Editor’s note: This is part of The Know, Staff Favorites series. Each week, we’ll give our take on the best Colorado has to offer when it comes to dining, shopping, entertainment, outdoor activities and more.
When I imagine what a classic cross-country ski area looks like, I immediately think of the Breckenridge Nordic Center.
It has expansive terrain with family-friendly trails and endurance athletes. It has panoramic views, but just as importantly, it has a network of trails that meander through the wooded hills, enclosing skiers in sylvan peace and quiet.
It has a charming lodge with a huge fireplace to thaw numb fingers and toes, and the atmosphere is pure “Gumuetlichkeit”, a German word meaning warmth, friendliness, comfort and good humor. The Breckenridge Nordic Center, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2019, has these qualities in abundance.
The Nordic Center is located 9,800 feet above the town of Breckenridge and at the foot of Breckenridge Resort’s Peak 8, but it is not part of the downhill resort nor is it owned by Vail Resorts. Gene Dayton started the business in 1969. He’s over 70 now, but he still owns the place with his 34-year-old wife, Therese, and she runs the place. Gene likes to dress in lederhosen and play his 11-foot-long alphorn to entertain guests during happy hour.
The “Oh Be Joyful” lodge has huge west-facing windows that frame Peak 8, which rises to just under 13,000 feet. Sometimes when I’m there, I find myself looking up from that majestic peak above, reminiscing about good times skiing above the tree line at Horseshoe Bowl.
Breck Nordic has 30 kilometers of trails. It has a lookout to the east that offers a spectacular view of the city, 200 feet below, and of the enormous Bald Mountain, which towers over the Blue River Valley at 4,000 feet. It also has 20 kilometers of single-track trails for snowshoers. Passes are $27 ($22 for seniors) and rental packages are $23 per day ($18 for teens).
I love skiing at Breckenridge Nordic, but the Daytons are part of the attraction. They are the reason for the warmth and friendliness of the lodge that makes the place so special, always with lots of laughs.
Gene opened the first Nordic center on the northern outskirts of town in 1969, doing business in a 19th century mining shack. Later he moved to an igloo at the base of Peak 9 before settling in the current location.
The first building there was a converted Breckenridge Ski Patrol Hut that Dayton bought for $1, dismantled atop Peak 8, lowered from the mountain, and reassembled at the Nordic Center. This building served Breck Nordic skiers for 38 years. The current lodge opened in 2013.
The lodge has a bar serving food and drink with a menu including homemade soups and chowders, grilled sausages, hot dogs and appetizers. When I was there last week I had a piece of hot coffee cake which was exquisite.
I’m a big fan of the YMCA of the Rockies’ Snow Mountain Ranch Nordic Center, located between Fraser and Granby in Grand County. I really like the Eldora Nordic Center because it’s right next to the Eldora Alpine slopes, and I like to end a day of alpine skiing with a workout on the Eldora Nordic slopes without having to move my car.
But a day at the Breckenridge Nordic Center is the epitome of the classic cross-country experience, from the first morning kick and glide on freshly groomed trails to the last note Dayton plays on his alphorn the afternoon.
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