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."