John Fritz

Booting up
Skier
Joined
Apr 20, 2016
Posts
10
Location
Silverthorne, CO


Sometimes Keystone Resort seems to fall in the shadow of its nearby sister resort of Breckenridge. But it would be a huge mistake to underestimate this resort for many reasons. It has a total vertical of nearly the same at well over 3000’ and a stated total acreage larger than Breck. What it lacks in high alpine terrain, it gains in a very efficient mountain layout with long runs and consistent fall lines. If you want steeps and bowls, go to Breck. But if you’re looking for some of the best long sustained groomers, endless bump runs, or solid tree runs, Keystone is your place of choice. On top of this, it’s one of the closest destination resorts to Denver and the most affordable of the four Vail owned resorts in the area.

  1. Parking
  2. Lift Access & Planning
  3. Groomers
  4. Bumps
  5. Trees
  6. Powder Days
  7. Hike-To Terrain
  8. Terrain Park, Night Skiing & Cat Skiing
  9. Apres Ski
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PARKING

Free Parking: The River Run Gondola lot, formerly known as the Montezuma lot will remain FREE every day (a bit of a walk, but overall pretty good deal – no shuttle buses). Families with young children or cars with four or more passengers will be directed by parking staff to first-come, first-served spaces up front.

TIP: The second lot entrance is preferable.

If there is a traffic backup on the Hwy 6 entrance, continue up to the next exit on Montezuma Rd and back track to the lot entry.

The best spots (shortest walk) are closest to the lane of this second entrance.

$10 Parking: The Mountain House East E lot (formerly known as the Pika lot).

$20 Parking: The other Mountain House base area lots, Mountain House West A, Mountain House West B and Mountain House East D (formerly the Marmot and Porcupine lots).

$30 Parking: Paid parking lots servicing River Run – Hunki Dori (gone starting with the 2019-20 season) and Gold Bug.

Pay lots will be changing from an entry gate system to one involving the Passport Parking app and kiosk system. Guests can park at a space and pay in advance at the kiosk, or install the Passport Parking app and pay remotely on their phone.



LIFT ACCESS & PLANNING


Keystone Resort consists of three separate mountains. Initial access to the slopes is only available on the frontside Dercum Mountain. The middle mountain is North Peak and the third is The Outback. The layout is very simple and efficient with a single lift serving each summit and another lift for returning. Big acreage and few lifts equates to more time on the snow and less time sitting in a chair. There is also a gondola bridging the gap between Dercum and North Peak which can come in handy at times (more on that later).

There are two base areas: River Run Village and Mountain House. Which one you use will depend on where you choose to park.

River Run is the larger area, and has two lifts, the RR Gondola and Summit Express quad chair with side by side direct access to the summit. (TIP: If the gondola is crowded, it’s usually worth the quick walk across the bridge to the Summit Chair to get on your way)

The Mountain House base offers access on the summit on the Argentine connecting to the Montezuma Lift and also access to the Terrain Park area on the Peru Express Lift.

Once at the summit, you have the option to ski the frontside or ski down the back side to the bottom of North Peak and you can do the same again from North Peak to The Outback. When ready to return, simply use the dedicated Wayback and Ruby Lifts.

While each mountain has a varied choice of terrain, each seems to have a distinctly unique character. The frontside Dercum specializes in long rolling groomers, the middle North Peak has long consistent bump runs, while the Outback has acres of gladed trees. Great choices to make!



GROOMERS

Keystone has some of the best long, rolling groomers of all the resorts in the area.

On the frontside, Wild Irishman, Frenchman, Flying Dutchman, and Jackwhacker are all stellar. If you’re doing laps, don’t bother to continue to the bottom of the mountain , but catch the cutoffs to the Montezuma Lift instead. If you’re in the mood for some high speed Super G turns, the lower angle Spring Dipper is sweet.

Heading over to North Peak on Mozart is usually great, but the southerly exposure can be anything from soft to crusty. The same can apply to its twin run Anticipation when transiting to The Outback.

Although dominated by bump runs, North Peak has a gem called Starfire. It is a higher angle groomed black diamond run. Although it’s susceptible to being a bit scraped off or icy at times, it can occasionally be perfect and is always a hoot.

The Outback is mainly gladed tree terrain, but does have a couple groomers. Elk Run is very popular, but not on the recommended list because it gets rapidly scraped off and attracts too many yahoos. Porcupine, on the other hand, sees little traffic and can be very nice if it has been recently groomed.


keymogul.jpg
BUMPS

If moguls are your thing, then you’ll love Keystone. The choices are many and the fall lines are generally consistent and long.

The frontside has some decent smatterings, but if you’re seriously looking to get into some bumps, head directly to North Peak. Cat Dancer stands out as probably one of the finest bump runs you’ll find anywhere. We’re talking 1600’ vertical and .85 miles of nonstop, consistent moguls. Geronimo is right next door and almost as good. If the slight southern exposure results in less than optimum conditions, just head for Ambush, Powder Cap, or Bullet. Their northerly aspect almost always holds loose powdery snow.

The Outback can also be worth a visit. If you’re learning bumps or just don’t want to excessively punish your knees, Bighorn is superb. It has a lower angle and smaller bumps, but is still long and challenging. Even a bit easier would be Oh Bob to Wildcat.




TREES

Tree skiing is another strong suit of Keystone. While this part of Colorado is generally dominated by a thick forest of Lodgepole Pines, Keystone is about as good as it gets with many areas of decent spacing, alleys, and sightlines. As is always the case in the trees, fresh snow makes all the difference. The popular lines all get bumped out and scratchy after dry spells.

From the top of Dercum, many find the Windows enjoyable. A short hike up the cat trail from the top of the gondola yields many possible lines all the way down to Mozart. This then takes you to the Santiago Lift and up to North Peak which has also some worthy spots such as Cat South Glades and Geronimo Glades.

But the real majority of quality tree runs will be found in The Outback. It seems like almost the entire mountain can be tree skied, but we’ll try to boil it down a bit.

The trees between Oh Bob, Elk, Bighorn, Porcupine and Pika all hold good lines. Pika Glades, Wildfire, and Wolverine can be great with fresh snow, but you’d better be quick because this area seems overly popular and gets tracked out quickly.

Some of the most popular expert terrain at Keystone is the entire area between Timberwolf and The Grizz. The area is steep and the north aspect holds great snow. It is a mix of bump runs, glades, and trees and everything in between. (TIP: to keep your orientation on The Grizz look for sequential numbers posted on the trees). The only downside to skiing this area is the annoying exit through the gulley on Coyote Caper.



POWDER DAYS

Basically, see TREES and HIKE-TO TERRAIN. It’s that simple.

Other than that, getting to the goods first can net you first tracks. This is where the Outpost Gondola comes into play. When bee-lining to the Outback, skip skiing Mozart to the Santiago Lift and just take the gondola directly to the top of North Peak, then ski down Anticipation to the Outback Express Lift.




HIKE-TO TERRAIN

Although Hike-To skiing is not Keystone’s strong suit, it’s still a worth while venture. None of the hikes are too strenuous and all yield some decent returns. Each of the three peaks has its own opportunities. The resort lift map does a nice job of showing the routes.

Starting at the top of Dercum, you can continue up a cat trail behind the Outpost Gondola building to get access to the Windows and Upper Windows areas.

On North Peak you can hike as far as you want on the 1.5 mile ridge behind the Outpost Lodge and gain access to Bergman Bowl on lookers left or Erickson Bowl on the right.

The most popular hike is on The Outback following along side of the snowcat trail on the 1 mile long ridge to Wapiti Peak. An easy 10 minute hike yields access to traverses over to the Victory and Conquest Chutes (glades) in North Bowl on lookers left or South Bowl on the right. Further hiking will result in fewer tracks.



Terrain Park, Night Skiing & Cat Skiing


When it comes to Keystone, each of these categories is important either because it’s “a cut above” or just unique.

When it comes to the “Terrain Park” category, Area 51 is definitely a cut above. The entire right side of Dercum Mountain is mostly dedicated to parks of all the different difficulty features and is served by the dedicated A51 lift.
keynight.jpg
The night skiing at Keystone is both unique and a “cut above”. It is by far the largest night skiing network of lighted trails in Colorado and is routinely groomed at dusk to provide a late corduroy fix. Night skiing goes till 8pm and is included with your daily ticket or Epic Pass. It is available most nights, but not all. Check the resort website for dates.


Finally, the cat skiing at Keystone is also unique. Weather and conditions permitting, there is a daily snowcat operation doing laps on top of The Outback. For $10 per ride you can line up (and sometimes wait a bit) for the short haul up the one mile ridge to Wapiti Peak.

Additionally, Keystone provides day long guided snowcat tours through Keystone Adventure Tours. These tours serve mainly the Independence, Erickson, and Bergman Bowls above Dercum Mountain and North Peak.


APRES SKI

Finally, after a full day of racking maximum vert, you’ll need to quench your thirst. The natural choice is the popular Kickapoo Tavern in River Run just across the small bridge from the gondola. A great deck catches the afternoon sun and also provides entertaining views of throngs of skiers coming down on their last run of the day. If the Kickapoo is too crowded, a good backup option is the 9280 Tap House next to the village exit out to the River Run lot.

FOR A PRINTABLE FOLDABLE POCKET VERSION OF THIS GUIDE GO TO:
DesertSnowJunkies.com
 

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Philpug

Notorious P.U.G.
Admin
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Nov 1, 2015
Posts
23,226
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Reno, eNVy
I haven't been to Keystone in about 25 years...with them being open late this year, I'd like to get back.
 

Green08

Front Range Skier
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Joined
Jan 23, 2018
Posts
378
Location
COS
I have skied at Keystone a bunch this year for the first time. Everything in this guide seems up to date and very on point.

I would only add a couple things:

Outback is remote and most people will have little to no cell signal when skiing in that area. Signs on lifts make the warning clear.

The bathroom and warming hit/lodge options are not like other parts of the mountain either. Wayback is the only fixed grip chair that is a necessary workhorse. Be prepared once you enter the Outback, getting back takes more time, and amenities you might take for granted may not be what you expect.
 

marjoram_sage

newly addicted to skiing
Skier
Joined
Nov 14, 2018
Posts
159
Location
San Jose California
Thanks for the guide. I wanted to add a beginner perspective from a 5-day Thanksgiving trip in Nov'18. Let's get something out of the way: I'm entirely to blame for that trip. I got a bit carried away with trip planning when I got the ski bug last year. I had skied a total of 5 ski days at that point, and I couldn't wait to ski again, so I planned a trip for Thanksgiving. A friend declined to join me on that trip because he didn't believe the snow would be good. I told him, I will cancel the trip if it doesn't snow (Southwest flights).

I was tracking the weather in November and the snowfall in Nov 2018 was really good. They opened ahead of their scheduled opening date. So, I was even more excited about the trip. However, I did not know that they would only open beginner areas at the top of the mountain. The Mountain House base area was not open. I don't remember the reason, but it seemed like there was enough snow. We were staying at a hotel near the Mountain House area, and it would have been nice to go instead of the the beginner terrain at higher elevation (11,400'). I had gone on long green slopes in the previous season, but I forgot the skills with the six-month gap. I had a total of 5 ski days at that point, so there was no muscle memory. I went on the beginner chair, Ranger at the top of the North Peak. While on my second run, I lost control and crashed into the rope. I lost a lot of confidence and went back on the magic carpet. Getting on and off the magic carpet is a lot of work, and that 11,400' elevation tired me out. Because the Mountain House beginner area was not open, there was only one magic carpet, and it was crowded. I didn't ski on day two and three as my wife was taking lessons on those days and I was watching our daughter. I took a lesson day four and got lucky with a Level 3 instructor, who was terrific. On the final run of the day, we went down on the long Schoolmarm trail. It is quite steep for a green run. There wasn't a smooth progression available from the Scout run. You could do the super easy Scout run, and if you wanted more, you could continue on Schoolmarm. But I didn't have the confidence to go on Schoolmarm on my own. So I downloaded on the Gondola and took a shuttle to the Mountain House area to ride a lift that serves lower half of the mountain. I lost over an hour and a half in that whole ordeal along with all my energy. Long gondola ride, long walk through the stupid base village, wait for the shuttle in the cold weather, and another long walk from the shuttle drop off in Mountain House. The walk would be a piece of cake at sea level in tennis shoes, but not at high elevation in ski boots.

The shuttle system is good, but it doesn't drop you off near the gondola. Only the private shuttle for Keystone Lodge guests drops you near the gondola. Vail wants you to walk through their base village and spend money. You can park near the gondola for $20 or 30, which I made a note of for my next day. But the next day it was filled up, so I had to go back to the free lot and walk again. I left my skis at the overnight ski check near the gondola instead of dragging them to the shuttle stop. I brought walking shoes the next day, so I could leave my boots in the locker. By the time, I figured out all of this, it was time to go.

I learned a lot on that trip. Sadly, much of it was not about ski technique. We should have gone to Beaver Creek instead as we had no blackouts on our pass. I was trying to avoid the long drive, and I had also bought into the "family friendly" reputation of Keystone. I would have really enjoyed Keystone if I had just a few more days of skiing experience at that time. The long green runs are exactly what I crave.

It's unlikely we will ever return to Keystone. Vail sells pretty cheap passes to Keystone and Keystone is an easy drive from Denver, so I'm sure it will always be crowded with tourists and locals. We live at sea level, so we will lose a couple of days in getting acclimated to the elevation. Only a week-long trip would be worthwhile. But if we are spending a week, we would rather spend the time and money to go to a more remote place with fewer crowds.

I'm sure Keystone is a fun place to ski for people with better skills and ability to handle elevation. It just wasn't the right place for us.
 
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Ken in LA

Pulling down the safety bar
Skier
Joined
Jul 15, 2018
Posts
77
Location
LA, CA, USA
Dear John, Thank you for this wonderful guide to Keystone resort. I have been invited to spend Christmas at Keystone and I am beyond excited! Thank you for sharing your expertise. Well appreciated ⛷
 

Coach13

Out on the slopes
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Joined
Nov 15, 2015
Posts
1,417
Location
No. VA
I’ve skied Keystone off of my Epic Pass every time we hit CO and always have a great time. I think it’s known as getting less snow than Vail, BC and Breck, but coincidentally it has dumped there every day (and night) we’ve skied there. We always look forward to returning.
 
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