We love Keystone Resort for kids! If you’re planning a Vail area ski trip with children, head to Keystone where kids ski free, kid-friendly programming abounds, and ski village convenience reigns. There’s no better place to start kids off skiing or riding, but if you have expert skiers and riders in tow, don’t worry: so do we, and we found some of our favorite expert terrain and challenging runs at Keystone! Here’s our overview on Keystone Resort vacation planning:
Keystone Resort is located in Dillon, Colorado in the heart of Vail ski country. From Denver, it’s a two-hour drive (read up on Keystone transportation tips below). Once in Keystone, families find themselves in a sprawling resort including 10 distinct ‘neighborhoods’, with lodging options ranging from vacation homes in the woods to condos in the heart of the villages (yep, there’s more than one). The ski terrain consists of three distinct peaks (Dercum, North Peak, and Outback), with a very orderly system: front Dercum Peak serves beginning and intermediate skiers and riders exclusively, with the terrain getting more challenging the further ‘back’ you go.
Where to stay:
For ski-in, ski-out lodging (for which there’s an abundance at Keystone), families will want to base themselves in either River Run Village or Mountain House. Mountain House offers Kamp Keystone headquarters, while River Run houses Kidtopia (more on both Kamp Keystone and Kidtopia below) and many more dining and entertainment options.
Condo and suite options abound at Keystone. Our pick: River Run Village. All River Run Village accommodations offer ski-in and ski-out proximity, or an easy walk to the River Run Gondola. You’ll need to take the free Village to Village Shuttle to the Mountain House area for Kamp Keystone (or ski there) but everything else is at your fingertips. In River Run, we stayed at The Springs, adjacent to the gondola and steps from dining and village fun (with an excellent pool complex, to boot) but you really can’t go wrong with any of the River Run buildings.
Where to ski:
As noted above, beginners and intermediate skiers will find an entire mountain of offerings on Dercum Peak. The newly opened Schoolyard features on School Marm include terrain features and trails with fun structures to ski through (like mascot Riperoo’s dog house). The H&H Mine (located off intermediate Santa Fe) lets kids ski through mine shafts. The A-51 terrain park is also located on Dercum. Intermediate and advanced skiers and riders will want to progress to North Peak for long, steep groomers and moguls, and finally to Outback Peak for tree runs, powder runs, and steeps.
One of the best features on Keystone for expert skiers and riders is the easy access to hike-able and kat-serviced terrain. From the top of Outback, skiers can wait in line for a kat shuttle, taking them to North or South Bowls for very fun powder runs without long hikes. (There’s also a five minute hike from this point that takes skiers or riders to great tree runs.) You’ll need to be an advanced skier to take advantage of this, and you’ll need $5 to ride the kat shuttle. Be flexible: the terrain is only open after avalanche control is conducted by ski patrol and only when weather and conditions permit. We waited about 10 minutes for our turn on the kat, and noted that advanced Kamp Keystone classes were enjoying the experience with their ski guides.
Tip: Allow 30 minutes or more for traversing between the three mountains: if you’re on Outback and need to get back to the front of Dercum, you’ll need to take the slow Wayback chair, which takes some time. There are no services (i.e., bathrooms or dining) on Outback, so plan time to get back to the Outpost on North Peak. The River Run Gondola and the Outpost Gondola run both directions, allowing you to download, but do close in strong winds.
Where to eat:
River Run Village offers great apres ski fare at 9280 Taphouse and Kickaboo Tavern. Both are kid-friendly, but the livelier bar scene is usually at 9280. New Moon Cafe serves a good, fast breakfast of burritos, breakfast bowls, egg sandwiches, and waffles (and keeps on serving it all day). Rockin’ R Ranch has grocery items in a pinch, though you’ll want to shop in Dillon for most ingredients for food in your condo.
For a nice night out, consider Ski Tip, located adjacent to River Run and the site of the historic beginnings of Keystone Resort. The charming B&B at Ski Tip offers gourmet (and often locally sourced) cuisine. We’ve also had great meals at Bighorn in Keystone Lodge, located in Lakeside Village. If you time your meal right, you can get a great view of the Saturday evening Kidtopia fireworks from Bighorn (which overlooks the lake). Spend a few hours skating, then head over for dinner.
For a truly special night out that’s also decidedly kid-friendly, book a dinner sleigh ride through the Adventure Center (in Lakeside Village). We loved our chilly but serene sleigh ride (complete with cozy blankets) to a remote historic ranch, where we were served classic cowboy fare and serenaded by a friendly guitar player. Kids of any age will enjoy the experience, but note that the event departs and returns to Lakeside Village, necessitating a Village to Village Shuttle ride pre-and post dinner (making for a long night). Kids over age 4 will have the best time (as will their parents).
How to get around:
If you didn’t bring a car to Keystone, no worries: the Village to Village shuttle is free, fast, and easy to use. This shuttle connects guests between Lakeside Village (home of Keystone Lodge), Mountain House, and River Run with ease; we’ve never found need to travel to any other sections of Keystone during our stays.
The drive from Denver International Airport to Keystone is approximately two hours, and we’ve always taken CME (Colorado Mountain Express). This van service should be factored into your transportation budget (check to see if it’s cheaper to fly to Vail from Denver), but after three trips with CME, I’ve found them to be always on time, always professional, and always good to work with. CME will take you directly to your condo registration or hotel registration building, then to your front door.
Kidtopia is Keystone’s version of a kid-centric cruise schedule: it includes weekly free activities for kids and families such as scheduled parades, scavenger hunts, firework displays, painting and clay crafts at Kidtopia Headquarters, ice skating with Riperoo, and much more. The Kidtopia snow castle sits at the top of Dercum Peak, in which kids to can stop to play, climb, and slide down icy tubes into snow. You’ll get a Kidtopia schedule at check-in, allowing you to plan what you’d like to do or see. Tip: Kidtopia Headquarters are open most days for drop-in visits to paint or create pottery for a fee. This is a great activity in poor weather, or for younger siblings while older siblings ice skate at the adjacent outdoor rink.
In addition to official Kidtopia activities, Keystone also offers tubing at Adventure Point, which is at the top of Dercum Peak. We love that families can stop to tube in the middle of their ski day (if you’re wearing ski boots, you have to tube solo), or that non-skiers can ride the gondola up for a top-of-the-mountain experience. Make a reservation ahead of time! Ice skating is available at both River Run (on a traditional outdoor rink) or Lakeside Village (on the largest Zamboni-served skating lake in the US). There’s also a Nordic Center and snow biking.
What about lessons?
Keystone’s lessons for kids center around Kamp Keystone, a ski and ride center designed to be a multi-day experience. Kids booked in Kamp Keystone three days or more are guaranteed the same instructor each day, which is kind of a big deal (try getting the same instructor daily at other resorts and you’ll know what I mean). At the end of each day, parents are given a detailed account of their child’s progress, as well as a full report on EpicAcademy. (EpicAcademy is a new feature of EpicMix; with a Vail Resorts’ lift ticket, you’ll get mountain stats, photos, and Academy updates for yourself and your kids.)
Even advanced skiers and riders are taken care of at Kamp Keystone; they offer lessons through level 9. These groups head to the higher peaks of the resort, and often eat lunch on the go at any of the on-mountain dining areas instead of in Kamp Keystone, as most groups do. (Lunch is always included in full day lessons.)
Tip: Depending on the size of your family, opting for a family private lesson may be less expensive than enrolling each child in a group lesson. We love private lessons: usually, up to six people can be on one lesson, and family groups get to dictate where they ski and what they hope to do during their ski day. Instructors not only teach during the day, but also act as excellent guides, showing families parts of the mountain they may miss otherwise. Plus, private lesson parties use the ski school line…a huge savings in time during crowded days. If your whole family (or even just the kids) could use a lesson, but you’d still like to ski as a family, check out private lesson options! (Unlike group lessons, private lessons depart from both River Run or Mountain House from the Ski and Ride School buildings. It’s also possible to meet your instructor elsewhere on the mountain.
Have you skied Keystone? What tips can you share?
The above post is written in conjunction with my partnership with VacationRoost.com. As I disclose whenever applicable, our stay at Keystone was complimentary, for the purpose of review.