In the spring, during the initial outbreak of COVID-19 in the United States, Colorado’s Summit County — home to the sought-after mountain destination of Breckenridge — enacted one of the strictest stay-at-home lockdowns in the country. For weeks, hotels and other short-term lodgings were required to close, and during the harshest stretch of these regulations, non-locals were even asked to leave the county so as not to potentially become a strain on its resources. Ski areas also had to shut down to discourage visitors, and locals were given a limit on how far they could travel outside their homes. Eventually, restrictions eased to allow life and commerce to return to the county, and during the summer, Breckenridge, like many of America’s most beloved mountain retreats, experienced a fairly busy tourism season.
Summer in Breckenridge looked a little different than in previous years, given its mask-wearing mandate (you have to wear one when in public whether indoors or outdoors, except when eating or drinking) and the temporary pedestrianization of its Main Street to allow for social distancing. But hiking its mountains, breathing its fresh alpine air, and admiring the changing leaves proved to be seductive enough, especially among visitors from neighboring states like Texas. Now that we’re entering winter, the Rockies’ bread-and-butter season, Breckenridge has welcomed clever initiatives — an investment it spearheaded way back in July — that will hopefully position it as both a safe and desirable vacation destination for ski enthusiasts.
For one, masks are required to remain on at all times: while you’re skiing or snowboarding, at the base areas, and of course, indoors. This has been the rule in Breckenridge since it reopened to tourism in the spring, making it one of the first mountain towns in the U.S. to identify a mandatory mask zone, which includes its downtown and the Breckenridge Ski Resort. Skiers are accustomed to having most of their faces covered up, so this shouldn’t be too challenging a requirement, but it’s still a step above what most other mountain resorts are doing, where you aren’t expected to ski with a mask on. Here, you don’t have to guess whether or not you need to put a mask on — when you’re in public, you do.
In addition, Breckenridge is expanding to allow for easier social distancing. A new sledding hill on the free bus route will be unveiled this season, so you don’t have to get on a crowded bus if you’d rather scoot down the snow. Similarly, grooming operations have been broadened by three more miles; Breckenridge’s already expansive network of snowy terrain will be bigger than usual for those who want to go fat biking or snowshoeing. Speaking of, fat biking has seen a surge in interest as a result of the pandemic. Anticipating a spike in demand for fat bike rentals this winter, Breckenridge’s Gold Run Nordic Center is doubling its fat bike rental fleet, giving visitors and locals more options to get out in nature, whether on skis or wheels.
Elsewhere in town, local businesses have also started activating social-distancing-friendly initiatives. Aurum Food & Wine, one of Breckenridge’s best new restaurants, has introduced outdoor private-dining yurts. They’re whimsically decked out to deliver a proper alpine fantasy — a warm, textured backdrop for a chef-driven feast. And each yurt is to be completely ventilated between use. Grand Colorado on Peak 8, on the other hand, is installing a glass dome over its rooftop lounge. That space can be booked by single-party guests for a fabulous apres-ski hangout. And even wellness practitioners are getting in on the action: Bhava Yoga has partnered with Gravity Haus to offer snowshoe mediation — perfect for Breckenridge’s over 60 miles of trails. While many fitness centers might not be able to operate fully this winter, this outdoor session will marry snowshoeing’s more physically demanding aspects with a meditative practice surrounded by the destination’s natural splendor.
All of this plus the 2020 standards we’ve all come to know, including social distancing and enhanced cleanliness measures, are to be expected this season. But even with all of the above painting a potentially safe picture of Breckenridge as a winter travel destination, travelers should continue to be vigilant when it comes to taking a mountain vacation during the pandemic. As we’ve seen with everything else in the last eight or so months, a lot can change and quickly, too. For example, as a result of rising cases in Colorado, Breckenridge’s typically active winter events calendar has been all but totally shelved.
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