Around these parts December brings excitement and anticipation. I find myself counting the days, checking the sky, unable to wait for that wonderful day…when I first get to climb into my downhill skis. We will be getting some East Coast skiing in again this winter – our plan is to hit Mad River Glen the day after Christmas, and maybe at some point we’ll make it up to Smuggs again too. But today I’m turning my eyes westward and dreaming of skiing at Keystone Resort in Colorado.
I had the chance to visit Keystone in October, when the golden aspens were at the height of their glory. I loved everything about this family-friendly resort from the old-school vibe to the glorious views. The resort is basically its own self-contained ski town and it’s clear that the entire place was lovingly created with respect for the beauty of the surrounding area. I knew that I liked Keystone when I realized that it’s a bit of a hidden gem – less well-know than nearby Vail, Beaver Creek, or Breckenridge and with a mission to get families outside enjoying the beauty of the Rockies in all seasons, but especially the winter. Keystone felt like a place that inspires the kind of loyalty and devotion that I really appreciate as a Mad River skier (on the weekend I visited Keystone, the resort’s founder Max Dercum died at 98; I saw more than one person placing flowers on the statue of Dercum that stands near the base of the gondola).
If you’ve followed my family’s skiing adventures in the past, you know that we have a tendency to spend dawn to dusk on the mountain skiing up a storm. I’m a terrain junkie, and when I visited in October I found myself drunkenly ogling the trail maps (some of that woozy feeling might have been the altitude – Keystone’s base elevation is 9300 feet). Although I haven’t yet had a chance to check out the skiing personally, I’m pretty certain that the three mountains don’t disappoint in this regard, with their 3128-foot vertical, 135 trails, and two terrain parks.
The Ski and Ride School has a new program this season called Camp Keystone for kids aged 3 to 14, offering daylong lessons for kids of all ability levels and using kid-friendly learning areas. If you sign your children up for three or more days of lessons, they are guaranteed the same instructor. The school also offers a parent/teacher conference program where parents can spend an afternoon skiing with their children and the instructor who has been working with them to get tips on how to offer instruction and support (I’d love to give that a try as I’m never quite sure how to help Tommy improve). And for one more fun and motivating tool, check out the Epic Mix App, which allows skiers to track the feet and trails they’ve skied and put pins on a digital map. This year the resort will also have photographers on the mountain taking pictures for free and allowing guests to use Epic Mix to share photos on social media sites.
Throughout the winter, during weekends and holiday periods the resort offers what it calls Kidtopia. As part of these programs families can enjoy many of the non-skiing, kid-oriented activities at the resort like the huge snow fort that’s constructed there every winter and the tubing park. Included also are indoor activities like arts and crafts, live music, and entertainment.
Oh, and did I mention the cozy condos? When I was there in October, I stayed in the family-friendly River Run Village. The comfortable units here are individually decorated and feature gas-burning fireplaces, fully equipped kitchens, ski lockers, and laundry facilities. And the best part? River Run is fully ski-in, ski-out on Dercum Mountain, the easiest of the resort’s three peaks (there’s a gondola at the top of Dercum over to North Peak, where you’ll find some of the more challenging terrain). The adorable village has a local coffee shop-bookstore-bar, a small grocery store, and a steakhouse restaurant as well as a brand new 7200 square foot outdoor skating rink with a chocolate shop selling hot beverages right next door.
River Run is just one option when it comes to staying at Keystone; for example, you can also stay in more of a traditional hotel setting at Keystone Lodge (word to the wise: This is where you’ll find the spa). But no matter where you stay, if you’re arriving at the resort by car you can park when you arrive and then use the resort’s shuttle services to get around to the various areas. And while you can certainly bring your own groceries if you are staying in a condo, there are also lots of choices for dining, from fondue at the top of North Peak at the Der Foundue Chessel to pizza by the resort’s large lake near the Keystone Lodge. Families with foodie kids like mine will want to make reservations the intimate Ski Tip Lodge, housed in an old stagecoach stop that also served as the Dercum’s home and has been a bed and breakfast since the 1940s. Offering a changing four-course menu, the food here is thoughtfully prepared using local ingredients – I enjoyed an excellent dinner that finished with dessert and coffee by the large stone fireplace.
We’re not going to make it to Keystone until March, but if you’re looking for a destination for your next family ski trip, I definitely recommend you take a look. They offer lots of great deals throughout the season. If you book before December 15, they’re offering rates as low as 67 percent off stays of four nights or more. Keystone is easily accessible from the Denver International Airport with affordable shuttles running regularly.
I can’t wait to get on skis! What are you dreaming of this Monday?
Full disclosure: Vail Resorts and Keystone covered my lodging and some of my dining expenses in October and will be doing the same when my family visits in 2012. But the opinions I express here are my own. All photos in this post courtesy of Vail Resorts.
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