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.