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Boys Gone Wild

Breckenridge has a bad-boy image, but is there truth in advertising?

Whether Vail Resorts' ad campaign was an attempt to market what's already in town or an attempt to revive a market, it caused tension between Breckenridge the town and Breckenridge the resort. "It wasn't who those ads were appealing to that we took issue with," says Breckenridge mayor Sam Mamula. "It simply had to do with the fact that they used terms that were offensive to our population."

But not to the Denver Advertising Federation. The campaign, designed by McClain Finlon Advertising, won Best of Show at the group's annual Addy Awards last month. Still, Vail Resorts has no plans for future ads targeting teens and twenty-somethings.

With or without the help of advertising, the image of Breck as a party destination is firmly rooted in some visitors' minds. Rakesh Shah and ten to fifteen of his male cousins from all over the country first started coming to Breckenridge -- sans girlfriends or wives -- seven years ago. The nightlife was as much a reason for choosing Breck as the skiing, says Shah, a thirty-year-old MBA student.

He hasn't made it out for two years because of his schedule, but his cousins still come to the Rockies every spring - only they don't go to Breckenridge anymore. "They decided to start going to Vail because the crowd at Breckenridge is getting too young. A lot of the boarders, the younger kids, were taking away from the fun. They wanted to go to where there was a more mature crowd," Shah says of his cousins, who range in age from 28 to 35. Now that most of them are older and married, the last two trips have included their wives. "They liked it when they were younger, but now Vail is better suited for them."

Stephen Barnette, a 25-year-old resident of Jackson, Mississippi, has also been coming to Breckenridge with anywhere from fifteen to fifty friends every season for the past six years. He says there are bar fights and bad-boy behavior every year. But in 2001, it got particularly crazy -- and eerily similar to the fight that left Wieland dead. One night during that season, a friend was out walking alone and noticed "some dumbass saying something to people on the street," Barnette says. "My friend was a hothead and yelled something back."

Three guys started to jump his friend just as a van carrying about twenty people from Barnette's group turned the corner. Everyone piled out for some ass-kicking. The girls in the group dispersed the crowd before the cops got there, but it lasted long enough to leave several people bruised and bloodied. "Everyone had been consumed by alcohol, and tempers flared for no reason at all," recalls Barnette, a 2000 graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi whose annual Christmas break ski trip was started by members of his fraternity.

The influx of college students during winter and spring break makes policing in the otherwise tiny community a challenge -- even with 23 officers. "During peak season, you cram 30,000-plus people into a small town, and it becomes like a suburban area of a city," says Holman, who became chief of police in January 2001. "I don't think there's a bigger problem in Breckenridge than anywhere else. But anytime you have young people and alcohol, you have some disturbances."

In fact, the crime rate has been fairly constant over the years, and in some crime categories, arrests in Breck have decreased. In 1999, police arrested 47 people for disorderly conduct, the category under which bar fights fall; last year there were only 23 disorderly-conduct arrests. Also in 1999, there were 166 DUI arrests, a number that dropped over the next two years and then jumped back up to 165 in 2002. Three people were arrested for driving under the influence of drugs in 1999, compared with seven last year. And 35 people received citations in 1999 for possession of marijuana, while 32 were busted on that same charge in 2002.

Violent crime, however, is a rarity in Breckenridge. The Cody Wieland murder was the first homicide handled by Breckenridge police in thirty years. And that last murder wasn't even in the city limits; Breckenridge police responded only because no one was sure whose jurisdiction it was. In the 1970s, a man picked up a female hitchhiker, strangled her and then dumped her body on top of Hoosier Pass, the dividing line between Summit and Park counties.

"The Cody Wieland thing was a sad aberration," says Mamula, an eighteen-year Breckenridge resident who's in his fourth year as mayor and twelfth on the town council. "The amount of crime that takes place here is really pretty boring. And the continuing reaction to that case shows how out of character it is for Breckenridge. People to this day can't believe it happened. It's still a topic of discussion."

For the most part, Mamula says, people know their limits and get along just fine. But even after almost two decades here, he still can't quite put his finger on what Breckenridge, with its mix of rowdy youngsters, '80s-era ski bums, day trippers, families from Texas and resort workers in their late twenties and thirties, is all about. "We're a tough town to define. It depends on what day it is and who you talk to," he says. "I don't know who we are. But we're not the three guys who committed that gruesome murder, I can tell you that."

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