Radical Runs at Keystone, Colorado

By: LOUISE HUDSON
Author, "Winter Sport Tourism: Working in Winter Wonderlands," Travel Journalist
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Louise KAT skiing at Keystone

Beyond the 4 p.m. cookie clamor at the skating rink, Keystone is all about under-the-radar challenging terrain. Although famous for its comprehensive Kidtopia programs, it was all about Adult Adventure on my recent visit!
 
Fresh off the plane from my sea-level home in South Carolina—my first day on skis since Christmas—it was straight onto a snowcat with 10 other adventure-seekers into the snow-deluged Bowls of Keystone. An exciting extravaganza of untouched powder lay ahead of us.
 
During the early morning safety briefing, our guides' professionalism, experience, and zest for the mountains established my faith.
 
Next, fueled by complimentary caffeine (care of Starbucks), we set off using the lift system to reach the snowcat at the top of the Dercum Mountain. I was skiing on Salomon powder skis, which gave me some apprehension as I am particularly attached to my lightweight Rossignol Temptations.
 
But the fat floaters were part of the package (all you do is bring your own poles and boots) and I hoped that they would help me pull my weight in the powder.

They did!

 

Pristine powder everywhere

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Louise dipping into her debut descent

Unlike hectic helicopters, which tend to perform stomach-lurching swoops in the mountains, I actually love riding in snowcats. They travel at around 15 kilometers per hour and give ample opportunity for chatting and recuperating between rigorous runs.
 
We were spending the whole day in Keystone’s Independence, Bergman, and Erickson Bowls, reaching heights of 12,000 feet, with spectacular views over the Continental Divide and the Tenmile and Gore Ranges.
 
First, a front-runner guide scouted the pristine powder and then we all descended one by one, a mix of snowboarders and skiers, putting in parallel tracks with another guide sweeping up at the rear. The cat driver also alternated as a guide and scout, making for a reassuring ratio of guides to guests.
 
Always anxious that I will be the weak link in any new group, my first run was typically tentative, but I negotiated the untrammeled terrain with passable poise, surviving the heavier snow at the bottom without any embarrassing flip-flopping falls, thanks to the surface-skimming capabilities of the Salomons.
 
My husband Simon was the star of the show, though, prompting our guide to say he would go skiing with him any day! The softness of the snow reminded me how much I love skiing power!
 
From that moment on, I was able to relax into the rhythm of sinuous S-turns in perfect powder surrounded by totally unspoiled scenery. I really appreciated the floating power of the high-performance skis coupled with all the knee-deep nectar!
 
The luxury of accessing this all by snowcat was emphasized when we noticed a few burdened bootpackers trudging painstakingly uphill to get to what we had already tracked out.
 
To get to the soft stuff in the bowls and chutes above tree-line, we would occasionally do what our guides called "transportation" skiing: jump-turns and traverses across entry routes. Lower down, after tracking the beneficent bowls, we glided through glades a few times, pairing up with partners, and finding our own way to the easily visible snow cat parking spot.

 

 

From indy yurt to private lounge

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Indy Yurt Keystone

Varying from 25- to 45-degree inclines, we skied around 10,000 vertical feet over eight different descents during the morning and two more after a gourmet feast in the private Indy Yurt.

The leisurely lunch was another elite part of the package, as the remote and cozy cabin caters only to cat-skiers. Lunch was four courses, buffet-style, with plenty of hot drinks, and that warm winter feeling of coming indoors to a roaring fire.

Later on, the day was celebrated with a champagne toast back at the private KAT lounge, everyone sharing their exhilaration in an adventurous accomplishment.
 

Hardly seeing another soul

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Louise above River Run Village Keystone

The next day, I discovered that Keystone is not just about catskiing and exclusive yurts: The 3,087-acre downhill domain is actually 56 percent advanced skiing offered across three mountains.
 
What’s more, it actually boasts an under-utilized chairlift at North Peak, servicing much of its terrain. So at North Peak, you get short lift lines and an abundance of black diamond runs which you can invariably have to yourself while families and beginners commandeer the greens and blues.
 
Blissful!
 
That day, I had to rely on my winter sport wits rather than a qualified ski guide to design my adventure. It’s difficult when you are new to a resort to happen upon the perfect runs just by perusing the resort map alone. My ploy is to chat to people in the hot tub the night before for their tips.
 
At Expedition, part of the River Run Condos, this really paid off as I shared the spa with Ellen, a former ski patroller at Keystone who returns regularly to her apartment there. Armed with her advice about runs like Cat Dancer, Timberwolf, and Bighorn, I happily explored the black runs the next day with my husband, reveling in the tree-lined territory—and, bonus, hardly seeing another soul!
 
The few skiers that ventured into these advanced areas had gently mogulled the soft snow, making it an epic adventure through the forests.

 

Watch out: this adult adventure playground could be addictive

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Hubby Simon perusing the menu at Ski Tip Lodge

At the end of this euphoric day, we headed to Zuma Roadhouse in River Run Village, whose upbeat après-ski ambiance was the perfect way to celebrate two sensational ski days. With half-price happy hour bevvies and bites, Zuma’s is the intrinsic ski bar, full of pompom hats and hilarity.
 
Later, after more hot tub recuperation at Expedition at our River Run Village condo, we took a five-minute shuttle to historic Ski Tip Lodge, once home to the founders of Keystone. I actually think this was the best meal I have ever had in a ski resort in North America! And it seemed others agreed. One big group of non-skiers were staying at the resort specifically just to experience the award-winning gastronomy in this celebrated setting.
 
From the moment we entered the 200 year-old interior of Ski Tip Lodge, via a magical fairy-light pathway and an arched wooden doorway, I was entranced by the ancient charm—low ceilings, log and chink walls, antique furnishings, artwork, and old ski memorabilia. I loved the refinement of having pre-dinner drinks—and later dessert—at intimate seat settings by the sitting room fireplace.
 
The dining room experience was launched by succulent soups (mushroom and salsify or lobster bisque) and seasonal salads followed by a wide choice of entrees, everything artistically handcrafted and locally sourced. My Wagyu ribeye with flavorful foie gras sprinkles was so tender, it was almost molten! Simon and I made sure to order different items so we could try as much as possible accompanied by world-class wine pairings, which included a potent Portuguese Douro.
 
After topping off that night with the fine-dining fest, I concluded that beyond the kids, crafts, cupcakes, and cookies, Keystone is an addictive adult adventure playground worthy of expert exploration.

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