Crisp, fresh air that purifies the senses. Golden aspens shimmering in the sunlight. Clean, white snow blanketing the ground. This incredibly romantic scene is exactly what comes to mind when you imagine a pristine mountain town, and the people who live there are working hard to keep it that way.

Breckenridge, Colorado is one of the most popular destinations in the world and is consistently voted one of the best ski towns in the US. That popularity has brought world-renowned chefs, luxury accommodations, and droves of high-end artists to enhance the vibrance of this historic mining town. However, most visitors, even those who live there part-time, know little about the extraordinary commitments the town has made to sustain the environment.

“Sustainability is the ability of today’s community to use and enjoy our resources without compromising the ability of future generations to use them.”

~Town of Breckenridge

For more than a decade already, Breckenridge has worked hard to understand what sustainability would mean in a booming ski town and how they could put a realistic yet aggressive plan in place. That plan was then formalized with goals that are tracked carefully and shared publicly on sustainablebreck.com.

And these goals are big. Breckenridge is on course to have all town facilities powered by 100% renewable energy by 2025 and aiming to have all operations, including commercial and residential, on board by 2035. The town is so determined to achieve their objectives, they’ve thrown in a few perks for consumers. 

How you can save money and the planet

As a town already known for its culinary delights and epic skiing, Breckenridge’s commitment to the environment may be their best-kept secret. The Tourism Office launched the “Tree Hugger Challenge” this year to help spread the word and prepare guests to travel responsibly even before they arrive. Public Relations Director Austyn Dineen explains “we have a responsibility to educate our guests how they can visit responsibly and in a sustainable way.”

Downhill enthusiasts can take advantage of a $5 parking discount for cars carrying 4 or more people during the ski season at the BreckConnect Gondola and Beaver Run lots. And the “Ski with a Ranger” program offers free naturalist tours every Friday at 11 am from December to March. The Rangers lead intermediate skiers and snowboarders on a one-hour tour through the peaks to highlight the area’s natural resources and the resort’s efforts to support the environment.

  • Gold Run Nordic XC lesson. Photo courtesy of Breckenridge Tourism Office
  • Courtesy of Breckenridge Tourism Office. Photo: Andrew Maguire
  • Photo by Kerri Smith

Additional year-round programs include their “BYO” initiatives. BYO Bag urges grocery shoppers to bring their own reusable bags and save themselves a $0.10/bag fee for paper or plastic. BYO Bottle encourages reduced waste of single-use plastics by offering 11 refillable water stations throughout town. Most are on or near Main Street and near the town’s recreational centers. The outdoor stations are freeze-proof and remain open throughout winter. Due to Covid, the standard water fountains have been turned off for the 2020 season, though the bottle-spout stations, specifically those found in the Welcome Center, the Recreational Center, and Town Hall, are in service.

It takes a village

Local establishments, such as restaurants and resorts, are doing their part by participating in composting and recycling programs. Today, over 40% of waste is diverted through these programs. The town is aiming for 50% in the near future and intends to reach 100% in the long-term.

The Crown Breck photo by Kerri Smith
The Crown Breckenridge photo by Kerri Smith

Breckenridge is committed to not just the improvements of their own municipality, but partner with the US Forest Service to restore portions of forest lost to fire, such as the Hayman fire in 2002 that destroyed over 138,000 acres primarily in the Pike National Forest. In an attempt to be proactive, they also work to control the spread of certain pests, like the Mountain Pine Beetle, to battle infestation and reduce potential fuel for future wildfires. 

Their most recent project is in partnership with The Nature Conservancy and will result in the planting of 1,200 Aspen seedlings throughout an area that had been clear cut for a firebreak. Aspens carry more water than pine trees and help to diversify the forest which makes them a prime pick for replanting.

Fall Aspens. Photo by Kerri Smith
Fall Aspens. Photo by Kerri Smith

Recognition for their efforts

The Breckenridge FreeRide public transportation service has been recognized as one of the best in the state for its reliability and ease of use. They launched the first two electric buses for their fleet in 2019 and have recently received funding to transition three more. The town is also encouraging and supporting the adoption of electric vehicles by locals and visitors, investing in 22 public charging stations to be added in 2020. All of which is part of their goal to reduce emissions by 25% before 2030.

The local Golf Course and Nordic Center boast a longstanding Cooperative Sanctuary with Audubon International. The program improves operational efficiency while protecting wildlife habitat and worker safety. Frequent recertification is required to reward these destinations for their leadership in environmental preservation.

Breckenridge has consistently shown how dedicated they are to the community and are producing impressive results. “We are pursuing the Global Sustainable Tourism Council’s Mountain IDEAL certification and expect the final report and certification by the end of the year,” says Dineen. That certification is the global standard for mountain resort communities and illustrates specific criteria and performance indicators met towards sustainability, collaboration, and leadership in conservation.

Courtesy of Breckenridge Tourism Office.
Family lifestyle. Courtesy of Breckenridge Tourism Office.

Reap the rewards

The beauty of Breckenridge and the surrounding mountains remind us how magical nature is. We benefit from the fresh air and rejuvenation it provides every day. But nature is precious, fragile, and on the precipice of great change. 

We can all do more to support the environment and the town of Breckenridge has even given us inducement to do so. So get out there. Explore the vast, winding trails. Feel the wind whip around you as you soar down the mountains. Find adventure in the new and the familiar. Take advantage of all Breckenridge has to offer, and do your part to save the planet.

Breckenridge Summer photo by Kerri Smith
Breckenridge Summer photo by Kerri Smith

Cover: Main Street photo courtesy of Breckenridge Tourism Office. Photo: Jeff Andrew