Keystone Ski Resort

Purpose-built and big, Keystone is an intermediate’s dream. But there's plenty to challenge the novice and expert too, as the three linked mountains nestled in the White River National Forest expand into deeper and steeper terrain. Keystone has several unique features, not least a ski training center run by U.S. Olympic medalists Phil and Steve Mahre.

Try to arrive after dark and your first impression of Keystone will be a good one. Keystone offers the best night skiing in North America and the surrounding slopes sparkle in the star-dusted sky. Keystone has been improved in recent years and is now a complex of villages linked by the Keystone shuttle and collectively rated as a great resort for families. As a bonus, Keystone has some of the best restaurants of all the U.S. ski resorts, and is close to Denver so the transfer time is short.

Keystone Ski Area

Keystone is surrounded by the high peaks of the Continental Divide and the Ten Mile Range. To the west is scenic Lake Dillon and to the east is Loveland Pass.

The resort nestles below three big mountains: Dercum Mountain at 11,640 feet (3,548 m), behind which is the 20 feet (6 m) higher North Peak, and behind that is the highest and largest summit, The Outback, at 12,200 feet (3,719 m). This gives a vertical rise of 3,128 feet (953 m) and you are not just skiing across the front of a mountain at Keystone but skiing and riding deep into the mountains-truly exploratory.

The three back-to-back-to-back mountains offer just about anything the skier or rider cares to tackle, but with only 19 percent of the trails designated as easy, the emphasis is on advanced and intermediate skiing. So it's the more demanding trails on North Peak and The Outback that beckon, with plenty of terrain to explore and the hikeable bowls catering to expert skiers and riders.

The front side of Dercum Mountain attracts skiers for its superbly groomed cruising trails that overlook a vast expanse of pristine National Forest, two of the villages, and the beautiful Snake River Valley below. Night skiing and boarding is also available with lighted terrain, including a park and halfpipe, well into evening hours-something not on offer at many other Colorado resorts. It adds up to 235 acres (95 ha) of skiable terrain, 17 trails with the longest trail of three miles (4.8 km) and a vertical drop of 2,340 feet (713 m).

Keystone Ski Lifts

Keystone has everything from T-bar lifts through enclosed gondolas and six-person high-speed lifts. Beginners use the T-bars and carpets at the base of the mountain and also at Dercum Mountain’s summit, while more experienced skiers can take two enclosed gondolas to North Peak and the Outback.

Keystone has added a high-speed quad, as well as improved gondola systems for the River Run and Outpost gondolas. Keystone has also added a magic carpet to the Discovery Learning Area to supplement the lift and T-bar there. The efficient six-seater high-speed chairs mean the lifts are very rarely crowded except at the base of the mountain. You can avoid lines by going to Keystone's North Peak and Outback areas (in other words, getting off Dercum Mountain and exploring the other peaks.) Because there is night skiing here, lifts can stay open from 9:00 am-9:00 pm.

Keystone Beginner Skiing

Keystone's beginner skiing is located entirely on the front the resort's three peaks. Beginners are advised to stick to Dercum Mountain, which caters especially to first-time skiers with a range of easy green and slightly more testing blue trails—and a reduced chance of being intimidated by more experienced skiers and riders.

The front side of Dercum Mountain is best for beginners, including the Discovery Learning Area by the Mountain House Base Area, and the learning area at the top of Dercum Mountain. Beginners start on the Discovery slope but progress is swift from there onto the long and narrow Schoolmarm, or onto the next stage-the Flying Dutchman blue down the side of the mountain.

The green (beginner) trails, on Dercum Mountain and North Peak, allow beginners to enjoy the views from the River Run and Outpost gondolas and ski in different areas. Keystone's longest trail is three and half miles (5.6 km) and it is a beginner trail. Remember that this is high-altitude terrain and you could be susceptible both to chilly winds and headaches because of the thin air, which can make the learning experience uncomfortable.

Keystone Intermediate Skiing

Intermediates make up the majority of skiers in every resort and so it is here too.

Improving skiers can test their legs and last year's skills on Dercum Mountain and then find good trails all around the area, notably on the North Peak which has five blue trails of varying character, with the Star Fire trail being the most demanding. It's pretty steep and right below the lift, so you need to look good!

Another good trail is to take the River Run Gondola up Dercum Mountain and drop back to North Peak on Mozart trail. Then take the Santiago Express to the summit of North Peak and follow Spillway to Coyote Caper in The Outback. The Outback is even more challenging terrain with plenty of tree trails and steep groomers without the crowds. Lunch at the summit of North Peak is a must, so try the Outpost or the Alpenglow Stube for much more than a lunchtime pit stop.

Keystone Expert Skiing

All three Keystone mountains have some challenging trails—there are six double black diamonds on the generally intermediate North Peak for example.

However, the hardest skiing around Keystone is on Outback Mountain, where the Black Forest has a number of steep, moguled trails, made yet harder by snowboarders. So make your way three mountains back to The Outback and play around in the Black Forest and the Outer Limits. Nothing beats the hiking terrain atop the Outback.

The Outback Bowls (North and South) beckon with the toughest skiing-especially The Windows and The Black Forest. From the top of the Outback lift, off-piste skiers can ski across to these open, steep-sided bowls, well above the treeline, and just great after fresh snow. The South Bowls is best for powder.

Keystone Boarding & Freestyle

Boarders first came to Keystone in ’96–97. Freeriders head for the Outback Bowls and hike beyond to find good start-off points.

Keystone has two terrain parks featuring more than 12 tables, 15 rails, and a halfpipe-reputed to be the best in Summit County. Keystone doesn't have long "catwalks" so it's relatively easy getting around the slopes. However, as a family resort, Keystone has made a special effort to cater to teenage snowboarders with a 20-acre (8-ha) fun park in Area 51 with plenty of pipes and nighttime illumination.

Otherwise snowboarders head for the Black Forest trails on Outback, or cruise happily down the steeper trails on Keystone Mountains or North Peak.

Keystone Mountain Restaurants

Fine dining and a family atmosphere do not always sit easily together but Keystone manages to cater to both.

To go upscale, take the gondola to the Alpenglow Stube mountain restaurant, which claims to have the best haute cuisine of any ski resort in North America-it stands at 11,444 feet (3,488 m) so one hopes the "haute" is not a pun. The Wild Boar is recommended and the wine list extensive. Another restaurant requiring transport is the Soda Creek Homestead, reached by horse-drawn sleigh, but for a really reliable gourmet evening try the Ski Tip Lodge or the Keystone Ranch-both highly rated by regular customers.

You can eat very well indeed in and around Keystone-and, as a final tip, try the steaks at the Keystone Lodge. Keystone has four mountain restaurants: two cafeterias, one gourmet dining, and one BBQ.  At night, one of the cafeterias converts to the Der Fondue Chessel, a Bavarian-style fondue restaurant complete with raclette, live music, dancing, and lots of food.

Keystone Village

Keystone is an attractive, purpose-built development comprising three pedestrian-only villages: Keystone Village, River Run, and Mountain House Base Area.

Each of the village areas is located along the base of Keystone Mountain and closed to vehicular traffic. They are modern Colorado-timber in style and feature stores, restaurants, ski schools, and cafés. Keystone Village also has a large lake that becomes the nation's largest outdoor ice-skating venue in the winter. Very family-friendly, Keystone also caters to business parties with the expansion of the large Conference Center-now the largest and most sophisticated facility in the Colorado Rockies. The River Run village has developed significantly during the past several years with many condos, restaurants and stores making up the new, biggest hub of the resort.

Keystone Restaurants & Bars

The Vail area offers a wide variety of nightlife from the upscale to the downhome and Keystone, to be perfectly frank, does not cater to ravers. This is really a resort for families and that tones down the wilder spirits.

On the other hand, look at the facilities. Night skiing until 9:00 pm, sleigh rides, ice skating, snowmobiling and tennis. Of the 20 bars in the resort, the Goat is the locals' hangout for all ages; Kickapoo Tavern attracts the 25-35 group, as it's close to the slopes and is a good place to see and be seen; Ski Tip has high-end cocktails in a cozy, romantic setting, for mostly 35 .

Kickapoo is the "sports bar" at Keystone and twentysomethings go there to catch their favorite games. LaBonte's Cabin is another place to seek Keystone's après-ski vibe. Liquor and licensing laws are strict in Colorado with no open containers except at restaurants and in designated events/locations, and a minimum age for consuming alcohol of 21. However, children can accompany parents in bars and other places serving alcohol and there are no closing time restrictions.

There are 35 restaurants in the resort catering mainly to families. They range from Kickapoo, a sports bar with appetizers and burgers, to Parrot Eyes for Mexican food if you're budget-minded, through to Summit Seafood Company, serving fresh seafood, Bighorn for mid-wallet spenders looking for prime rib and salad bar, and the aforementioned Ski Tip, Keystone Ranch, and Alpenglow Stube for more pricey meals. The Ranch has been voted Colorado's Number One restaurant in a recent Denver/Salt Lake City Zagat Survey.

There are several nightclubs: Kickapoo, Snake River Saloon, The Green Light, Parrot Eyes, Great Northern Tavern and the Last Lift Bar all with live music of different kinds, drink specials, and a cool night scene.

Keystone Other Activities

Keystone’s non-skiing key ingredient is its Adventure Passport (free with your stay), which is good for more than a dozen free activities at Keystone Resort and is worth up to US$300.

During the ski season you can try the outdoor ice skating and hockey rink, Nordic Center (including skate, classic, and snowshoe trails,) tubing at Adventure Point, fitness center and pool, indoor tennis courts, sledding hill, and jogging trail. For non-skiers there's ice skating, tubing, gym workouts, sledding, tennis, swimming, horse-drawn sleigh rides, wine tasting, yoga, snowshoeing, Nordic skiing, spa services, shopping, fly fishing, hockey clinics, Living in Wellness lecture series, and a wine appreciation seminar.

Many, but not all, of these activities are free with the Keystone Adventue Passport. Most of the stores are in River Run Plaza or Keystone Village and offer everything from handmade jewelry to luxury coffees and fine wines. To rent or buy ski equipment check out Specialty Sports in River Run, and the Mountain House.

Keystone Rating
  • Ski Area star rating
  • Snowsure star rating
  • Advanced star rating
  • Intermediates star rating
  • Beginners star rating
  • Ski Lift System star rating
  • Lift Queues star rating
  • Scenery star rating
  • Resort Charm star rating
  • Apres Ski star rating
  • Non-Skiers star rating
  • Getting There star rating
  • Keystone Statistics
  • CountryUSA
  • StateColorado
  • Number of ski lifts20
  • Gondolas2
  • Chairlifts11
  • Surface lifts7
  • Riders per hour35000
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