I consider myself very lucky. I live in what I would classify as the best state in the Union. I can do almost every outdoor activity imaginable, and the scenery is just gorgeous beyond compare. The weather is mild and we get nearly 300 days of sunshine a year in the Denver area.
One of the activities that I love most is downhill skiing. Again, I consider myself lucky. When I lived in Florida, getting to a ski resort was a major undertaking. When I lived in Wisconsin, it involved a serious drive and to be honest, the skiing was just okay. But in Colorado, I live by some of the worldís premiere resorts.
My favorite ski area is Vail. Next in line would be Copper Mountain, and right after that would probably be a tie between Keystone and Arapahoe Basin for that third-place position.
Keystone is but an hour-and-a-quarter drive from my home. That makes getting there fairly easy, and almost all of it is on the highway. On a weekend, the traffic gets a bit nasty, but that hour-and-a-quarter is with weekend skier traffic.
Parking at Keystone is free, unless you want close-in parking. The free parking lots are expansive, and probably the only time I can remember all of the free lots being full is during a holiday weekend. There are plenty of shuttles to take you from the parking lot to the lift ticket office, or if youíre not afraid to walk in ski boots, itís a five or six minute walk to the same area.
In the 2000-2001 season, Iíve been to Keystone seven times. Iíll probably hit Keystone another three or four times before they shut down the lifts for the season and I have to wait until next year. Iím able to ski at Keystone so often because I have a season pass called the Colorado Card, which lets me ski unlimited days at Arapahoe Basin, Keystone and Breckenridge, and gives me ten free ski days at Vail and Beaver Creek. Iíve been splitting up my trips between the various mountains.
What I love about Keystone
Keystone is huge. Itís not quite as expansive as Vail, but you do have 1861 acres of skiable terrain.
Keystone Mountain, which is the main area, has 723 acres with 706 of those acres having snowmaking capabilities. It has 61 trails, with 18 lifts servicing those trails. It contains many of the easiest runs, and this is where most families wind up skiing.
On Keystone Mountain, my favorite run is the Spring Dipper to Santa Fe to Missouri to River Run. This run consists of all Blue (intermediate) trails, is located at the edge of the ski boundary, and is a nice, long run that offers a variation of terrain and ski conditions. I have to admit that I donít ski this area all that often because I tend to stay away from the crowded areas.
North Peak is the next section of Keystone. It has 249 skiable acres with 150 of those acres having snowmaking capabilities. There are only 17 trails and only three lifts servicing the area, and it is more difficult than Keystone Mountain. This helps to cut down on the crowds, because thereís only one Green (easiest) run in this section called Fox Trot. Fox Trot is a slow, winding trail that provides little challenge and actually takes you to The Outback.
On North Peak, my favorite run is the Geronimo trail. This trail provides nearly 1620 vertical feet of solid moguls from the very top to the very bottom. I know that when I ski Geronimo that I will be exhausted at the bottom, but Iíll always have a huge smile on my face.
For those skiers who arenít up for Black (expert) trails, Star Fire, Last Alamo, Prospector and Mozart are all Blue runs, and will get you from the top to the bottom without running into any Black territory.
The last section at Keystone is The Outback. Aside from housing the North and South Bowls, The Outback is not an area where the beginner skier wants to wind up. There are no Green runs at The Outback, and even the Blues are more difficult than most of the Blue runs on Keystone Mountain or North Peak.
The Outback is made up of 889 skiable acres with 100 of those acres having snowmaking capabilities. There are 38 runs, but only one chairlift to service the entire area. While you may think that doesnít sound like nearly enough for that many trails, The Outback doesnít see the same crowds that North Peak and Keystone Mountain do. However, Iíve also experienced lines up to fifteen minutes on truly busy days.
I prefer the runs just under the North Bowl. My favorite run in this section is Timberwolf. It is a short Black trail that dumps into Coyote Caper, a much longer Black trail.
What I like most about trails under the North Bowl is that they arenít your typical trails. Most of these trails are simply small open spaces in the midst of a forest of trees. It takes painstaking attention to make sure that you are always skiing safe in this area, but it is definitely worth that effort. You have to find the best way down amidst not only the trees, but have to avoid obstacles like rocks and find out how to traverse moguls that sometimes requires stopping before you can find the right way down. It adds a good deal of challenge to the sport of skiing, and turns it into more of a thinking manís sport than a daredevilís sport.
For those who donít like skiing under these conditions, there are a host of Blue runs down the middle of The Outback. There is also glade skiing on the other side of the Blue runs (all of which arenít marked but should be treated as Black trails).
I have always found the staff at Keystone to be very friendly and very courteous. I canít say that Iíve ever bumped into a rude lift operator or a nasty ski patrol officer.
Keystone stays open later than most other ski areas. Usually the closing date is April 30th.
Keystone also has good cross-country skiing. The scenery in the White River National Forest is gorgeous.
What I dislike about Keystone
If I had to be honest, Iíd say that they need to open up a little more terrain. Also, the prices of food inside the lodges are very expensive, but I canít really fault Keystone alone for that. Show me a resort that doesnít make 600% profits on the food and Iíll go there instead. I normally just pack a lunch whenever I ski because I see paying for food as a waste of my hard-earned money.
Aside from that, I have no real complaints about Keystone.
Conclusion and Recommendation
I definitely recommend Keystone if you want less crowds and more time to ski than say, Breckenridge, which has all the problems of a big resort. Ticket window lift ticket prices are $52 a day, but if you check with your hotel or shop in Denver you can purchase them for around $35 or $37.
If skiing is your game, give Keystone a try. You wonít be disappointed.
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Level of Experience Needed: All
Best Time to Visit: March
Best Suited For: Families