There’s no shortage of reasons why Keystone’s long been a family favorite. This world-class, three-mountain resort offers so much that you might be wondering where to begin, and so as a local Colorado mom, I’ve put together some helpful tips to help you better navigate your family’s trip to Keystone.
1. Time your visit right
If possible, plan your visit on non-holidays. We picked mid-week just before President’s Day weekend, taking advantage of fewer crowds and lower prices. My son’s school’s parent-teacher conference day (we snuck ours in a week ahead of time) followed by a professional development day and two days of hooky made for a primo four-day visit. Lift lines were minimal and we had some runs all to ourselves.
2. Shoot for the middle on lodging
We aimed for the upper end of Keystone’s mid-priced lodging, choosing The Springs. Steps from the gondola was close enough, especially with Keystone’s ample supply of little red wagons to haul your gear (or tuckered-out kiddo). Our spacious 2-bedroom/2-bath (both with tubs to relax spent muscles) condo helped us feel right at home with a full kitchen, living room and balcony. A full kitchen means you can save on breakfast or lunch and splurge on dinners out.
Tip: Request a room on the opposite side of the pool if your bedtime is early, as the pool doesn’t close until 10 pm and rowdier neighbors might keep you up late.
3. Book directly and kids ski free
When you book your lodging online through Keystone Resort for two or more nights, kids under 12 ski free. While not the only resort to offer such a program, Keystone’s is one of the most generous and unrestricted. Keystone stays competitive with lodging search engines like TripAdvisor. There are other perks (like free ice skating admission and night skiing passes on evening of arrival) that come with booking through Keystone directly.
4. Dine right
Whipping your packed lunch out of a backpack isn’t frowned upon at the casual on-mountain dining spots or sundecks. You’ll find water fountains to refill your CamelBak but a cup of hot water costs 50 cents. (It’s well worth bringing your own hot cocoa mix as you’ll be set back almost $5 if you buy it at resort cafes.) If your idea of a holiday includes a vacation from eating a squished PBJ, follow your nose to Labonte’s Smokehouse, located between Ruby and Santiago Lifts to “the beach.” Kick back on Adirondack chairs and soak in some rays while you dine on the area’s best BBQ. The Outpost food court offers decent mountain food for reasonable prices. It’s tucked away at the top of North Peak, which means fewer crowds.
- Convenient and priced right
Kickapoo Tavern serves up hearty portions of home-style American food and a great selection of Colorado microbrews. Build-your-own burgers (Colorado beef and locally-baked Harvest Moon buns) kick you-know-what. A $6.95 kids’ cheeseburger meal includes two generous sliders, gobs of fries and a drink. The mountainous River Run Burger is smothered in guacamole, bacon, toasted onions, and pepper jack cheese and is complemented by a heap of fries. It’s deliciously messy enough to require a stack of napkins and switching to a fork mid-way through. Voted best après ski happy hour and outdoor deck, it’s ski-boot-hobbling distance from the bottom of River Run Gondola.
- Out of zee ordinary
Der Fondue Chessel combines a four-course (cheese, salad, meat, and chocolate) dinner with Bavarian music and dancing. Two gondola rides get you there. Book your reservation at sunset for stunning views. Your gondola attendant provides you with a heated fleece blanket, but dress warmly with hats/gloves/snow boots.
- Worth forking out a little more for dinner
Keystone offers three AAA four-diamond restaurants. We opted for Keystone Ranch, which features a two- or five-course dinner with local cuisine and wild game specialty entrées. If traveling with young children too wiggly to sit still long, you’ll appreciate the Parents Night Out option (Thursdays) where kids can dine upstairs with a sitter. There they’ll dine on top-rated kids’ cuisine and enjoy crafts, movies and more. After your fourth course, your waiter will escort you to the original part of the historic ranch to settle into a comfy sofa around the fireplace to enjoy dessert. Reservations are required and the childcare spots fill up quickly. Keystone Ranch’s complimentary shuttle will transport you to and from your hotel.
5. Enjoy ski lessons with your young pups
Even expert skiers can learn something new at Keystone. I like to start the season with something to focus on. Keystone offers parent-and-child private lessons, which are particularly useful if you and your child are relatively close in skiing (or boarding) ability. You’ll get to hear (and video) your instructor’s advice to your child so you can reinforce it later. Our instructor gave me plenty of helpful tips for improving my own form, too.
Group lessons are certainly cheaper, but in a private, you’ll get a more skilled instructor with a higher level of training. We were lucky to get the popular instructor Jim Curcio for an all-day mommy n’ me private lesson. My son loved having me there to watch him “poke the polar bears” (top of the moguls) as he shimmied down them “before they caught him.” The personal attention delivers much faster results than the group lessons do, making it well worth the splurge.
Tips on tipping: Group and private instructors are paid a modest hourly wage and rely on tips, much like a waitperson. 15-20% of your lesson fee is considered reasonable gratuity. If in a full-day private lesson, buying your instructor’s lunch is also an appreciated gesture.
6. Trust the Yellow Jackets and use the rest stops
On busier days, mama (or papa) bears will especially appreciate Keystone’s Yellow Jackets, who stand behind strategically-placed yellow “Slow” barriers flapping their arms to signal out-of-control speeding skiers or snowboarders to slow down. Repeat offenders can lose their ski pass and/or be required to take a ski safety class (much like traffic school). Just behind these road barriers are ideal spots to rest and further down the hill, some of the best snow on the hill.
You’ll also find ample family rest stops tucked to the side of runs behind similar safety barriers where you can wait for your family to catch up, sip water or adjust a ski boot without the fear of being mowed over by a runaway snowboarder/skier.
7. Choose the terrain for you
Keystone is made up of three mountains: Dercum, North Peak and Outback. Beginning skiers will want to stick to Dercum as it’s the only peak with green runs—and you’ll find plenty of them, including those with kid-friendly fun areas (parents must be accompanied by a child) with ski tunnels and Rockin’ Rollers to make your way through. Upper Ripp’s (the resort’s mascot dog) Forest is a safer place to ski trees as the forest isn’t as dense there. In summer, it’s the only tree area cleared of unsuspecting boulders and downed trees you might otherwise snag a ski on.
For Blue Square runs with fewer crowds, try Hoo-Doo or Gassy Thompson. Avoid Mozart if you can. It’s the narrowest run and the main thoroughfare taking people from Dercum to the other two mountains and so is most accident-prone. You’re better off hopping the Outpost Gondola to get to the resort’s backside.
Ready to brave your first Black Diamond? Easier blacks include Jackface, Starfire and Bullet. Hidden and well worth making your way to on crowded days is Go Devil, just west of the terrain park.
Experts will delight in 75 black runs including five bowls accessible by snowcat shuttle or foot.
8. Get EpixMix Guide and EpixMix
Vail Resorts (of which Keystone is a part) offers a new feature, EpicMix Guide, to its exclusive EpicMix free mobile app. Plug in your ability and the amount of time you want to spend on the mountain and it will plot out where to ski. This new feature is in addition to EpicMix’s other features (read more about EpicMix at Vail here), which include snapping you at scenic spots around the resort, tracking your vertical feet skied, awarding you pins, and logging your race times to share on social media.
9. Indulge yourself
Resorts work hard to differentiate themselves from other ski areas by not just providing a stellar ski experience but also delivering unique offerings on those days your knees need a break.
For parents, Keystone Spa will knead your sore muscles into a puddle of Ahhh with their signature customized massage. Pack your swimsuit if you want to take advantage of their co-ed pool, Jacuzzi or sauna.
For kids, Keystone’s Ready, Paint, Fire art camp is the perfect spot to park your children while you indulge in spa time. From 9 am-noon, they’ll get in touch with their inner artists, crafting pottery and then painting a canvas. Imaginations are fueled with donuts and juice at snack time.
10. Enjoy the resort off skis
A mountain of fun off skis includes Adventure Point’s tubing hill (the world’s highest at 11,444 feet) with a covered lift. It’s located next door to Kidtopia’s snow fort (free) at the top of River Run Gondola.
There’s no shortage of family fun listed on Kidtopia’s schedule, with free cookies at Dercum skating rink at 4 pm daily, scavenger hunts, snowball launches, weekly fireworks, and more. For more room to strut your blades, catch the shuttle to Keystone’s Lakeside village to the largest (five acres) Zamboni-maintained ice rink in North America.
One thing you’ll never hear at Keystone is, “I’m bored. There’s nothing to do.”
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