The Breckenridge Ski Resort, a four-peak high-alpine skier's paradise, is practically unrecognizable in the summer.
But no less beautiful.
To skiers, snowboarders and powder hounds, it is a mixed wonder and tragedy that most - though definitely not all - the snow fades from the runs when spring rolls around. But the departure of Breckenridge's white gold reveals a vibrant landscape, breath-taking views and a system of trails teeming with life.
The resort offers guided strolls through the ski area turned summer garden twice daily, giving those with limited ski skills accesses to the most advanced runs and slopes, transformed by the seasons and introducing visitors to Breckenridge's shocking vistas, flora and fauna and local history.
A guided hike with the BreckTreks program begins with a scenic chairlift ride, a somewhat surprising experience unencumbered by ski and snowboard gear. Gliding uphill, the guide offers insights into the mountain's ecology, including watershed and runoff issues, the importance of the nearby Cucumber Gulch and an introductory course on the region-wide devastation of the mountain pine beetle, which is responsible for the patches of red and grey dead lodgepole pines visible from the lift.
An approximately 10-minute ride up puts hikers atop Peak 8 with sweeping views of the Continental Divide, Mt. Baldy and the small historic Town of Breckenridge in the valley below.
The afternoon hike follows a trail to skiers' right of the lift into the Horseshoe Bowl. In the winter the bowl is the playground of advanced skiers and snowboarders shooting down from the top of the T-Bar lift. In the summer it turns from white to green and becomes the dramatic setting of a high alpine garden home to 88 species of wildflowers. The guide will point out the varieties in bloom, which currently include the bright yellow Arnica, the little shade-dwelling Jacob's Ladder and abundant bluebells. Lucky hikers might also see elk, deer, marmots, pika, chipmunks, fox and possibly even black bears, though wildlife sightings are not guaranteed and are more common on morning hikes.
The afternoon hike climbs up approximately a mile, depending on remaining snowpack, to allow hikers stellar views of the valley and Dillon Reservoir. The morning hike winds downward, instead, heading off to skiers' left from the lift and crossing winter's advanced runs closer to E and 6 Chair.
Hikers who opt for the morning trek travel down toward the base on a slightly longer walk, and finish the trip on wheels with an exhilarating ride down the Alpine Slide, a concrete track inlaid in the mountain that takes passengers downhill on scooters into the Peak 8 base area.
The two to two-and-a-half hour morning hike begins at 10:15 a.m. and is recommended for children over the age of 7. The 90-minute afternoon hike, appropriate for kids over 5, begins at 1:30 p.m. For both hikes, the cost includes water, a granola bar and the use of a backpack and walking poles.
More information on the BreckTreks program is available at http://bit.ly/oGu0zD.