Firsthand Report: Keystone, the Key to Skiing Fun 1
Author thumbnail By Matthew Graham, DCSki Columnist

My wife and I effortlessly swooshed down the wide open slope, the soft layer of fluffy powder falling away from our skis. The trail seemed to go on forever with new and spectacular views of snow-covered peaks appearing at every twist of the slope. Bright sunshine made it feel a lot warmer than the 20 degrees registering on the thermometer. Locals call it a Colorado Blue day -; not a cloud in the sky! After dropping over three thousand vertical feet we arrived back at the Gondola of one of the state’s premier, big mountain ski destinations. No, not Vail or Aspen or Steamboat Springs -; not Breckenridge either. We came to the bottom of one of the 135 trails of one of the most beautiful resorts in the country -; Keystone. And it felt like we had the mountain to ourselves.

Glorious mountain view at Keystone. Photo provided by Matthew Graham.

Keystone is actually a series of mountains with six peaks, each over 11,600 feet high, with the highest, Keystone Peak, reaching skyward to 12,408 feet. There are long blue groomed runs, steep advanced trails, bumps galore and expert bowls and glades. Beginners have a choice of “learn to ski” areas at the top and the bottom of the resort. The easy “green” trail Schoolmarm is 3.5 miles long. And for boarders and other aerialists, the A-51 terrain park includes tables, rails, a halfpipe and a myriad of other features, for beginners and experts alike, some of the jumps as high as New York skyscrapers.

Lower portion of River Run Slope. Photo provided by Matthew Graham.

Karen, my wife, and I booked ourselves into the Silverstone Condominium complex, one of the many lodging options available in the River Run Village at the base of Keystone. The small village includes shops and restaurants and everything is within an easy walk to the main gondola. We parked our car in the underground lot after the hour and forty minute drive from Denver International Airport and didn’t get back in the vehicle again until we left three days later. There’s plenty of nightlife and other activities at Keystone -; including cross-country skiing, snow tubing, sleigh rides, ski-biking and ice stating -; all of which sounded like great fun.

We skied!

We were up early each morning and in the lift line for the gondola at 8:20 a.m. -; it opened at 8:30. The trip to the top only took seven minutes. Once at the summit of Dercum Mountain, the view took our breath away. Instead of merely looking down at a parking lot or the base of the resort, sheer mountains covered in white extended to the horizon. In many ways the view seemed similar to the ones we had found when skiing in the French Alps.

Snack Shack. Photo provided by Matthew Graham.

We started our first day learning the lay of the land -; skiing the main face on easy intermediate cruisers, such as Frenchman and Wild Irishman. These trails and a variety of blue and green runs converged at a mid-mountain high speed quad lift -; no need to ski all the way to the bottom and re-board the gondola. We lunched at the Summit House Food court on top of the mountain and then moved onto more difficult trails on the North Peak at 11,660 feet. The peak may be accessed via the intermediate Mozart trail or the long, and often quite steep expert slope Diamond Back. The North peak has a couple of blue runs. It is, however, mostly a collection of straight down expert slopes. My favorite was the super-fast Cat Dancer where I felt like I was breaking the sound barrier.

The afternoon flew by and we hopped over to the Outback peak -; a mix of groomed intermediate trails and expert runs through the trees (called glades). We only had time to glide down the handful of blues before starting to make our way back before the lifts closed at 4:30. Back at the condo, tired from a full day (and still a bit jet lagged), we ordered pizza delivery and called it a night.

Snow fort. Photo provided by Matthew Graham.

Clear skies beckoned the next morning. We decided to try the resort in reverse, traversing the peaks to the Outback at 11,980 feet. The freshly groomed snow resembled perfect corduroy on the intermediate runs Oh Bob and Porcupine. There are over a dozen gladed expert trails in the evergreen forest in the Outback. We managed to try three of them -; all narrow and twisty and requiring a great deal of effort and concentration -; one wrong turn and you are eating a pine tree. We chose, instead, to take a rest and eat at the bottom of the mountain at the 9280-foot Tap House, a nice pub with good sandwiches and a large selection of beers. With a half a day left to ski, we skipped the beer.

Matthew Graham with Tucker Burton of Keystone Resorts. Photo provided by Matthew Graham.

Back on the mountain, we retuned to the steeps at the North Peak and wound down on the our favorite blue runs coming from the top of Dercum Peak. We finished the excellent day with lots of pasta at Luigi’s Pasta House that was just around the corner from our condo.

Day three (our last day), we had the slopes wired -; almost. We still had not explored the bowls at the higher peaks that are accessible via hiking or taking a snow-cat ride at an additional charge of $5 per person. Hiking almost a mile uphill in the snow in ski boots didn’t sound like much fun. We opted for the ride. Being a Tuesday, the mountain was empty. And we waited at the pick-up point by ourselves. We waited and waited and waited and wondered if the snow-cats didn’t run on Tuesdays. Finally, a ski patrol dude spotted us and informed us that the axle had broken on the shuttle and it wasn’t running. So we never made it to the highest point at Keystone. We had to suffer the rest of the day with only 2,500 feet of vertical drop, empty slopes, fantastic weather and views, and no lift lines. If we want to hit the bowls, I guess we’ll have to make another trip to Keystone.

Statue of Max and Edna Dercum, founders of Keystone. Photo provided by Matthew Graham.
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About Matthew Graham

Matthew Graham is a skier as well as a hang glider and paraglider pilot, SCUBA diver, cavern diver, equestrian, polo player, sailor, hiker, biker, rock climber, paddler, and skater. He's also yoga teacher and certified personal trainer and has dabbled in just about every other sport, even stunt car driving and bull riding! He has written for the Washington Post, Washingtonian Magazine, USA Weekend Magazine, Hooked on the Outdoors, Richmond Magazine, Chesapeake Life Magazine, Metro Sports, American Fitness, Blue Ridge Outdoors, Recreation News and numerous other outdoor and travel publications.

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Reader Comments

February 11, 2013
Gotta love that Colorado Blue. Stunning first photo. Way to go Matthew!

Ski and Tell

Snowcat got your tongue?

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