Sky’s the limit at Breck­en­ridge ski re­sort

All is white with the world at Colorado’s Breck­en­ridge ski re­sort

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Front Page - CATHER­INE MAR­SHALL Cather­ine Mar­shall was a guest of Vail Re­sorts. • • breck­en­ • epic­

LEE Sky’s des­tiny was writ­ten all over the moun­tains. Driv­ing from Cal­i­for­nia to Colorado along the In­ter­state 70 two decades ago, he looked up to see avalanche chutes carved into the moun­tain­side that stood be­tween him and the one-time gold min­ing town of Breck­en­ridge. Tak­ing the path of least re­sis­tance, eons’ worth of snow had gouged out trees and loose rocks, cre­at­ing three val­leys that roughly spelled out this Aus­tralian’s name: S-K-Y.

“If that’s not a sign I don’t know what is,” he says. “I came into Breck­en­ridge and thought, ‘this is a nice town, I think des­tiny’s call­ing’. And I have never left.” Now Sky stands astride this moun­tain, sur­vey­ing the val­leys be­low that have been cut right off from the rest of the world. It’s deep win­ter in Colorado, and storms have pounded the Front Range overnight. Just over 40cm of snow has fallen at Breck­en­ridge; the pow­dery del­uge has closed the In­ter­state, whited out the ter­rain above the tree line and spilled off the moun­tain­sides and into the val­leys.

Sky eyes me point­edly, ready­ing him­self for take-off. “You can con­sider your­self among the cho­sen few,” he says, “be­cause this is epic.” And then he is gone, shot like some hu­man bul­let onto the ski run that fans out be­low us. Its breadth has been re­duced to almost noth­ing by a blur of danc­ing snowflakes and the bound­aries that de- mar­cate the neigh­bour­ing Aspen groves have been smudged by mam­moth snow drifts.

Sky aims straight to­wards the bot­tom of the run, gain­ing pre­cious mo­men­tum that will pro­pel him through this trea­cle-like snow­fall. I follow, mak­ing slower progress. I’m an in­ex­pe­ri­enced skier, im­peded by this cas­cade of snow, for my body doesn’t yet trust it to reg­u­late my speed as I progress down the moun­tain­side. Sky is wait­ing pa­tiently for me at the bot­tom of Peak 8.

“We might have to do black runs just to get mo­men­tum,” he says. “Oth­er­wise I’ll need to push you.” I turn to face the moun­tain. The snow­storm has doused the land­scape so thor­oughly our world is now noth­ing but a tiny, crys­talline snow globe. Beyond the whi­te­out, five dis­tinct peaks stand tall and proud, en­cir­cling th­ese val­leys and cup­ping within them in­nu­mer­able ski runs.

Th­ese are the icy fil­a­ments that thread their way up and down and back and forth and across the moun­tain­sides, bur­row­ing into ever fur­ther reaches, urg­ing skiers up­wards and on­wards. In the early morn­ings I’ve heard the dis­tant boom, boom of avalanche preven­tion bombs re­leased in un­sta­ble snow-pack by the Breck­en­ridge Ski Pa­trol. It’s to­wards th­ese dis­tant ranges – the ex­treme ter­rain of Peak 8’s sum­mit, which stands at almost 4000m – that we’re now headed.

The snow is still fall­ing as we roll off 6-Chair lift. The lift ex­pels us at the head of a lat­tice­work of black runs that sit at the base of the in­nocu­ously-named Snow White cliff face. Sky – did his name fore­tell a love of lofty, ex­pan­sive places? – is in his el­e­ment. “It’s go­ing to be treach­er­ous, chal­leng­ing – and awe­some!”

But de­spite this ap­par­ent bravado, I’m in per­fectly safe hands. Sky has been teach­ing skiers for the past 20 years, and th­ese days he’s re­spon­si­ble for train­ing Breck­en­ridge’s ski in­struc­tors. He’s also part of the Breck Guide pro­gram, which takes small groups to re­mote parts of the moun­tain where they’re in­tro­duced to avalanche aware­ness, snow sci­ence, slope iden­ti­fi­ca­tion and the joys of high alpine ski­ing.

But I’m one of Sky’s tamer cus­tomers; just get­ting me onto a black run has been a chal­lenge. He must sense my fear for he es­chews a run known as Psy­chopath in favour of the slightly less por­ten­tously named Adios. The run is almost empty, one of the ben­e­fits, Sky tells me, of un­nav­i­ga­ble roads. In the days that follow, Den­verites will flock to Breck­en­ridge, pass­ing along the In­ter­state, with snow­caked buf­falo and deer and the faces of stunned prairie dogs emerg­ing from the whi­te­out, to par­take of the skiers’ manna that has fallen so lib­er­ally from heaven.

But for now we prac­ti­cally have the moun­tain to our­selves; even those skiers who’ve man­aged to make it up this far are but ghostly fig­ures dis­solv­ing into the squall. As we set off along this black run I re­call the words of the waiter down in Breck­en­ridge last night as I scanned the menu in its en­tirety be­fore or­der­ing my first course. “There’s a proverb in life,” he said, in­tu­it­ing my de­sire for sweet­ness. “Eat dessert first, for the fu­ture’s un­cer­tain.” The fu­ture had felt un­cer­tain as the lift car­ried me up to­wards the sum­mit of Peak 8, cloaked as it was in boil­ing grey skies.

As I gather mo­men­tum along Adios it seems all too clear: ahead of me are great big waves of foamy snow, crest­ing and break­ing all along the slope. I’m buried up to my waist in pow­der, and it co­coons me as I sail earth­wards at a speed too tem­per­ate for this moun­tain’s steep in­cline. Sky was right: the pow­der has slowed me down enough so that I can see cham­pagne flakes twirling be­fore my eyes and sense the ridge of the moun­tain guid­ing me home. Tonight I’ll stroll through ici­cle-en­crusted Breck­en­ridge, past the ab­sinthe bar and the oxy­gen lounge and the lit­tle dogs swad­dled in woollen coats and booties, feel­ing almost cer­tain I’ve touched the sky.

Snow-cov­ered houses at Breck­en­ridge, top left; down­town, top right; a ski­ier gets air, above right; and the thrilling way down

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