Editor’s note: This is part of The Know’s series, Staff Favorites. Each week, we will offer our opinions on the best that Colorado has to offer for dining, shopping, entertainment, outdoor activities and more.
When I picture what a classic cross country ski area looks and feels like, I immediately think of the Breckenridge Nordic Center.
It has ample terrain with trails that are welcoming for families and endurance athletes alike. It has panoramic views, but just as important, it has a network of trails that meander through forested hillsides, enclosing skiers in sylvan peace and quiet.
It has a delightful lodge with a huge fireplace for thawing numb fingers and toes, and the atmosphere is pure “Gumuetlichkeit,” a German word meaning warmth, friendliness, coziness and good cheer. The Breckenridge Nordic Center, which celebrated its 50th year in 2019, has those qualities in abundance.
The nordic center is located at 9,800 feet, above the town of Breckenridge and at the foot of Breckenridge Resort’s Peak 8, but it’s not part of the downhill resort, nor is it owned by Vail Resorts. Gene Dayton started the business in 1969. He’s in his late 70s now, but he still owns the place with his wife of 34 years, Therese, and she runs the place. Gene likes to dress up in lederhosen and play his 11-foot-long Alpenhorn to entertain guests during happy hour.
The “Oh Be Joyful” Lodge has massive west-facing windows that frame Peak 8, which tops out at just under 13,000 feet. Sometimes when I’m there, I find myself starting at that majestic peak high above, recalling great times skiing above treeline in Horseshoe Bowl.
Breck Nordic has 30 kilometers of trails. It has an overlook to the east that offers a spectacular view of the town, 200 feet below, and of massive Bald Mountain, which towers 4,000 feet over the Blue River Valley. It also has 20 kilometers of single-track trails for snowshoers. Trail passes cost $27 ($22 for seniors), and rental packages cost $23 per day ($18 for teenagers).
I love skiing at Breckenridge Nordic, but the Daytons are part of the attraction. They are the reason for the warmth and friendliness in the lodge that makes the place so special, always with lots of laughter.
Gene opened the first nordic center on the northern edge of town in 1969, doing business out of a 19th century mining cabin. Later he moved to an igloo at the base of Peak 9 before settling at the current location.
The first building there was converted Breckenridge ski patrol shack that Dayton bought for $1, disassembled high on Peak 8, hauled down the mountain and reassembled at the nordic center. That building served Breck nordic skiers for 38 years. The current lodge opened in 2013.
The lodge has a food and beverage bar with a menu that includes homemade soups and chowders, grilled bratwurst, hot dogs and appetizers. When I was there last week, I had a piece of warm coffee cake that was exquisite.
I’m a big fan of the Snow Mountain Ranch nordic center at YMCA of the Rockies, located between Fraser and Granby in Grand County. I’m very fond of the Eldora Nordic Center, because it’s right next to Eldora’s alpine trails, and I love finishing a day of downhill skiing with a workout on Eldora’s nordic trails 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 kick and glide of the morning on freshly groomed tracks to the last note Dayton plays on his alpenhorn in the afternoon.