Maybe we just weren’t paying attention. Or maybe, we didn’t really know. But after spending a weekend at Keystone Resort in Summit County, Colorado, we were stunned. Keystone was so much more than we expected: bigger, better and tons of fun. I know I say this all the time (and it’s always true!): we can’t wait to go back.
The last time I skied Keystone was in college. It was an early season, windblown day. I remember very little except icy conditions and a long drive back to Colorado Springs.
Fast forward 20 years: Our family arrives in the dark and checks into a warm, quiet, comfortable condo in the woods. That’s a good start. The next morning, we drive to the free parking lot at River Run Village and look up the mountain. From the beautiful, River Run base area, you can’t really see much. It’s hard to tell where and what you’ll be skiing. Keystone doesn’t look very big. And that’s the first surprise: it’s huge.
Although you can’t see much of the mountain from either River Run or the Mountain House base areas, Keystone is big: 3,148 acres of skiable terrain BIG, to be exact. With a vertical drop of 3,128 feet, the resort spreads across three peaks: Dercum Mountain, North Peak and the Outback. And this is only the lift-served terrain. Additional hike-to and cat skiing terrain crowns Keystone, reaching up to the top of Keystone Peak at well over 12,000 feet.
Keystone has 135 trails and 20 lifts. Many of these trails are really long. Although back in the day, Keystone had a reputation for being sort of “easy,” this label no longer holds. Some of the long trails are epic mogul runs off of North Peak. Tree runs abound in the Outback and off the back side of Dercum Mountain.
This isn’t to say the mountain is now “hard.” There is a wide variety of terrain with something for every ability. Nineteen percent of the runs at Keystone are rated for beginners and some of these, notably School Marm, make for excellent teaching terrain. Still, black diamonds make up 49% of the runs. If you’ve been avoiding Keystone because you think it won’t be a challenge, think again.
The Ski and Ride School at Keystone has two locations, one in River Run Village and the other at Mountain House. For families, Mountain House is where the action is. The Children’s Learning Center is fun, bright and fully interactive. There is plenty of room for kids to play indoors and out, with two ski and ride school magic carpets and an introductory chairlift just steps from the door. Another magic carpet in this area is open to the public, making it a great place for parents and kids to practice together after lessons. Additionally, new this season, Keystone has a Burton Riglet Park to teach snowboarding to little riders ages 3-6.
Another nice touch for families is free parking, complete with red wagons in the lots and villages to help tow kids and gear to and from the lifts.
Finally, the best touch for families, the icing on the cake, is Keystone’s Kids Ski Free program, introduced this season. With no blackout dates, kids 12 and under ski free whenever you book two or more nights in Keystone lodging.
Fun for Everyone
Keystone has a well-deserved reputation as a family mountain. The resort promotes their family amenities and programs under the name Kidtopia. And, while Kidtopia is a great marketing slogan, it’s also true. We have never visited a mountain with so much high-quality programming for children and families.
Here’s of sampling of what goes on each day at Keystone, just for kids (Of all ages. The parents were enjoying Kidtopia just as much as their children!).
At The Base
Cookie Hour: Just like it sounds, an hour when you can eat cookies! Fresh from the oven and delicious, come by the ice rink and get a free après ski treat!
Kids’ Après: Speaking of après ski, there is a special kids’ après every Friday and Saturday at Mountain House (near the super-nifty childrens’ learning center).
Kidtopia Saturdays: What kid doesn’t love Saturday? At Keystone, Saturdays are extra special with Ripperoo’s Village Parade, S’mores Saturdays at the Dercum Ice Rink and Fireworks at 7:00 p.m. Ripperoo’s Parade is especially fun, because kids of all ages can join in and ride on a horse-drawn wagon. The parade gets organized at 3:45 p.m. near the River Run Gondola. Oh, and it might be helpful to note that Ripperoo is Keystone’s larger than life dog mascot.
Meet An Avalanche Dog (Thursdays only): I’m a sucker for furry friends and I love dogs, especially well-trained service dogs. We met Kenya and her trainer Sy. Kenya is sweet, mellow and obedient, yet possessing incredible life-saving search and rescue skills.
Meeting an avy dog gives you respect for their skills and for mountain safety. Best of all, at Keystone, the dogs have their own collectible trading cards. These cards have a photo of the dog, information about their training and the rescues they’ve worked on and more. On the back, the cards reinforce the Skier Responsibility Code. Good stuff!
These are just the weekly, season-long activities. For more information about special events and Kids’ Night Out, check out the Keystone website.
Whew! The Kidtopia fun doesn’t stop at the base, it just keeps going on-mountain from morning ’til night.
Kidventure Zones: Keystone has three special areas, on the mountain, just for kids. Ski through an old mine, visit Ripperoo’s Forest or take a Klondike Adventure. These areas are yours to discover and enjoy!
Tubing: We loved it, plain and simple (and I’ll be writing more next week!). In my opinion, it’s the perfect “day off” activity or a super-fun evening alternative for families with teens. Fun, fun, FUN! Reservations for one hour sessions are required, 970-496-3000.
Snow Fort: This is another one of my favorites, and judging from the large number of adults playing, and posing, in the snow fort, it’s popular with all ages! Just don’t lick the throne. Your tongue will freeze. I saw it happen.
The Snow Fort and Tubing are both found at Adventure Point at the top of the River Run Gondola.
Night Skiing: Keystone has “Colorado’s Longest Ski Day,” with lifts operating out of the River Run and Mountain House bases (check). Night skiing operates Wednesday through Sunday all season, and every night during March.
EpicMix Racing: New this season at all Vail Resorts, EpicMix racing is the Vail alternative to NASTAR, complete with a national championship at Beaver Creek in April. At Keystone, you’ll find the mellow, forgiving dual-slalom course on Flying Dutchman. It’s appropriate for even the youngest skiers and fun for all ages.
KAT Skiing: Keystone has two cat skiing options for expert skiers and riders who can ski trees and powder. The first is the Outback Shuttle, which for $5 in hard, cold cash will take you and 11 others to the expert terrain in the Outback Bowls. The second option is an all-day cat skiing adventure in Independence Bowl, Keystone’s newest expert-only terrain. Two guided tours leave daily and reservations are required.
If you’re uncertain about your ability, but interested in a cat adventure, take the Mountain-Top Snowcat Tour to scope out the terrain and talk with guides.
A51 Terrain Park: Another option for big kids, and expert skiers and riders, is the incredible, huge, comprehensive Area 51 terrain park. One of the top 10 parks in the country, as ranked by Snowboarding Magazine, it’s where pros come to practice before the X Games and is not for the faint of heart. Watch the action from the Peru Express.
Nordic Skiing: Last but not least, Keystone has a Nordic center with rentals and 9 miles of groomed trails.
Why My Family Loves Skiing At Keystone, Colorado, November 4, 2010.
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