We had the pleasure of skiing Keystone Resort for four days over the last two weeks of February and the first week of March 2019. I hadn’t skied Keystone in many years because I tend to stick to the other Summit County resorts when I am visiting the area. Keystone has never been my favourite resort to ski, but it has some excellent facilities and venues which is why we chose it as our wedding venue for March.
Our wedding trip gave us a reason to ski Keystone again and I was pleasantly surprised. Keystone gets less snow than the rest of Summit County and it has a few high traffic areas, which can make for some dicey turns. However, the staff, mountain facilities and non-skiing activities made for an excellent experience and brought me a new-found appreciation for the resort. It is a great option for a family or large group ski trip.
The mountain has three main peaks, but unlike many resorts where the village is somewhere in the middle with peaks to the left and right, the peaks are located progressively further away from the main village – River Run Village. The front side of the front peak – Dercum Mountain – is almost all green and blue runs. However the other two peaks – North Peak and The Outback – are mostly black with some blue runs. While much of the mountain is reachable by lift access, there is a large portion of the resort that is at very high altitude and reachable by hiking or snowcat. This area makes a good percentage of the mountain suitable for advanced skiers. (The resort map can be found here.)
During our visit this year, we mostly stuck to Dercum Mountain and the groomed runs on the other two peaks. We were being a little cautious prior to the wedding and had guests with us that were mostly beginners. In February, it was also very cold and it had not snowed a lot so we avoided the ungroomed runs because we were not interested in skiing icy bumps. (I have very few photos because it was so cold I refused to take my hands out of my gloves. The only ones we have are from the professional wedding photographer and a sunny day after the wedding when it finally warmed up.)
I should also note that Keystone does have night skiing. On the whole, I’ve never been a fan of night skiing so I have not tried it at Keystone. Depending on your pass, you can use the night skiing on your arrival day, before you ticket actually starts.
Runs and Lift Quality
Keystone is a pretty easy and straight forward mountain to get around. If you get all the way out to The Outback, it can take a little while to get back to the village, so you do want to plan your lunch time well. However, there are restaurant options at the top and bottom of North Peak.
The bottom halves of Mozart and River Run trails can be very hectic to ski, with a lot of traffic coming onto them. Mozart is in the valley between Dercum Mountain and North Peak and is the only way out of the valley. River Run trail is essentially the only run back down to River Run Village. On a busy day, or in poor snow, they can be a little dangerous, especially River Run trail, with all levels skiing down into the village.
Apart from the two high-traffic areas, the runs are mostly long and sweeping – just the way I like them. There are some shorter options off Montezuma Express, which has some excellent intermediate skiing, and Argentine lift, which has access to green runs. Both Montezuma and Argentine are on the front of Dercum Mountain.
Many of the lifts are high-speed lifts, with a few six-packs as well. They are well placed throughout the mountain and I never felt like getting to a lift was difficult. Keystone also has two gondolas – River Run Gondola, which takes you to the top of Dercum Mountain, and Outpost Gondola, which takes you from the top of Dercum to the top of North Peak. It’s about a 30 minute trip from River Run Village to North Peak. The gondolas are a good option to get down at the end of the day if you want to avoid the traffic.
Snow Quality and Signage
Keystone does tend to get less snow than the rest of Summit County. This means that it tends to have more hard-packed and icy snow days than some of the other resorts. This is especially true in the high-traffic areas. Compared to many places, the snow is still good, it’s just that Keystone’s proximity to so many other high-quality resorts makes it seem poorer in comparison.
Where the snow was groomed, the skiing was very good and we sought the groomers out. This was easy to do because Keystone’s on-mountain signage is excellent. At the top of most lifts, there is a run sign listing the runs in the area and the snow conditions on each run, including groomed or moguls. This is the best, most clear signage I’ve seen at a lot of resorts. These days many resorts have the information available on an app. However, sometimes you just don’t want to have to dig your phone out of your jacket. Also, if you are travelling internationally you may not have data – making access to the information while skiing difficult.
If you are staying at a Keystone Resort managed property, you do also get access to First Track Fridays. This is one hour or access to the mountain prior to main opening time. You have to show your voucher from your accommodation at the base of River Run Gondola, which is open for about 20 minutes at the start of the hour. From there you have private access to Montezuma Lift for the hour, and can just continue on skiing when the rest of the mountain opens.
For us, this worked out perfectly because it had started to snow Thursday night and we had boot-deep soft powder – truly First Tracks! It was a great experience with good snow, hardly anyone else on the runs and no line at the lift. If you want to take advantage of First Tracks at Keystone, you need to remember three things:
- While you have access to Montezuma for an hour, you have to first get up the gondola, which is only open for a short window. If you miss the window, you miss out on the opportunity.
- You can only ski off Montezuma Lift. If you go below it and end up back at the village, you have to wait for the main opening time to get back up.
- You only have access if you are staying at a Keystone operated property. We had friends who found their condo in a building next to ours through Airbnb and were unable to join us.
Keystone has a large village that stretches along Highway 6. The main part of the resort activity is River Run Village. There is a pedestrian street that runs from River Run Gondola to the free day parking lot, with shops, rental stores, restaurants and condominiums throughout. A portion of the zone is actually heated underneath so even on snowy days it is easy to walk around without fear of stepping on an icy bit. There are also a few large gas fire pits to warm up next to and make for nice social areas.
In addition to the River Run area, there is Mountain House at the base of the Argentine lift, which has accommodation options, and Lakeside Village, as well as some outlying areas. Lakeside Village is around Keystone Lake, which becomes an ice skating rink in the winter time and is home to the very nice Keystone Lodge and Spa , where many of our guests stayed.
Overall, I felt that there were plenty of accommodation and meal options at Keystone, however the village did seem a bit quieter than other villages I have stayed at. This may or may not be a good thing, depending on your personal preference.
Getting Around Keystone
Keystone has a several parking lots around the village area, both free and paid, for day visitors. The paid lots now use an online payment system that you can use with your smart phone. The free Gondola lot is a popular one, and can fill up on busy days. You will also have to walk through River Run Village to get to the Gondola or Summit Express. Mountain House East lot is a good paid lot with easy access to Argentine Lift, from which you can then access Montezuma and the rest of the mountain.
There is a free shuttle bus service, with several routes, that will get you around Keystone Resort to the various village areas and restaurants. It works very well, and depending on the route comes about every 20 minutes. You just have to time your trips appropriately so you don’t miss the next bus, and it can take a while to go from one end of the route to the other.
One of the reasons we chose Keystone for our wedding location was because there are so many non-skiing activities for people to do. This makes Keystone a great option if you have a group member who doesn’t ski, for families, or just want to enjoy the mountains but take a day off from snow riding. Some of the other activities at the resort include:
- Ice Skating
- Snow Tubing
- Scenic Sleigh Ride
- Kidtopia Snow Fort (the largest snow fort in the world)
- Cross Country / Nordic Skiing
Keystone also has a lot of choice for wedding and conference venues, including mountain top restaurants. This is also the reason we chose Keystone for our wedding, they were the only place in Summit County that could provide an on-mountain winter wedding with a charming dinner venue, including quality food, with a gondola ride. There were other on-mountain options when were looking, but they were limited to skiers (ruling out our non-skiing guests) or summer weddings. You can read more about our wedding at Keystone here.
I have visited at a lot of ski resorts over the years, and worked at two ski resorts, including another in Summit County. I appreciate what it takes to be a front line employee at a resort, which often carries the dual (sometimes opposing) roles of guest service and safety. This can sometimes also make me super critical of the guest service efforts, which is why I was so impressed with Keystone’s team.
Everyone – I mean EVERYONE – I encountered was super friendly and helpful; they made our visit easy and a joy. I don’t think it can be overstated how important this is. From the lift operations team, to the on-mountain information guides (including the ones that had to tell people the highway to Denver was shut down at one point), the various restaurant employees, the accommodation guest services team, and of course the wedding venue and catering team. Even the bus drivers were awesome. I noticed one bus driver talking to a family that she had seen earlier in the week and remembered the young girl’s name. The entire team was helpful and made you feel like you were meant to be there having a great visit.
Getting to Keystone
Keystone is located in Summit County, Colorado. It is about 90 minutes from Denver International Airport (DIA), or just over an hour west from Denver in I-70 and Highway 6.
If you are comfortable driving in the snow, plan to see other parts of the state, or plan to visit Denver first, taking a car is fairly easy. Many of the accommodation options have parking or undercover parking at Keystone.
There are also a few shuttle services that will bring you door-to-door from DIA. Epic Mountain Express (previously Colorado Mountain Express) did provide discounts with either the Epic Pass or Keystone accommodation bookings.
As part of Summit County, Keystone is also accessible by the free county bus service the Summit Stage. This is helpful if you are visiting from another resort or nearby town, or are staying at Keystone without a car and want to visit the outlet mall or other ski resorts. Skis and snowboards are allowed on the bus, and it is equipped with bike racks in the summer time.
Keystone, as part of Vail Resorts, is on the Epic Pass. If you have the season pass you can use this at Keystone for lift access. Otherwise, you will need to purchase an RFID lift ticket, which will give you access to the Epic Mix ap and the lifts. Depending on the number of days purchased with your lift ticket, you might get access to other area resorts as well. If you are staying at a Keystone property, children under 12 ski for free.
I have previously written about the Epic Australia Pass in My Perisher Review. You can read about it following the link. It is very good value if you are planning or want to ski more than one resort throughout the year or for more than two weeks.
The additional benefits that are meant to come with the pass, such as discounts on food and beverage are only really useful if you plan to eat at really weird hours, such as after 2pm (who eats lunch then?) and have a good understanding of which places are mountain-owned.
Keystone is located in Summit County, which will always have a special place in my heart. I also think it is just a really great part of the world with so many skiing and outdoor options, as well as good food and good people. To read more about Summit County, please visit my post about it here.
Have you ever been to Keystone Resort? What did you think?