How Breckenridge Ski Resort opens up terrain on all 5 of its peaks, and a sneak peek at what will open next

Peak 7 to open on Friday morning

Snow guns blanket Peak 7 and the Independence SuperChair with snow prior to the peak opening on Friday, Dec. 9. Lots of work occurs behind the scenes at Breckenridge Ski Resort in order to open up terrain in a timely, but safe, manner.
Sarah McLear/Breckenridge Ski Resort

Following several significant snowstorms over the past week, Breckenridge Ski Resort has announced it will open up Peak 7 to the public on Friday, Dec. 9. 

Skiers and riders will have access to Peak 7 and the Independence SuperChair, alongside Peak 8 and Peak 9, starting at 8:30 a.m. on Friday morning. The opening of terrain at Breckenridge has been aided in large part due to the cold temperatures and frequent snowstorms to begin the 2022-23 ski and ride season.

“The weather and the snow so far this season has been phenomenal — especially compared to the last two years,” said Hunter Mortensen, Breckenridge’s ski patrol director. “If you look at what we have open right now — based on the amount of snow we have had this season — versus this time last year, we were barely skiing anything.”

Despite opening up terrain faster than last year, the resort still receives a fair amount of criticism regarding the opening of terrain. It is easy for guests to look at a snow-capped Peak 6 or Peak 10 and assume that trails on the peak are ready for the public. 

“Everything usually looks good from afar,” said Jon Copeland, vice president of Breckenridge’s mountain operations. “When you get there, you start to see things differently.”

“They see all the snow and they think, ‘Why isn’t this open,’” Vail Resorts spokesperson Sara Lococo said. “There are a lot of other pieces that have to come together to get terrain open than just the snow.”

With nearly 3,000 acres of terrain and five peaks, opening up Breckenridge Ski Resort is a tall task that requires a knowledgeable and robust staff.

“We heavily rely on people who have years of experience here to open terrain,” Copeland said. “We rely on that institutional knowledge a ton in our decision making with the goal of skiing on the terrain for the next four to five months.” 

One of the major pieces that goes into Breckenridge opening terrain throughout the season is strategizing and blueprinting the best plan for opening terrain.

Soon after Breckenridge closes for the season in the spring, the ski resort begins planning for the next season. Whether they are looking at what new lifts will be put in place over the summer or when snowmaking will begin place in the fall, Breckenridge has a detailed plan. The resort tries to follow the same open progression strategy every year. It begins at Peak 8 to offer skiing and riding to the downtown core of Breckenridge before moving to Peak 9. 

“The Peak 8, Peak 9, Peak 7 strategy is the same every year, but obviously Mother Nature can throw us a few curveballs,” Copeland said. “Those are our three main focus points. They are our key base areas, and they link key parts of terrain.”

Once Peak 8 has been opened for the season, the mountain operations team at Breckenridge begins the process of making snow on the thoroughfares that connect the peaks to one another. The mountain operation team doesn’t just ensure there is enough snow coverage on these peak-to-peak thoroughfares, but it also makes sure they are sustainable to last deep into the spring.

After opening Peak 8, Peak 9 and Peak 7, a decision must be made to either focus on Peak 6 or Peak 10. 

“The two peaks are too far apart for us to separate our snowmakers, our groomers, our patrol teams to really effectively go at either one of those peaks,” Copeland said.

The mountain operations team will look at multiple factors when making their decision, and a key factor is natural snowfall. Due to the amount of snowfall that Breckenridge has received during the early season, the mountain operations team has decided to focus on Peak 6 as opposed to Peak 10 this season.

“We only make snow on Last Horizon on Peak 6,” Lococo said. ”Everything else on Peak 6 is natural snow. In a year like this — with good natural snow and with Peak 7 getting ready to open — it makes sense to look at Peak 6 for the next move. If that wasn’t the case, then that is where we may be looking at Peak 10.”

The last bit of terrain to open at Breckenridge is usually its high-Alpine terrain, which is meticulously looked at for weeks by the Breckenridge’s ski patrol team.

“We truly start the process on the first of November by looking at the snow and weather that happened throughout October,” Mortensen said. 

After assessing the weather, Breckenridge’s snow safety team will then hike into the high-Alpine terrain in order to start avalanche mitigation with explosives. The team will then use their boots and skis to beat down the layers in the snowpack. The work could take anywhere from days to weeks before the high-Alpine terrain is deemed safe enough for the public. 

In the process to open up Breckenridge’s five peaks, it is common for the ski patrollers at Breckenridge to periodically drop ropes to terrain. The runs may stay open for a few days or an afternoon, but then close. These openings and closings commonly confuse guests, but they are in place in order to pack down the new terrain for a more enjoyable experience on the mountain.

“A lot of times, the best thing we can do to get terrain open for the season — and have it hold up well — is to get additional pressure on it,” Mortensen said. “It won’t always hold up for the run to be open for the rest of the year. We will then close that for a little while until we can get another storm.”

As Breckenridge’s ski patrol team works to open up more terrain before the new year, Mortensen urges guests to follow all of the uphill skiing rules and guidelines.

“We are doing the best we can to get as much open, but right now the biggest problem we are having is running into people that are skinning in areas of the ski area that are not open yet,” Mortensen said. “That slows us down from getting up there and doing what we need to do to get that terrain open to everybody.”

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