Where to Ski
Keystone offers more than 3,000 acres of skiable terrain and whether you are a beginner still practicing linking turns or a seasoned veteran chasing some fresh fallen powder, this wintery playground has something for everyone.
If you have kids who are braving the bunny hills for the first time, or if you’re a never-ever yourself, Keystone has got you covered. The resort offers plenty of first-time training spots and beginner trails on Dercum Mountain. At the Mountain House base, there’s a learning area serviced by the Discovery lift and four surface lifts for newbies to get a feel of the skier and boarder life. But beginners won’t be restricted to the base here at Keystone as there’s another learning area with a surface lift on the summit of Dercum Mountain giving them a taste of high-alpine skiing at 12,614 feet of elevation. To reach the mountaintop learning area, take the River Run Gondola, and the learning area is right outside the chairlift station.
For the best experience, beginner skier and snowboarders should consider taking lessons with Keystone Ski & Ride School. Young members of the family should also consider signing up for Camp Keystone, where ski lessons are cleverly disguised by game-aided learning, starting with being launched onto the outdoor snow area on a 24-foot slide.
Once you have graduated from the bunny hills and surface lifts, the real fun begins! There are plenty of green trails on Dercum Mountain to test your newly acquired skills, and the highlight of these must be the Schoolmarm Family Ski Trail. This green trail is the easiest run from top to bottom and by far the best choice for a first timer with its groomed surfaces, slower speed and offers an abundance of room for pizza’s and french fries. This family ski trail is also one of the longer trails at 3.5 miles, giving skiers and riders plenty of time to enjoy the stunning views of Lake Dillon and the surrounding Rocky Mountain ranges.
For the little ones, there are also a few kid’s adventure zones to explore around mid-Schoolmarm. Ripperoo’s Glade offers beginner level tree skiing with a wide cat track in the middle. Lost Mine has two tunnels where beginner skiers can join back onto the green Silver Spoon run or skiers with a bit more experience can hop onto the blue HooDoo trail.
Aced the simple stuff? The Spring Dipper is one of our favorites! Although it’s a blue trail, it’s a fantastic and achievable run for beginners to test out and is even enjoyed by expert skiers.
Keystone is truly an intermediate skier’s haven, with all three mountains offering some of the best blue trails Colorado has on offer. Warm up on Dercum Mountain, where you’ll find some of the best groomers here. Choose from a wide variety of options including Flying Dutchman, Frenchman, Wild Irishman, and Paymaster, all accessed from the top of Dercum Mountain or off the Schoolmarm trail. Our good friend from Keystone Resorts, Russell Carton named his favorite run on Dercum as a combination of “Flying Dutchman to Jackwhacker to Beger to Dercum’s Dash. This top to bottom series of trails is a groomed cruisers delight, with a series of differentiation terrain on each trail”
North Peak, on the other hand, offers Last Alamo, a blue trail and Ambush a black but doable trail. They feature some delicate bump runs, and after experiencing its tracks for the first time, you may wind up telling all your southern friends how much you “remember the Alamo.” If you’re thinking about leveling up, Starfire, is a screamer. Although it’s a black trail, this higher angle groomed run is a good challenge for intermediates that are willing to take a risk. If these trails are beyond your level then you’ll be glad to know you can take a breather at the end as all these trails lead back onto designated slow skiing areas. But if you’re keen on lapping, take the Santiago Express back up to the peak.
The Outback boasts Oh Bob and Elk Run (half-groomed and half-bumps), both of which are serviced by the Outback Express. Porcupine is also good for those looking to do a little tree skiing (or are they quills? We can’t tell!) which has become one of Keystone’s highlights. This trail gives a fantastic intermediate level introduction to glading.
While over half the trails at Keystone are labeled as advanced, the level of difficulty doesn’t compare with the gnarly steeps at other resorts such as Arapahoe Basin. That being said, advanced skiers will enjoy the black runs here. Cat Dancer on the North Peak has a reputation for being one of the more supreme bump runs at Keystone. Sliding along the snow banks and experiencing the cool breeze brushing against your face makes a skier feel just like a dancer, and its length and sustainability make it a prime spot for seasoned snow veterans. The trail finishes at the bottom of Santiago Express making this a lappers dream. Geronimo is also quite popular, though if snow conditions tend to run a bit stale, skiers can move over to Powder Cap, Bullet or Ambush. Snow on these trails last longer thanks to their north facing aspects. However, when the snows are dumping, make sure to check out Cat South Glades next to the Cat Dancer for some great off-piste glading action.
The Outback is where advanced skiers and riders will want to spend most of their time. Our favorite runs here include Wolverine, Wildfire, Pika and Porcupine (yes, we’ve mentioned it before but it’s so good that it deserves a second shout-out). These runs are very loosely defined in gladed terrain, so feel free to get adventurous here. But again, if the weather lets you down, head over to The Grizz and Timberwolf at The Blackforest for some steep glades.
Keystone offers a total of 20 different lifts. The majority of these service the popular blue and green trails on the front side of the Dercum Mountain. The North Peak is serviced by three lifts, Outpost Gondola, Santiago Express and Wayback, while The Outback is only serviced by the Outback Express.
The easiest way for intermediate and advanced skiers looking to sample North Peak and The Outback would be to take the River Run Gondola or the Summit Express from River Run Village base area to reach the top of Dercum Mountain (if you took the gondola option, don’t get off at the first stop) before hoping on to The Outpost Gondola to North Peak.
Bear in mind, the River Run Gondola gets quite crowded from opening until about 10:00am, so if you hate lift line queues like us, skip the River Run Gondola and go straight for the Summit Express. Both take you to the top of the Dercum Mountain and starts at the River Run Village area. But during the resort gridlock hours between 9:00am - 10:00am and 11:00am – 1:00pm, you can avoid between 20 – 70 % of the queue time by taking the Summit Express. For the data fans reading this, I recommend checking out Vail Resort’s super handy EpicMix Time Insights. It provides full visibility into lift queue times for each day of the 2016/17 season across a number of Vail Resorts, including Keystone.
The front side and the connector runs between the three mountains (Mozart, Anticipation and Spillway) can also get very crowded during these times and the Santiago Express on North Peak usually has the shortest wait time for the North Peak’s intermediates.
For all you Cody Jarretts out there looking to reach the “top of the world,” the Outback Express provides access to the highest lift-served terrain and reaches an elevation of 11,981 feet.
Harsh winds, ice and other weather conditions can occasionally cause lift closures, so it’s important to pay careful attention to resort signs to ensure you’re never stuck on a slope. Our advice is to try and learn which lifts will be closed before you plan your visit or ask ski patrol for help at one of the many mountain huts.
Crossing Between Ski Areas
For the most part, this is an easy feat that usually involves only two or three lift rides and connecting trails. From the summit of Dercum, skiers can take the Outpost Gondola to reach the top of North Peak. Alternatively, skiers can take Mozart, an intermediate run or Diamond Black, an expert trail that both end at the base of North Peak. They can then hop onboard Santiago Express to the summit of North Peak. Unfortunately, there is no gondola to connect the summits of North Peak and The Outback so skiers and riders will need to ski down Anticipation, a blue trail, to the base of The Outback before jumping on the Outback Express to the summit.
Keystone is middle of the pack with regards to snowfall when compared to neighboring resorts, with about 5.8 meters of annual snowfall. This doesn’t sound too bad until you realize Keystone is one of the most popular resorts in the US and any new freshies are hunted down very quickly.
What makes up for the lack in powder quality however, is the variety of off-piste terrain available at Keystone, with its three peaks and five bowls. These terrains are located off trail and between runs on the North Peak such as the aforementioned Cat South Glades, the Black Forest trails on the Outback and at the Windows area on the backside of Dercum Mountain. These are mostly tree-skiing but as we said before, glading at Keystone is absolute gold! The terrain is genuinely safe, and typically funnels travelers back to their respective lift bases, though skiing alone is never recommended.
For those looking for a lesser defined, bowl style experienced, there are also hike-to terrains available at the tops of both the Santiago Express on North Peak and Outback Express at The Outback. These hikes will get you access to the bowls section of Keystone, where you’ll also find more freshies here as the rest of Keystone gets tracked out quickly by the crowds on a powder day.
For those who aren’t willing to earn their turns (hike), Keystone has a snow-cat service to take you to higher terrain. The Outback Shuttle, a regularly operating snow-cat can get you up to Wapiti Peak at 12,354 feet into the North Bowl, and South Bowl from The Outback summit. Reservations aren’t required; users simply pay $10 cash for a run to the top. The shuttle operates daily from 9:00am to 1:00pm. Groups looking to take advantage of the snow-cat’s prowess meet at the Outback Bowls Gate, where they’re greeted by a professional operator and gear loader who can assist them in getting settled. Snow-cats accommodate approximately 12 people in total, which is perfect for large groups. For more bowl skiing, a contracted snow-cat day tour can take you to Independence Bowl, south of Dercum Park.
Here is where Keystone shines. As the only resort in the area to offer it, night skiing has become a staple activity at Keystone. Most of the front side between the River Run Gondola and the Peru Express on Dercum Mountain is fully lit (pun intended) with these two lifts serving 10 runs including the Schoolmarm top to bottom trail. You’ll get more bang for your buck here as night skiing is also covered by the day lift ticket, and if you have the Epic Pass Season Pass feel free to explore the neighboring resorts Arapahoe Basin and Breckenridge then come back at night for some night action at Keystone. If you are attempting this, I just hope you have done enough ski conditioning exercises! Also bear in mind, temperatures will undoubtedly drop considerably at night, so pack on those layers if turning into a popsicle isn’t your thing.
Every Saturday night during ski season, firework lights up the sky, which you can see from your accommodations at the River Run village area such as the River Bank Lodge Condo. However the best seats to view the fireworks might actually be on the Spring Dipper trail on Dercum Mountain as the fireworks are set off from the River Run Gondola Mid-Station which is near the bottom of the trail.
You know a terrain park is the real deal when it has its own park-specific lift. Keystone’s Area 51 is one of America’s finest and award-winning terrain parks with its own A51 lift to keep park rats jibbing and jumping all day. The A51 comprises of six terrain parks spread across 60 acres and has over 100 special features with everything from boxes, rails, tables, to jumps. It’s a progressive park, which means there’s something for everyone. Beginners can do their first jibs at the Easy Street, while intermediates can test their skills at I-70. Advanced park rats will love Park Lane and The Alley while experts can take on Main Street, the largest of the six terrain parks. The Peru Express from the Mountain House base takes you directly to the park.