By William Breathes
By Patricia Calhoun
By Michael Roberts
By Patricia Calhoun
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Melanie Asmar
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.
Within seconds, the other two men caught up. One sat on Wieland, pinning him down while the first guy kicked him and the third, who was dressed as a soldier for Halloween, beat Wieland in the head with his metal Army helmet again and again. People yelled at the men to stop, screaming, "You're killing him!"
The whole fight lasted no more than a couple of minutes, and afterward, the three took off as Wieland lay on the sidewalk.
Loren Mendenhall witnessed the beating and knelt down to help Wieland. He was "incoherent and unresponsive," Mendenhall said during a March 14 preliminary hearing for Brian Stockdale, Brandon Robbins and Michael Scott Dietert, the three men later implicated in the fight. As Wieland struggled to move, Mendenhall noticed a laceration on the back of the man's head. There was "lots of blood on the concrete," he recalled. "His scalp was mangled." Mendenhall, who has some medical training, also noticed that Wieland's eyes were small at first and then became dilated. "He was conscious but not alert. He couldn't answer any questions."
Breckenridge police responded quickly to the scene, and Wieland was taken to the Summit Medical Center, then airlifted to St. Anthony Central Hospital in Denver because his injuries were so severe. He died eight days later. The pathologist who performed the autopsy determined that Wieland died of head injuries.
Mendenhall, a 25-year-old Kentucky native who has lived in Summit County for five years, had ended up at Mambo's that night to grab some pizza with friends after last call. When they'd arrived a little after 2 a.m., about thirty people were in the basement-level restaurant on Main Street. A young guy wearing a soldier costume -- complete with flak jacket, camouflage and helmet -- walked in with a red husky puppy about fifteen minutes later. Mendenhall didn't think much of it until he left the bar later that morning. Outside, he saw the man again, arguing with Wieland and two others, one of whom was spitting blood and shouting at Wieland, "Look at what you did!"
Mendenhall watched as Wieland walked away, then stood paralyzed as the man was bludgeoned. He remembers hearing two distinct sounds: a scraping noise as the helmet missed Wieland, hitting the pavement, and the muffled thump of it banging against the man's head. When Mendenhall described these blows at the hearing, Wieland's mother, Jocelan Martell, closed her eyes, tilted her head back and grimaced.
The man in camouflage who beat Wieland with his helmet was later identified as the 21-year-old Robbins; the man who chased Wieland after he walked away, knocking him to the ground and kicking him, was Stockdale, 20. And Dietert, 21, was the one Wieland had punched after being called a faggot and who later held Wieland down while the other two beat him.
After the fight, Dietert turned himself in and led authorities to the other two men. Breckenridge police sergeant Susan Quesada, the only other witness to testify during the preliminary hearing, said a search of Robbins's home turned up camouflage clothing and a red husky puppy. (The helmet has yet to be found.)
Despite such evidence, however, defense attorneys took issue with Mendenhall's recollections, since the witness had been unable to recognize Robbins and Stockdale in a photo lineup or sitting before him at the hearing. For instance, although he remembered the camo-clad man as having blond hair, Robbins's hair is dark brown. And Mendenhall had described the man who kicked Wieland as having a pointy nose and long, dark hair, yet Stockdale has medium-length brown hair.
All three men are currently out on bond. Robbins and Stockdale are scheduled for arraignment on June 2, but Dietert has entered a plea bargain with Summit County District Attorney Mark Hurlbert. In exchange for testifying in his friends' trial, Dietert will accept a manslaughter charge and receive probation. Robbins and Stockdale, however, face charges of second-degree murder, which can bring 16 to 48 years in prison, and first-degree assault, a Class 3 felony that carries a prison term of 8 to 24 years.
Because the case is ongoing, much of the court file is closed to the public, including the search and arrest warrants, which have been sealed. For that reason, many questions about the night, such as what led up to the deadly encounter, remain unanswered.
Breckenridge police chief Rick Holman believes the fight stemmed from an altercation that had occurred a week or two earlier. While out celebrating a birthday, one of the suspects ran into Wieland on the street, and "some words were exchanged," says Holman, who isn't sure whether the incident entailed anything physical. "Then they recognized him a week later, and there was a comment that sparked it off." (The only suspect whose birthday was around that time is Robbins, who turned 21 on October 11.)
Sergeant Quesada testified that Dietert had gone alone to Mambo's, where he ran into Stockdale and Robbins. The other two, she said, pointed Wieland out to Dietert. A recent article in the Summit Daily News, citing previous court appearances in the matter, states that Robbins and Stockdale were already arguing with Wieland when Dietert arrived. Dietert's attorney, Daniel Recht, says his client had never met Wieland before that night and that Dietert, Robbins and Stockdale "were acquaintances at best."
Why Dietert would help two men he barely knows beat another man to death is unclear, as is much of the three men's backgrounds. Stockdale, whose last known address was in Silverthorne, has no prior criminal history in Colorado, but this wasn't Dietert's or Robbins's first brush with the law.
Dietert has been arrested in the past for second-degree burglary, larceny, underage alcohol consumption, driving under the influence, possessing marijuana, speeding and other driving-related offenses. Robbins was pulled over in January 2001 in Steamboat Springs for drinking and driving. And when a police officer came to his Breckenridge apartment last July to respond to a noise complaint, she noticed a film canister containing what looked like marijuana; when she asked Robbins whether he had any more, he showed her the closet where he was growing three pot plants. He was later arrested for cultivation of marijuana.
Robbins is the nephew of Sharon Garrison, the victim in another high-profile Summit County murder case. Sharon disappeared on September 26, 2000; her body was found 21 days later in the front yard of her home, just outside the Breckenridge city limits. Sharon's husband, Chuck Garrison, was sentenced last April to thirty years in prison for her murder. The couple had apparently been arguing when Chuck killed Sharon with a miner's pick, then wrapped her body in a tarp and buried her by their driveway.
"When the Robbins family was victimized by the murder of Sharon...Brandon was there for his mother to support her," family friend Beth May wrote the court in a letter in Robbins's behalf. "I sat with the family in court on the day of the sentencing hearing of Chuck Garrison and never saw anything but grief on Brandon's face. Afterward, I went to the family's Breckenridge home and never heard a violent statement uttered by Brandon." (Robbins's mother, Carla, was present for his preliminary hearing, as were several other family members, who politely declined to comment on the young man's case.)
Steve Moran, the principal of Colorado Springs's Pine Creek High School, which Robbins attended, also wrote a letter in support of the young man. "Brandon was always a very positive individual in my school," Moran wrote. "He had some discipline issues that dealt with truancy. However, he never had any anti-social or violence issues and was always easy to talk to and befriended all those around him."
Not much is known about the man who lost his life as a result of the fight. Martell said at the hearing that she'd be happy to talk about her son when the case is over. Wieland leaves behind a wife, Katie, and their two-year-old son, Bohdan.
Last Sunday was the Sunday of Sundays; all the saloons in town were closed and their usual habituates were compelled to loaf around the streets. Miners, in from the hills, stood upon the sidewalks looking wistfully to the right or left for some retreat from a condition of misery.... The workings of law here was such as to show the sheer nonsense of such legislation for a camp in the midst of the mountains. The law was conceived in the brain of a fanatic, enacted by a body of imbeciles, signed by a doughface, and in a camp like Breckenridge would be enforced only by an impracticable enthusiast. Monday last, a mournful cuss brought in twenty-four stanzas of alleged poetry, of which the following six lines are a fair sample:
On the twenty-sixth day of July, year ninety-one,
The drinking community of this town was undone,
On complaint of the parson, by order of the Judge,
All thirsty old topers were deprived of their budge,
An eye-opener, a cocktail, a plain morning dram
Was denied the bum, the boss, and the hard-working man.
-- From an August 1, 1891, editorial in the Summit County Journal protesting Colorado's newly enacted Saloon Law.
The boys of Breckenridge have always behaved badly. Ever since Colorado's early mining days, the town has been overrun with men who like to drink and have a good time.
Before there was a town, the Blue River Valley was home to the Utes. But when gold was discovered, a rush of non-natives soon arrived. General George Spencer, an early Western pioneer, founded "Breckinridge" in 1859, naming it after then-United States vice president John Breckinridge in the hopes of wooing the administration to open a post office in town -- an undertaking that proved successful. But when the Civil War began, it became clear that the vice president's sympathies lay with the South, and Breckinridge became a general in the Confederate army. Embarrassed by their association with the politician, who was ousted for treason by the U.S. Senate, the townspeople changed the spelling of the community's name to Breckenridge.
Main Street quickly emerged as the center of social life for miners in the surrounding camps, and Breckenridge became the Summit County seat. By 1880, the town boasted approximately 2,000 residents, eighteen saloons, three dance halls, numerous gambling halls and plenty of prostitutes.
The mostly male population was prone to fighting -- over girls, gambling debts or out of plain old drunken stupidity. "About twenty years ago, two gentlemen, who were in every respect valuable citizens, quarreled about some trifle -- I've forgotten what, but it resulted in a challenge to mortal combat," reads a letter penned in the 1880s and cited by Mary Ellen Gilliland in her book Summit: A Gold Rush History of Summit County, Colorado."They agreed to fight with hatchets, thirty paces apart.... The evening before the fight was to come off, one of them received a letter from his mother, in which she informed him that his antagonist was the son of her dearest friend, and she hoped the boys would love each other like brothers. This letter brought about a reconciliation, and they are still living, both filling prominent positions in other states."
When students from Princeton University visited Breckenridge in 1877 as part of a scientific expedition, they were shocked by the rough Western culture they found. Gilliland quotes from the students' account of their trip in her book: "We have spent some very queer days out here, but this beats them all. To get out of the reach of the noise was impossible, and you might think that there was a den of wild animals being fed, or something worse. We heartily recommend Breckenridge as being the most fiendish place we ever wish to see," they noted. "We were forced to spend the morning and afternoon in the company of men whose language was vile, and whose actions were tinged with a shade of crime that shocked and hurt our senses; never did anything so bestial and so unworthy even a mention by manly lips happen before our eyes."
In 1891, a Methodist minister sought to put an end to the town's drunken debauchery by pressuring the sheriff to enforce the new statewide Saloon Law, which required bars to shut down at midnight on weeknights and to be closed all day on Sunday. The townspeople revolted. Editors of local papers called the minister "unChristlike." Some men blew up his church bell by placing dynamite in the belfry, while others hung him in effigy after he insisted on closing the town's faro and poker tables. The Saloon Law was obeyed for a while, but Breckenridge authorities eventually stopped enforcing it.
Although Victorian sensibilities were introduced to the town later in that prosperous decade -- the few ladies there sipped tea from china cups in carpeted parlors while men became active in the Masons and hosted formal balls -- Breckenridge maintained its raucous reputation. In 1955, the Summit County Journal ran a series of stories on the town's history. One article headlined "Where There's Gold There's Gunsmoke" told of the murder of a saloon keeper on Main Street in 1898; a doctor shot the man dead because he suspected the saloon keeper of flirting with his wife. A grocer murdered a bartender on the very same block of Main Street a few years later for the very same reason.
Unlike many of Colorado's other mountain towns, Breckenridge survived a series of booms and busts throughout the late 1800s and early 1900s. But the creation of the Breckenridge Ski Area in 1961 fueled a new rush. Since then, the same element that inhabited the town at the turn of the last century has kept a bit of the Wild West alive - mostly young men ready to work and play hard. Only instead of earning their keep from the yellow gold in the hills, they now do so from the white gold that sits on top of them.
Breckenridge residents don't want their pastoral landscape marred by the image of rowdy boys brawling in the streets, an image they say isn't representative of their community. "I think this town has gone to great strides to develop a mission statement for what it wants to be, which is a family resort," says police chief Holman.
City officials have worked hard to encourage families not only to visit Breckenridge, but to stay here as permanent residents. The town recently received the Environmental Protection Agency's Smart Growth Award for building affordable housing atop a reclaimed mining area. Two child-care centers are located on town property, and a third is slated to go into another new affordable-housing development. The two elementary schools are central to family life in Breck. And people who don't care to carve can visit the Nordic center, the ice rink, the recreation center or the town's many boutiques. Numerous restaurants appeal specifically to families, including Bubba Gump's, where the host calls out "Shrimpin' time!" whenever a party's table is ready.
In fact, much of the town's wild reputation comes from the '80s. "When I came here, it was definitely a twenty-something culture, but now it seems it's a more mature group," says Steve Kepple, who was a Navy engineer in Washington, D.C., before deciding to become a ski bum eleven years ago. "I've seen more and more of my friends getting married and having kids. Now there are all these little ski bums growing up in town. This place was off the hook in the '80s; people in their fifties and sixties have stories that make what I did in my twenties pale in comparison. Breckenridge is moving away from its wilder history."
Still, there are a lot of young people in Breck. And for Julie, a mom visiting from North Carolina, that's "not a turnoff." In fact, it's just the opposite, jokes her mother-in-law, Muna Miller, a Virginia resident accompanying Julie, her son and her two granddaughters on a ski vacation. "There are lots of good-looking young men here," Miller says as she and Julie sip coffee at the Stage Door Cafe. "I may be a grandma, but I'm not dead yet."
Appealing to people like the Millers is critical for Vail Resorts. "Our biggest segment is family," says Lucy Kay, vice president of marketing for Breckenridge, the second-most visited ski resort in the country (Vail is first). The average age of skiers at Breck is 38, and families with kids make up 49 percent of the skier/boarder population. Thirty percent of the mountain's visitors are under 21; 13 percent are between 21 and 24; those between the ages of 25 and 44 make up an even 50 percent; and 7 percent are 55 and older.
"Breckenridge is obviously a very diverse resort," Kay says. "You'll see families with little kids at snowboarding events and old people next to families, so the brand is a bit esoteric."
The resort has targeted families with ads in Texas Monthly and Sunset, but it never tried to reach teenagers and twenty-year-olds with print ads until last fall because, Kay says, that demographic is "very jaded." Breckenridge had primarily appealed to young skiers and riders with its televised sporting events, such as the U.S. Snowboard Grand Prix, which accounts for 5 percent of its marketing budget. But Vail Resorts decided to experiment in September by spending 1 percent of its Breckenridge money on ads aimed at a younger crowd. One of the ads deemed offensive by locals touted the town for having "the best kind of nightlife of all -- the kind you can pin down and ask, 'Who's your daddy?'"
The ads came at a bad time: Just weeks after they appeared, Cody Wieland was fatally beaten, and the day after that, between twenty and thirty Mesa State College students renting a house in the aptly named Warrior's Mark subdivision got into what witnesses described as a "huge brawl." Resident Matthew Palmer told the Summit Daily News that "police got out with their guns drawn, the kids were drunk and stumbling -- it was crazy."
"That was blown out of proportion," says police chief Holman of the incident, in which seven students and one local were cited for underage drinking. "Everyone was on edge over the homicide on Main Street."
Indeed. Residents wrote letters to the Summit County paper condemning the ad campaign. "Congratulations, Vail Resorts. Judging from the events in Breckenridge -- or is it Brecken-bitch? -- this past Friday and Saturday nights, it looks like your efforts to attract the young, edgy crowd with your ads this season are certainly a success," wrote Mark Holdeman of Fairplay.
Jim Moritz of Frisco also weighed in, writing, "The recent flap over the ski advertisements for Breckenridge highlights the fact the citizens of Summit County fail to realize that the future of the county is not in their hands, but is being decided in the boardrooms of Vail Resorts Inc. and Intrawest. While the intrusion of these companies into the county has brought many benefits, their corporate strategies and multimillion-dollar promotional and advertising budgets will determine who will be attracted to the county, and hence, set the 'tone' for the economy and lifestyle for years to come.
"The town of Breckenridge has spent millions of dollars on family recreational facilities, eliminated some objectionable juvenile events, and has tightened its housing laws to provide a more 'family friendly' environment for the 'destination traveler' who spends money," Moritz continued. "But Vail Resorts has decided, without even consulting town officials, to attract a customer that is inconsistent with the town's own plans."
Kepple, now a forty-year-old ski-patrol employee, volunteer firefighter and bartender, thinks the ads were also inconsistent with the town's actual nightlife. "A lot of us laughed at the campaign; the whole thing was fiction in our minds, because it showed a party scene that just doesn't exist anymore," he says. When he moved to Breck permanently, in 1993, there was a weekly bar circuit, and it was common to wait 35 to 45 minutes to get into a place: On Monday nights, people went to the Breckenridge Brewery for the cheap pitchers; Tuesday was dollar night at Tiffany's; Wednesday nights would find people at Johsha's, a popular nightclub that featured acts like the Dave Matthews Band and the Spin Doctors before they hit it big; Thursday nights, people gathered at Breckenridge Bar-BQ, where Kepple tends bar; and on Fridays, the Gold Pan Saloon was the place to be, since Smoky, a local DJ, would spin while patrons were served cafeteria trays lined with sixteen glasses of beer.
Not anymore. Johsha's has been replaced by condos, and no one has filled the void it left. DJ Smoky moved away. And while the Gold Pan is busy on weekends, it's fairly quiet the rest of the week. "People used to party every night, but now the mid-week around here is pretty lame," Kepple says.
Mark Goodremont has a different take. He's lived in Breck for six years and says he still sees a party scene alive and well; it's just that the players are different. While most of the ski bums a decade ago were in their mid-twenties to thirties, now they're in their late teens and early twenties. Goodremont attributes the switch to the advent of the buddy pass, which allows people to ski or ride at Keystone, Breck and A-Basin for $250 a season.
"Because it's so affordable now, you get that young, rowdy crowd," says the 28-year-old ski-patrol employee from Ohio. "It seems like if you go to any given bar now, you'll find younger people who are not as considerate; they're punks, basically. They're the rude, inconsiderate people who would, say, beat someone to death with a helmet. You wouldn't have found attitudes like that in Breckenridge ten years ago. Aspen and Beaver Creek don't have that crowd, because it's not financially feasible. We're in Summit County, but we also call it 'Slum-It' County."
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."
Breckenridge Ski Resort. Number of skier visits last season: 1,468,518. Percentage of visitors who snowboard: 26. Base elevation: 9,603 feet. Vertical rise: 3,398 feet. Number of ski lifts: 27. Average annual snowfall: 300 inches.
It's Saturday, March 8, a beautiful, blue-sky day. The lift line at the base of Peak 9 is huge, but after a little fresh snowfall the night before and the warm sunshine this morning, the wait will be worth every minute.
At most Colorado ski resorts, the sight of old-timers who still tear down the mountain on straight skis is common. Now, looking around at the people waiting in line, it appears that everyone is young. Perhaps that's because the free skiing privilege for people seventy and over ended shortly after Vail Resorts purchased Breckenridge.
Colorado Springs resident Bob Hoesing discovered this the hard way. He'd been coming to Breck for the past thirty years, and all that time, he looked forward to turning seventy so he could finally ski for free at his favorite resort. That day finally arrived on January 2.
But all seniors must now pay $99 for a season pass, and instead of a lift ticket on his birthday, Hoesing was handed a form letter explaining the change: "We feel we cannot continue to ask all other skiers and snowboarders to subsidize seniors. The cost of doing business is going up, in some areas dramatically. Some of these increases are the result of new or expanded programs that address concerns raised mainly by our senior skiers, such as additional grooming, increased ski patrol presence on the slopes and enhanced mountain dining facilities.
"We still believe it's a deal - you're getting a full-season, $1,549 pass for seven months of unrestricted, unlimited skiing at five of the most popular ski resorts in the state at a considerable saving," the letter continues, referring to the pass that's good for Breckenridge, Keystone, Vail, Beaver Creek and A-Basin.
The only kind of deal Hoesing felt he got was a raw one. "Here I was, staying at a $300-a-night lodge and not getting a fair shake for all the years I'd skied there," says Hoesing, who now skis at Monarch. "It's pretty obvious that they don't care about seniors."
The oldest men and women in line at Breck on this morning are the thirty- and forty-year-olds with kids in tow. The rest are skiers in their twenties or jester-hatted boarder boys and betties.
The snow is good today, but there's always better. Boarders slip under the roped-off areas between runs to ride the virgin snow. Skiers in pursuit of fresh powder take off through the trees. And pockets of snow in areas too narrow for the grooming machines to pass provide a bumpy thrill.
Around 1 o'clock, after hopping on the Peak 8 SuperConnect, a fast new quad that runs diagonally from the bottom of Peak 9 to the top of Peak 8, it's time for lunch at the Vista Haus, where employees walk around asking patrons if they want to buy 22-ounce cans of beer. Adrienne Partridge and Kelly McKeag, both 21-year-old students at the University of Colorado at Boulder, are taking it easy, looking out the window at the expansive mountain view opposite Breck.
"This is where a lot of CU people come," says Partridge, who's from California. "There are a lot of people our age here. We like to check out the bars, and there's a good ratio of guys."
"We've also skied at Vail and Keystone, but Keystone is so small. There's not really a town there," adds McKeag, an Indiana native.
"Vail's a lot of fun, but there are a lot of older, rich, snotty people there," Partridge says. So now they come here - sometimes as often as twice a week.
But as they discovered the night before, it's not all young people in Breck. The two were hanging out at the Gold Pan Saloon, where they saw "a bunch of drunk old men" fighting. "There were a lot of locals there, and one threw a stool," Partridge says. "Then they were wrestling on the floor, but no one did anything. I was expecting the bartender to stop it, but maybe they see that kind of thing every night."
Things are more civilized back on the slopes. Heading down Four O'Clock, the unmistakable whoosh of an approaching snowboarder comes on the right, followed by a whoosh to the left. Then a whump. Snowboarder down. A little farther on, there's that whump sound again. Another rider lands on his ass. After a couple more hours of skiing Peak 8, it's time to head back to the bottom to squeeze in another run or two before the lifts close. Everyone else has the same idea, and the lower part of the hill resembles a busy freeway.
The easy way back to Peak 9, whose base is closest to the center of town, is the catwalk. Skiing down the narrow, gentle-grade Lower Sawmill at the end of the day is like driving through T-Rex at rush hour. Riders and skiers of all abilities cram onto the tight run, in a hurry to get down. Only no one can go very fast. Especially the snowboarders: Once they lose their momentum on the mild slope, they have to pull themselves along with their arms until the run gets steeper.
Once the clock strikes four, however, everyone turns their attention from powder to suds.
At 10 p.m., after the families have turned in and everyone else has had their post-slopes beers and eaten dinner, the only people roaming the streets are young men. Three guys walk by laughing as they tell people, "Caution -- icy roads." Trailing them are two more young men, one of whom is wearing yellow police-line tape around his head.
Another young guy, who has somehow separated from his group, stands in front of 129 South Activewear, a T-shirt shop on Main Street. He's chuckling at the clever phrases on the shirts designed to appeal to his demographic. One, bearing a green circle, reads, "I go down easy." Another one with a ski-patrol symbol states, "Chipped Teeth. Severe Bleeding. Broken Bones. Ride On." Across the street, The Shirt Mine carries more shirts geared toward young men. Piggybacking on the popular MasterCard ad campaign, one reads, "New Snowboard - $650. Dinner and drinks at the lodge - $110. Lift tickets for the weekend - $90. Noticing the snot bubble on the hot chick in the lift line - priceless."
About twenty minutes later, another group of guys heads south down Main Street, lamenting their inability to remember where the $4 pitchers are.
They must have been thinking of the Gold Pan Saloon, where an employee announces that special and one other -- $2 bottles of Miller Light. The scene in this packed bar, where the blues band Rocket Surgeons is entertaining a mostly older crowd, is markedly different from the youth culture portrayed on the resort's Web site. Middle-aged men acting like the twenty-year-olds most of them probably were when they first landed in Breck ogle the handful of women inside. One man puts his hands around a woman's waist as she tries to make her way through the crowd, then turns to his buddies and laughs.
Tourists in their twenties congregate in the adjacent room to play pool and foosball - and presumably to get away from the mullet-sporting ski bums. In the main bar are also several unshaven characters who look like they'd have fit in when the place first opened in 1879 as the Herman Strauss Saloon. The odds are good, but the goods are odd.
A few doors down, the Horseshoe is practically dead. But on the other side of Main Street, Sherpa and Yeti's is thumping with the music of Five Day 40, an East Coast funk band. The younger set there is well behaved. No barroom brawls on this night.
Maybe next time.
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