At 4:30 p.m, we were still skiing.
As we passed the mid-mountain snow fort at Keystone, we heard peals of laughter coming from children and parents alike.
Our destination was the nearby tubing hill, where families of every age and groups of adults were whooping it up, enjoying the untamed thrill of spinning downhill, captive of gravity.
At this time of day, the sun was beginning to set, illuminating peaks in every direction with golden low-angle light.
The trail lights were just coming on, as Keystone prepared for night skiing. At a time when most ski resorts are buttoned-down for the night, the fun at Keystone had hours to go.
Three Reasons Why Keystone is Special
We think three things set Keystone apart from other ski resorts in Colorado.
First, the terrain. While Keystone has a well-deserved reputation as a destination for intermediate-level families, 56% of the trails at Keystone are rated advanced.
Second, a remarkable family-friendly atmosphere, not just for the 12 and unders, but also for teens.
And, third, the longest ski day in Colorado, with lift service from 8:30 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. most days.
Keystone for Beginners and Intermediates
Keystone has 127 trails spread across 3,148 skiable acres on three mountains.
From the base areas, only Dercum Mountain is visible. Dercum is a haven for beginners and intermediates, despite a rather steep pitch into River Run.
Don’t let this face deceive you.
At the top of the River Run Gondola the mountain flattens out, a perfect location for the resort’s primary learning area.
From the summit of Dercum Mountain, skiers and riders can explore 3.5 mile Schoolmarm, Keystone’s designated Family Ski Trail, along with a variety of other green and blue runs, including Flying Dutchman and Frenchman.
Here, you’ll also find EpicMix Racing, the snow fort, tubing and the A-51 Terrain Park with 60 acres of features and lanes for beginners to pros.
Since there are very few advanced runs on Dercum Mountain, higher level skiers and riders tend to push on to North Peak and The Outback.
Hence, the resort’s intermediate reputation.
Keystone for Advanced and Expert Skiers
Like many people, we bought into the idea that Keystone is “best” for intermediates and beginners.
And then we experienced a weekend of single-ride cat skiing and long, steep runs of every flavor, including some fantastic tree skiing.
We enjoyed every turn, during both day and night. One of our sons summed it up best, declaring the skiing “eye-opening.”
Starting with lift-served terrain, we are all in on North Peak. While the conditions obviously vary with snowfall, when we were at Keystone in late February our favorites included Starfire (fast, groomed, not a bit icy), Powder Cap (bumps, bumps, bumps) and Bullet Glades (a nice pitch that has been generously thinned).
Upping the ante a little, the tighter trees in The Windows were sublime.
On The Outback, we spend most of our time traversing into North Bowl and riding the Outback snowcat shuttle. Offering first-come single rides for $10 each, the shuttle takes skiers and snowboarders 1.5 miles above North Bowl, saving them a 30 minute hike and presenting guests with a smorgasbord of open bowl turns and tree lines.
As for hiking, Keystone has 31 hike-to trails in five bowls, with hikes ranging from five to 45 minutes.
Keystone also offers all day cat-skiing with Keystone Adventure Tours. For $285 participants get a lift pass, guide, powder ski rentals and lunch. As you might guess, reservations are required and need to be made well in advance.
Both a Kidtopia and a Teentopia
Keystone’s commitment to families starts with their Kids Ski Free program and continues with daily Kidtopia events for 12 and unders, including a Saturday afternoon parade, fireworks, ice cream socials, movie nights and more. There are on-mountain and off-mountain Kidtopia events every day of every week.
While teens may enjoy some of these activities (meeting Avalanche dogs and ice skating come to mind), what we think makes Keystone special for teens is the freedom. Stay in River Run Village and everything is just a short walk away.
Have a teen who wants to sleep in one morning? No problem. Your son or daughter wants to take a mid-afternoon break and ride in the evening? Again, no problem. Keystone is a perfect place to set your teens free and let them tailor their ski day to their desires.
Keystone After Dark
In addition to having the longest ski day in Colorado, Keystone at night offers a mix of blue and green runs and over 2,300 vertical feet of real skiing.
Although the skiing gets colder when the sun goes down, adding a layer, a face mask or a balaclava makes a difference. So does being able to click out of your skis and relax in a sheltered cabin on the River Run Gondola.
Add tubing lanes that stay open after dark and evening ice skating in River Run Village and nighttime becomes an especially fun time.
The Summit House at the top of Dercum Mountain is open during night-skiing and is a nice place to watch the sunset or to warm up between runs.
Memory Making Dining
Ride two gondolas and be transported to the Alps for an authentic fondue and raclette meal at Der Fondue Chessel. While this isn’t a quiet dining experience (be prepared to do the Chicken Dance), it is both tasty and fun for families.
Keystone Ranch is another option, especially good for families with teens who want to recap their day, share stories and enjoy one another’s company. Featuring steak, game and fish, the food is outstanding (and there are choices for vegetarians). Most memorable, however, is retiring from the dining room to the original 1930s cabin for dessert and coffee served ‘round the fire.
When You Go….
Our Keystone weekend was especially good because we spent Saturday with a guide from the Ski and Ride School. Our guide showed us around the mountain, finding terrain he knew we’d love, making suggestions for future exploration and jump-starting our understanding of how to ski the resort.
Family private ski lessons are available for guests of all abilities and offer a highly personalized experience, including instruction for improving everyone’s skiing and riding.
The other factor in making our weekend so fantastic was the snow. Keystone is high in the Colorado Rockies and has consistently good snow. However, this winter has seen especially generous snowfall, with the highest season totals through February in five years. January 2017 was actually the single snowiest month at Keystone in 20 years.
Finally, here are some coming events for which you might wish to plan.
Kidtopia Experience Week. Be impulsive and take the kids out of school for this one. Special Kidtopia events, including live music, highlight this week of winter family fun. March 5 – 11.
Chocolate Tours with Keystone’s “Willy Wonka.” Everyone gets a golden ticket, and gets make to make and treats, on these free tours led by Executive Pastry Chef Ned Archibald. March 8, 10 and 31.
End-of-Season Slush Cup. Pond skimming and more celebrate the end of an outstanding ski season. Sunday, April 9.
- Surprising Keystone: Bigger, Better and Fun for Everyone, February 4, 2013.
- Take Time Out For Tubing! February 13, 2013.
- Why My Family Loves Skiing at Keystone, Colorado, November 4, 2010.
- Five Family Friendly Ski Resorts, From West to East, November 12, 2014.
- Avalanche Dogs: From Lifesavers to Ambassadors, These Dogs Have What It Takes, April 1, 2013.
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