Last updated: 03:00 AM ET, Thu February 18 2016

Dispatch Breckenridge: Exploring the Skiing Hotspot’s Down-to-Earth Side

Destination & Tourism | Will McGough | February 18, 2016

Dispatch Breckenridge: Exploring the Skiing Hotspot’s Down-to-Earth Side

Photo courtesy of Vail Resorts/Frazer Humes

When I first saw the price of a lift ticket at Breckenridge Ski Resort – $154 – I took it as a sign of things to come, and set my expectations appropriately for a long weekend of expensive restaurants, snooty tourists and overpriced apres lounges.

That all changed a couple hours later, when I sat down at a bar and ordered a three-dollar beer, and then ate at Relish, the best restaurant in town — the table the locals covet most — in my snow boots for less than $50.

READ MORE: Top Ski Destinations in the U.S.

I discovered that, despite the sticker shock of a daily lift ticket, Breck did indeed have a down-to-earth underbelly, one that allows travelers to experience the blue-collar attitude that put this town on the map in the first place.  

Originally a base camp for the gold rush in 1859, Breckenridge has grown into one of Colorado’s most iconic towns. Its personality combines the two extremes you most often find in the Centennial State’s ski towns: the fanciful, luxurious tourist offerings of Vail with the down-home, rugged mountain vibes of Steamboat. On the surface, the town’s bustling artery, Main Street, is meticulously groomed and curated, made festive by the twinkle of lights and the glam of trendy boutique shops. Walking the streets with the mountain hovering overhead, you feel like you’ve entered a storybook ski town.

But a peculiar thing happens when you start to look beyond the storefronts into the restaurants and watering holes. You notice that deep down, nothing is really that fancy at all, and that even the nicest of places makes a strong effort to remain grounded.

Take, for example, the bar upstairs at Dredge Restaurant. It’s the remains of an old mining dredge boat that’s still floating in the middle of the river, and a local secret for patrolers and lifties, where raggy ski hats are the closest thing you come to a fashion statement and Miller High Life costs $1 for residents and $3 for visitors. At the family-style Briar Rose Chop House, white tablecloths lay elegantly beneath meticulously cooked steaks. Yet steps away in the other room, Briar Rose offers 2-for-1 cocktails, beer and wine during happy hour in its buzzing, chatty saloon.

Not sold on a high-end steak? How about a burger? Empire Burger is heralded for its homemade patties and twenty-some dipping sauces. All throughout the town, you’ll find examples of this Jekyll and Hyde, and you’ll notice that both come with extreme quality.

The town’s two breweries, Breckenridge Brewery and Broken Compass, embody this theme perfectly. Breckenridge Brewery, once a modest, small brew pub, has exploded into a national success. Recently purchased by Anheuser-Busch, its beer is served at a continuously packed, pub-fare restaurant on Main Street.

In its wake is the uber-local Broken Compass, a garage door-style hang out with repurposed ski lifts as seats and a budget-friendly, bring-your-own-food policy. If booze is more your style, belly up to any bar and try the local award-winning bourbon from Breckenridge Distillery.

On the way to the slopes in the morning, you can pop into Amazing Grace, a casual coffee shop with self-serve brew and a hearty selection of health-focused egg dishes, all priced between $5 and $9.

As with any ski town, there are plenty of options for fancy condos and on-mountain hotel rooms. Yet the town’s newest lodging option shows it has no intentions of pricing out its die-hard skiers.

READ MORE: Catered Chalets 101: The Only Way to Ski

Nicknamed The Bivvi, The Bivouac is a mountain hostel that offers budget-friendly private apartments, private rooms, and standard dorms with free breakfast, a hot tub and a youthful apres bar scene. The definition of its name, “an improvised encampment constructed of natural materials such as those used in scouting and mountaineering,” sets the tone for what is a basic yet beautiful, down-to-earth Rocky Mountain hangout for budget travelers.

Breckenridge has been listed amongst the top ski towns in America for some time now, and with that you expect a certain level of superficiality. Thankfully, Breck has done well to retain the very vibe that made it popular in the first place, and to keep the spirit of its blue-collar roots intact. And the best part is that it doesn’t take a magnifying glass to find it. 

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