 23, 2017

Breck Trek

Breck Bowl Skiing - Photo courtesy of Vail Resorts/Breckenridge
Going back to school is good for everyone, especially in terms of snowsports where bad habits can sometimes overtake technical prowess. A ski lesson can either help supe your skiing up a notch or, as in our case, provide more tips for skiing longevity. Yes, technique tactics can give you a few more seasons on skis!

Dr Simon Hudson and Louise Hudson at Breckenridge - Photo taken by Mikey
Dr Simon Hudson – ski tourism expert and author of Winter Sport Tourism – and I were in Breckenridge, stage two of our Colorado ski safari, when we met Mikey Bobby – aka Michael Roberts. The consummate instructor – with level 3 in skiing, snowboarding, and soon-to-be in telemark – took us under his watchful wing for a demanding detail-oriented day, touring around Breck’s five peaks while schooling us in the latest technical tactics.

Having both learnt to ski on very long, thin skis back in the 70s, we were not using the latest ski technology to its fullest effect and, in fact, wasting strength and energy to turn and stop. After a whole host of dedicated drills on the groomers – and the reality-check of a videoed run - we ended the day facing both shoulders downhill more, with a wider leg stance, a new comprehension of early turn initiation using the uphill edge, A-frame eradicated, and new muscles aching.

Breck's newest onhill eatery

Chatting over lamb pie and Mediterranean gyros at lunch in the brand new Pioneer Crossing high-mountain restaurant, we found out a bit more about our instructor. “I knew from a very young age that I wanted to teach,” said Mikey who is Breck born and bred. “I started skiing at two and as I grew up we had a day a week off school to go skiing.” After an IT degree and a few years in the tech industry, sure enough Mikey came back to Breck to pursue his passion and has been working at the Ski & Snowboard School ever since. 

Imperial Chair - Photo courtesy of Vail Resorts/Breckenridge

Having grown out of a youthful penchant for big air and radical ramps and rails, his fave runs these days are off the Imperial Express SuperChair (North America’s highest chairlift at 12,840 feet) and the T-Bar where he is an expert in finding stashes of windblown snow - what he calls “chalk-and-cream” - in the various gullies: a bonus bonanza when the powder is past its prime.

Terrain Park at Peak 8, just above One Ski Hill Place - Photo courtesy of Vail Resorts/Breckenridge

Back at One Ski Hill Place right at Peak 8 base, we jotted down all our notes from the day at The Living Room bar. Here, half-price Happy Hour drinks and appetizers lure locals as well as hotel guests from 2-6pm and then again 8-10pm every night (the area is linked to the other areas of Breck by regular buses and on-call shuttles).  With a great garrulous vibe, this is possibly the best value après ski in town.

You also can’t beat the cushiness of staying at this ski in/out hotel. The hearty breakfast - with free Starbucks - is served overlooking the Peak 8 base and slopes. Go to breakfast dressed to ski as, through just one door, you are at the ski valet with the lift system right in front of you.

At day’s end, you slide into your plush hotel robe for a visit to the luxurious indoor pool area with steam rooms, thick-padded loungers, hot pools and fountains. To watch the scurry of the ski scene morphing into the magic of a starlit mountain night, there’s an al fresco hot tub where you can review the downhill day with a bevvy in hand. 

Breckenridge Distillery's new restaurant
Talking of bevvies – the Breckenridge Distillery is the latest in-place to drink - and eat. The world’s highest distillery (at 9600 ft) now has a trendy restaurant serving sharing dishes to go with creative concoctions made from house vodka, whisky, gin, brandy and rum. The secret ingredient for the beverages, according to founder and CEO Bryan Nolt, is Breck’s pure mineral water, coupled with flavourings made during the summer from fresh Colorado Western-Slope fruits. And the secret to the food is Chef Daniel O’Brien - newly arrived from Washington DC’s Seasonal Pantry and a charismatic contestant in the 10th season of Bravo TV’s Top Chef - who works to harmonize the cocktails with shareable delicacies made from local ingredients, using whole animals. Dishes include, for example, slow-cooked pork belly seasoned with sage, rosemary and garlic served with Bourbon plum jam. I particularly loved his paté. When asked by the waitress how it was tasting, I said “It tastes like France!” – the highest accolade.

Breckenridge Distillery Shop in downtown Breck
 There are regular tours, tastings and events at the Distillery, and the adjoining shop – or its counterpart downtown – is perfect for picking up Breck souvenirs to take home. Tip: if travelling with glass bottles, swaddle carefully in tissue and plastic and wedge inside a ski boot to avoid breakages in your luggage. Ranked among the Top 10 Fastest Growing Craft Distilleries, Breckenridge Distillery is constantly expanding, with plans this year for a small brewery, utilizing home-grown hops, and a winery featuring varietals from local grapes. You can get to the Distillery from central Breck via the free Yellow bus service but I would advise Uber for the way home – just $12 and no icy roads or snow banks to negotiate (tipsy) to get to the bus stop. 

Having learnt the linked-up lay of the land with Mikey on Day One, next day we took to the slopes solo to practice our new ski skills and see if we, too, could find all the best windblown snow. Luckily it was pretty much in the same places as the day before and we made sure we timed it like Mikey to get optimum texture on the steep inclines. Our take on Breck’s skiing: extensive, relatively simple to orientate once you figure out the numbered peaks (ie you don’t have to get the piste map out of your pocket too often plus most of the lifts have the map on the pull-down bar), lots of great groomers with rollicking rollers, burly blacks off the T Bar and Imperial in wide, open bowl format above the trees and then challenging, forest-lined bumps terrain lower down - particularly enjoyed Spitfire off the Falcon Chair for an interesting black and Claimjumper, a long and leisurely blue. Fun areas for kids include the track winding through the woods to CJ’s Cabin which used to be a weed retreat but now is a designated ski school area. And, of course, the award-winning terrain parks and 22ft superpipe which are right near One Ski Hill Place at Peak 8. Needless to say, Simon and I don’t indulge in those at our stage of knee surgery but we could see why these are among the best and most expansive in the world.
Breck SuperPipe
Bowling Lanes at One Ski Hill Place
That night, after competitive camaraderie at the bowling alley at One Ski Hill Place, we used the on-call shuttle to take us to Relish in the heart of downtown Breck. Sister restaurant to Twist, Relish is all about intimate fine dining, spot-on service, and reasonable prices. Think $29 for Angus sirloin entree and $7 for a glass of house wine or Prosecco. Overlooking the twinkling lights of a pretty, tree-lined square, Relish is owned by long-term locals Matthew and Lisa Fackler, whose lifetime of culinary experience has been reinforced by Chef Clint Ketchum since 2006. Food philosophy at the 60-seat eatery: local, fresh, seasonal and artistically arranged. "I've been cooking on a Himalayan sea salt block at the moment," Clint explains. "It's really cool, it works like a cast iron pan. You can do many things with it, for example sear fish like salmon." He is always on the look out for special ingredients, wherever possible from local environmentally-friendly farms. "We try to pair things from certain regions of the world, for example Mediterranean pairings or Asian themes or Spanish. I believe fusion food becomes confusion food," says Clint. Another important aspect at Relish is artful arrangements: "We try to arrange things in a meticulous manner, you definitely eat with your eyes first!"

Relish Restaurant Breckenridge
Relish Restaurant Breckenridge
For more about Breckenridge, do read Simon's latest tourism industry article at

And make sure to check out my latest article for The Wayward Post at:

If you're thinking of skiing Breck this season, here's the Spring Fever lineup:

Spring Fever March 18 through April 23, 2017
The conditions are great, the sun feels stronger and the competition heats up. The mountain is full of contests from parks to peaks during Spring Fever and the festivities are on with après parties and celebrations.

Spring Fever Lodging Savings Up to 40 Percent Off
The Spring Fever lodging deal saves guests up to 40 percent off lodging. Guests can book by March 31 for stays between March 3 and April 13 to save big on a spring getaway. Lodging deals are subject to availability and may have blackout dates and minimum lengths of stay. Book at or call the experts at (866) 438-5702 

GoPro IFSA Big Mountain Challenge, March 18-19, 2017
In this spectator-friendly event, watch as some of the best big-mountain athletes take on Breck’s newest terrain, The Six Senses. Athletes will draw steep lines through tight chutes and big cliff drops as they compete for points in the IFSA Series.

Breck Pride, March 22-26, 2017
For all who support Breck, Breck supports you. A week of music, après, comedy, connection and the most colorful run you’ll ever take.  Breck Pride is for everyone – LGBT, straight, skiers, snowboarders, beginners, experts, supporters – come one, come all. Come as you are. #BreckPride

Mtn Dew Spring Open, April 1, 2017
The second annual Mtn Dew Spring Open returns to Breck this April featuring a slopestyle competition for both pros and amateurs. Athletes will try to impress the judges for cash prizes on Park Lane’s Triple Jump Line. TBar restaurant hosts the after-party at the base of Peak 8 and the competition is sponsored by Mtn Dew. 

Breck Chili Cook-off, April 2, 2017
The top chefs from Breckenridge Ski Resort and Breck Hospitality face off against each other to see who has the best chili in Breck and guests get to enjoy and taste all of it! The competition is judged on two categories: guest and judge’s favorite. Event starts at 12 p.m. at the base of Peak 7, accessed by the free BreckConnect Gondola from town and Peak 8.

Spring Fever Park Jams, April 7, 14 and 21, 2017
Friday afternoons from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. mean prizes, free food and music in the day’s selected Terrain Park at Breck.  Jam-style contests will be judged by the special guest judges and prizes will be awarded.

Spring Fever Park Jam - courtesy of Breckenridge Ski Resort
Breckenridge Town Spring Fever Beer Festival, April 8, 2017The 11th Annual Breckenridge Spring Beer Festival takes place Saturday, April 8 on Ridge Street in Breckenridge with more than 35 breweries featured and live music. Enjoy a weekend of skiing and a Saturday afternoon of beer tasting. Purchase tickets ahead of time at  

Easter Egg Hunt, April 16, 2017
Join the Easter fun with the kids’ Easter Egg Hunt on Peaks 9 and 8 SundayApril 16 morning. An early sunrise on-mountain service will also be held starting at 6:30 a.m. No lift ticket required and foot passengers allowed on the chairlift only (no ski or snowboard equipment.) More details on to come.

Imperial Challenge - courtesy of
Breckenridge Ski Resort

Imperial Challenge, April 22, 2017
The 2017 Imperial Challenge enters its 26th year. Participants ride their bike six miles from Breckenridge Recreation Center to the base of Peak 8 (or run); ascend on skis, split-board, Telemark gear or snowshoes to the top of T-bar lift or Imperial Express SuperChair and then ski or snowboard down. More information is located on

Closing Day, April 23, 2017
Celebrate the end to an amazing 2016-2017 ski and snowboard season. Join the fun at the base of Peak 8 with music, food, drinks and great people!


Spring Fever Concert at Breck - courtesy of Breckenridge Ski Resort

Thursday, February 16, 2017

While the Kat’s away

KAT terrain by  (Courtesy of Vail Resorts/Keystone)
You know the phrase “While the cat’s away, the mice will play”? Well, at Keystone it is “While the families flock, the experts rock" - meaning the families monopolize the fun zones, leaving the blacks and bowls to the more advanced skiers! 

When the snow falls and the ski snobs are fighting for a few frantic feet at the manly mainstream mountains nearby, this under-the-radical-radar resort is perfect for bumps bunnies and powder pigs who don’t like sharing.

We’ve all heard about Keystone’s Kidtopia focus with free skiing for the under-13s, the massive snow fort, the panoramic mid-mountain learning area and tubing park, Riperoo’s rollercoaster glades, and all the après ski family programs, adventures, parties and fireworks. Yes, they really do have the Keystone Kid-angle completely covered! 

But who talks about Keystone’s more advanced terrain? Within the 3000 skiable acres, straddling three imposing peaks, there is a plethora of pristine black, double black, cat and hike-in terrain. And it’s not a cookie-cutter layout – the Dercum, North and Outback Mountains, all juxtaposed to each other, give an undulating, front-to-back progressive playground, with unexpected turns and corners, complete with glades, bumps and bowls interspersing the more-renowned gentle groomers and carefree cruisers.

Keystone glades by Liam Doran (Courtesy of Vail Resorts/Keystone)
Accompanying me on this trip was my husband, Dr Simon Hudson, who wrote the book ‘Snow Business’ many years ago while living in Europe. He is an expert in the ski industry (and a sublime powder skier) and we also wrote Winter Sport Tourism together last year. In all our years in the Alps, we learnt to look for unheralded, secret ski spots among the ritzy resorts, which attract deluges of destination skiers from all over the globe as well as legions of locals driving up for weekends and holidays. Like lemmings they all flock to the same renowned radical runs on powder days, scoffing at the less steep slopes. In Verbier, Switzerland I called this ski snobbery the “Savoleyres Syndrome” after the humblest hill there, which was routinely ignored by the steep and deep brigade and the jetsetters and was, therefore, an relatively untrammeled treasure trove of fresh snow during powder panic peak periods. Guess where Simon and I skied on busy weekends?

Fireworks at River Run Village (where I stayed) - by Richard Spitzer (Courtesy of Vail Resorts/Keystone)
I had already sensed that Keystone might offer the same rat race-respite from a previous catskiing visit six years ago, so I made sure to include it on my Colorado ski spree this season. And, unlike many expert skiers who day-visit from nearby resorts just for the catskiing, I was lucky enough to spend three days and nights there.

KAT territory - by Jack Affleck (Courtesy of Vail Resorts/Keystone)
If you compare the regular resort rack rate ($136 per day ticket), Keystone Adventure Tours (KAT) catskiing is a no-brainer. For $285 you get high performance fat skis, expert guiding, transceivers, cushy heated transportation, Starbucks coffee in the morning, three-course gourmet lunch in the cutest yurt, aluminum water bottles to keep, a champagne salute at the end of the decadent day and a lift ticket to get up to the cat (which you could use at 3pm to ski a bit more of the resort if your legs can take more pounding and you want to forego the champagne). You hardly see another soul in the serene sidecountry setting of the Independence, Bergman and Erickson Bowls, just the odd hardy hiker who has to work so hard to get above the treeline for his powder patch. Snow quality and exclusivity are ‘Key’ elements of KATskiing here, with 800 acres to lap at leisure. The Indy Yurt, recently renovated to a high standard of comfort and cuteness, is also exclusive to KAT, which provides a substantial three-course spread including soup, chili, cold meats, cheeses, salads and desserts.
Keystone Katskiing Yurt - by Sean Boggs (Courtesy of Vail Resorts/Keystone
Me setting off - photo by JJ
One of my fellow KATskiers that day was JJ – aka Jonathan Keane, a prolific Colorado snowboarder who buys the EpicPass to ski the Vail Resorts all season and is also going on a sidetrip to Fernie and Whitefish later this year. “I've been to Keystone a few times, but this was my first guided cat ski,” JJ told me. “I booked it because I wanted to try cat skiing and it was close to where I live. It was also a great price.” His ‘bucket list’ experience was excellent value, he said, and he plans to do it again in the future. “Snow and lines were fantastic, staff was great,” he enthused. “I didn't like having to always go one at a time to ride, but that was a minor thing.” Skiers and riders descend individually, creating parallel tracks, for two reasons – firstly for safety as a whole bunch of boarders and skiers together could cause an avalanche, and secondly in order to regulate how much fresh snow is tracked out so that there is more for later on or for other groups on ensuing days (at least until the next snowfall when the slate is wiped clean!) JJ was already into hiking and sidecountry excursions. “This gave me some more valuable experience and confidence in the Rockies, which I plan on applying to more backcountry adventure,” he said. “I did view this as a stepping stone intro to heli-skiing, too. I do hope to do that - if I can afford it!” 

The Keystone Adventure Tours view - photo by JJ
The serenity of skiing almost alone extends to the black and double diamond resort runs which were nicely mogulled when I was there next day: a late January Sunday. In many resorts a multitude of aggressive – but not necessarily technique-oriented - skiers and boarders massacre the moguls with their inexpert tracks, making inconsistent bumps and whale-backs which throw even advanced skiers off their line. Not to mention their side-scraping which causes icy bases around each mound. But, not at Keystone that day, where it was obvious during my visit that the family focus means that far fewer people venture into the black areas so they remain pristine and perfectly paced. That sunny Sunday, Simon and I skied the blacks all day and didn’t see anyone else on our runs! Now that’s luxury! Best runs were Catdancer, Timberwolf and Bighorn all recommended by a former ski patroller in the hot tub the night before. 

North Peak advanced runs by Leisa Gibson (Courtesy of Vail Resorts/Keystone
Alpenglow Stube (Courtesy of Vail Resorts/Keystone)
I’m going to write about the Keystone après ski, the accommodation and the village amenities in other articles but I just want to give you an inkling – you could be surprised at the level of sophistication! After all, it is big sisters Vail, Breck and Beaver Creek who usually get the glitzy gourmet press coverage. I was expecting a small purpose-built utility-style village but Keystone spreads out across three base areas with amazing eateries everywhere, all linked by regular buses and on-demand shuttles. 

Ski Tip Lodge (Courtesy of Vail Resorts/Keystone)
Ski Tip Lodge, housed in an 1800s stagecoach stop (which used to be home to Keystone’s original owners and is now a boutique B & B), is unbeatable in terms of authentic architecture, heritage and history, topnotch service, elaborate menu and highbrow wine pairings. We sat next to a group who had come to Keystone not to ski at all but entirely for Ski Tip Lodge – after all, it is #6 on OpenTable’s Top 100 list. The Alpenglow Stube (the highest AAA Four-Diamond™ dining in North America) and Der Fondue Chessel are both gondola-accessed high-altitude gastronomic experiences. And even the more affordable fare at the Bighorn Bistro and Bar (which has a 3-6pm happy hour) is locally sourced and made from scratch – amazing charcuterie/cheese platters and steaks! (Yes, after three weeks giving up beef to honour Before the Flood, I finally caved on the first night of my Colorado trip). And don’t miss Zuma’s for happy appies 3-6pm and after 9pm!

Lakeside Village Ice Rink - by Jack Affleck (Courtesy of Vail Resorts/Keystone)
Saving the best news for last: Keystone is notching up record snowfalls, making it their snowiest winter for a decade, and it has already extended the season by one week to stay open until Easter Sunday (Apr 16) – so you still have time to book a visit!

Dr Simon Hudson and Louise Hudson after lunch at the Indy Yurt, Keystone

For an audio version of my experiences in Colorado, tune in to - a radio interview with Dan Shube for the Golf and Travel Show. Watch out for the error right at the beginning, though, where 'stage-fright' made me say Silver Tip Lodge instead of Ski Tip Lodge! Sorry about that!