By Joel Warner
By Michael Roberts
By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
Breckenridge, Colorado. Population: 2,408. Percentage of population that is male: 62. Average age of residents: 29. Number of liquor licenses: 79. Number of churches: 5.
In the Julius Caesar Lounge, a small, smoky bar tucked in back of a restaurant on Main Street, Maggee Mae sits on a bar stool like she owns the place. She's popular with the mostly male, mostly local clientele. Young guys waiting for their beers pat her on the head and tell her how adorable she is. And the owner of the four-year-old pug ain't bad, either.
Tracy -- most people go by first names here -- is an attractive blonde who looks much younger than her forty years. She's a regular at the Julius Caesar because she knows the bartenders and because it's the only bar in town that allows dogs. Mambo's, a New Orleans-style bar and after-hours pizza joint, used to welcome Maggee Mae, but it was closed a few weeks ago for failure to pay rent.
So now Tracy comes here, where her easy smile and Texas charm are as much a draw as Maggee Mae. A boyfriend first introduced her to the resort's wide-open slopes in 1999, and she moved to Breckenridge two years ago. But she has since broken up with him, and the Austin girl is learning that being single and forty in this town sucks. She constantly has to fend off guys half her age, and the older ones are usually single for a reason.
Even though there's an abundance of men, the women of Breckenridge know that quantity isn't a substitute for quality. They have sayings that sum up the situation pretty well: "The odds are good, but the goods are odd." And "Don't say anything bad about your boyfriend, because he might be mine next week."
Young men are attracted to this town with a stunning mountain backdrop and bustling Main Street for many reasons, least of all its Victorian architecture. It was the first Colorado ski resort to allow snowboarders, and the mountain is home to a kick-ass terrain park with a superpipe that's been voted one of the best in North America by Snowboarder Magazine. Breck hosts a series of extreme sports competitions year-round -- from the Professional Slalom Skateboarding event in June to the Vans Triple Crown of Snowboarding in December -- to draw the young and adventurous in this still-male-dominated sport. The proximity to Denver and Boulder and the relative affordability of housing in Breck make it easy for young skiers and boarders to visit or live here. And with 82 bars and restaurants in town, there are plenty of après-ski options.
Vail Resorts, which bought Breckenridge from Ralcorp Holdings in 1997, capitalizes on this, reaching out to twenty-somethings who might otherwise hit Loveland or Copper Mountain. The resort hypes the town and a bad-boy image on its Web site, www.breckenridge.snow.com: "Long known for its outstanding nightlife, the club scene in Breckenridge has reached epic proportions in the last few years. If you like, party like a rock star -- or, perhaps, party like an aging rock star with kids and a mortgage. Don't forget that the bars close at 2 a.m.; save something for the hill. Unlike many ski resorts that get quiet at night, Breckenridge lights up when the sun sets."
In addition, a now-infamous ad campaign last fall sported slogans such as "The hill may dominate you, but the town will still be your bitch." The ads ran in ski and snowboard magazines as Vail went balls out to attract a coveted yet elusive demographic.
Residents bombarded the local paper with angry letters to the editor and complained to their town council members about how offensive the catchy copy was, so Vail Resorts pulled the ads to protect its own image. It is, after all, a publicly traded company that also owns family-oriented Keystone, upscale Vail and chi-chi Beaver Creek. But it didn't back down on its Web site, where, a month later, locals found double-entendre references to powder: "At Breck, everyone has a stash. And if you're lucky, you might just get someone to reveal their favorite line to you."
Like the campaign or not, it raised an interesting question: Does advertising imitate life in Breckenridge, or the other way around? The answer may lie in this universal truth: Anytime there's a profusion of men and liquor in one place, there's trouble.
"I don't think you can get through a weekend without some sort of altercation," says Dave Rossi, a 36-year-old design-firm owner who lived the ski-bum life in Breck for a decade before moving to California for a while and then returning two years ago to reside here full-time. "There's always someone who drinks too much and throws a punch."
But some bar fights are more serious than others.
Last Halloween, 36-year-old Cody Wieland sat drinking at Mambo's as costumed revelers spun through the hot spot. Among the crowd were three local guys in their early twenties. One of them called Wieland a faggot; he answered with his fist.
They took it outside, where Mambo's bartender Matt Hayden tried to break it up. Wieland eventually walked away, but the other guys weren't letting it go. Wieland heard approaching footsteps and turned around just in time to throw a punch. The brawl was on. Struggling, Wieland fell against a wrought-iron fence separating the sidewalk from an art gallery, and the younger man grabbed him by the jacket and slammed him into the concrete.