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What’s Going On In Keystone: Winter
At least 70% of visitors come to Keystone for the Winter Wonderland they call Keystone. Keystone generally opens around the first week of November (earliest of the major resorts) and usually closes the second or third week of April. It is important to know that Keystone is right down the street from Arapahoe Basin Ski Area (about 5 miles). Arapahoe Basin stays open at least until the end of May and believe it or not, sometimes it stays open until July 4th.
Weekdays: With the exception of Christmas and Spring Break, the weekdays in Keystone are in no way crowded. There are plenty of folks around having fun, but you will not brush shoulders with anyone because of a crowded street or lift line. Speaking of lift lines, there is absolutely ZERO wait, dining also has no wait. If you came to ski, eat, drink and repeat the process each day, then weekdays in Keystone is the absolute purest experience.
In Keystone proper there is not a lot of nightlife. There is dining that goes until about midnight and watering holes are open, but if you are a 20 something and want to bar hop, do not do Keystone during the weekdays.
Weekends: There are a lot of folks skiing during the weekend, but the skier load is still much less than the other major options like Breck and Vail. Lots of weekend warriors from Denver come up and things run very smoothly, largely because there are so many people around who are familiar with the resort. Many weekends there are special events such as FREE concerts, pro ski events, and festivals. There is a very popular Wine festival every year. The nightlife in Keystone on the weekends is a bit more lively than during the weekdays. There is certainly stuff to do, but the real fun is walking distance from both Mountain House and River Run on Hwy 6. For lots of late night fun check out the following places. The Snake River Saloon. The Goat. Dos Loco’s. If you do not mind driving, then go 7 miles down HWY 6 to Dillon and checkout Pug Ryans, Dam Brewery, Nazawasi and more. (PSA don’t even think about drinking and driving. County Mounties are everywhere. There is a great bus system that runs all over the county and it is free. Take it! Don’t Drink and go to jail or kill someone)
Skiing and Snowboarding: Here are some things that maybe you have not heard before.
1. The River Run Gondola is the fastest of the fast Gondolas. There is not a faster Gondola anywhere in any resort. This is a fact, not an opinion.
2. If you stay in Mountain House, then make sure you go to River Run. If you stay in River Run, the make sure you go to Mountain House. These two areas have very different character and are both very cool in their own right. If you really want to see how the locals “hang out” Mountain House is the best.
3. If you can manage blue terrain, then you owe it to yourself to hop over to the other two mountains (North Peak & The Outback). You can do it and you will thank yourself for it. All three mountains have at least one easy blue slope. So go for it and see all the beauty of Keystone. (Keystone is made of of 3 mountains that are all accessable via slopes and lifts. These mountains are named Dercum Mountain[this is your entry point for all mountains], North Peak [take the Motzart ski slope to get here] and The Outback [accessable via North Peak]
4. Want to eat cheap on the mountain? As Tony Soprano would say “forget about it.” You can bring your own sustenance and that is exactly what locals do. If you decide to eat on the mountain go to the second mountain, North Peak. There are is good food there and a very cool lodge. For a normal meal expect to pay around $30.
5. Go find Area 51 Terrain Park. It is fun to look for things while skiing and when you find it, you can ski down the sides and watch all the crazy people jump off things.
6. If you are a black diamond skier and you want a workout, North Peak has some killer moguls.
7. If you are a strong blue level skier and you want to try some tree skiing for the first time, go over to The Outback. You can do it. The meadows are wide and as long as you stay on the marked path, the terrain is manageable for a strong blue skier.
8. Night skiing is a must. There are not very many places that offer night skiing and Keystone is the best of the best. It is a whole different experience. It is not harder, it is just different. The shadows give the experience an otherworldly feel and there are very few people on the mountain.
Tubing: Tubing is a lot of fun for 1 one hour. It is a rush of excitement and there are six different runs. You can go down about 10 times in an hour and that is just about enough until it starts to get boring. Do it with as many friends and family as you can muster. This multiplies the fun. Also, consider bringing non-skiing family like “Grandma & Grandpa” to the tubing hill. It is beautiful going up on the Gondola together and spectators have a lot of fun watching all the tubing activities.
Ski School: Unless you are regular skier, you owe it to your fun to take at least 1 refresher lesson or if you are new to skiing take at minimum 2 days of lessons. Skiing is no fun if you are out of control and scared to death! The Keystone ski school is quite good. You won’t go wrong with either the River Run area of the Mountain House area. If you are brand new to skiing, the Mountain House area is a little better to learn in. If you are looking to save some money, then go to Arapahoe Basin. The ski school is outstanding and lift tickets and ski instruction is less expensive. If you have a group of 3 or more, you might want to seriously consider paying for private instruction. The cost for an entire day, split between 3 or more friends or family is close to the same cost as getting a group lesson with 8 other strangers. However, if your group is of varying skill levels, you should not try to use a private instructor for everyone. Are you a strong blue or even a black level skier and you want to improve your skills? SECRET: Get a half day lesson during the week and you will most likely get a private lesson for the group price. This is great for honing skills. The higher level skier you are, the more likely you will have private or semi-private instruction.
TIPPING: Yes ski school is expensive, but very little of this money goes to the instructors. Most instructors are passionate about what they do, but they have to eat too. Tipping is appropriate. For a group lesson consider tipping with a $20 and if it is a private lesson consider $50 or more. Ski instructors love to get to know their clients. If you hit it off, then asking them to go for a beer or ask for them by name next time you take a lesson.
Where to stay:
River Run Base Area: What is it? This is the nice village that is the newest part of Keystone. There is dining and shops and the River Run base area all here. In River Run, there are several condo buildings. Each of them has their own flavor. All of these buildings have free underground, heated parking and this is worth a lot!
Black Bear, Jack Pine, Arapahoe Lodge & Silvermill are the absolute closest to the lifts. You can literally walk there in 2 minutes. All of these buildings are pretty new, but since they are all owned by individuals, the features and finishes inside the condos vary a lot. You can rent from owners directly through VRBO. Many condo owners use a management company to handle their property and guest issues. For the most part the rental process is just like renting a hotel room, but the features vary widely. In all 4 of these buildings you want to make sure that you are in a condo that suits your needs. For example, if you like to sleep in, then don’t rent a condo with “village views.” Parking lot views = equal quite.
Dakota & Buffalo: These two buildings are about 1 minute further away from the lifts than the previous buildings. In terms of accommodations, they are maybe a half step higher up on the food chain. These two buildings do not suffer much from noise, but beware, you are coming to a ski resort. It is always possible you will hear snow plows or some loud people walking by. None of these buildings are high rises. The tallest building is 5 stories. There is a large pool outdoor heated pool and 2 large hot tubs with ski slope views at the bottom of Dakota. Dakota is also one of the more exclusive buildings with the least amount of congestion. Buffalo features two private hot tubs and the Buffalo Club with pool tables. Both Buffalo and Dakota share their amenities. Dakota has a private sauna as well.
Expedition Station: This building is still part of River Run, but it is the farthest from the action. It is a good 5 minute walk to the lifts and about a 2 minute walk to the village. This building is about on par with Buffalo and Dakota. It does have its own private swimming pool, fitness room and steam room.
The Springs: This building is arguably the darling of River Run. Renting here is usually a little more expensive, but it also has a little more to give you. It is only about a 2 minute walk to the lifts. It features a private heated pool with a waterslide, private kids pool, 2 private hot tubs, fire pit, fitness room, steam room, stadium seating media room, pool table, and indoor kids play area. This building is a family favorite.
Red Hawk Lodge: This building is next door to The Springs. It is about on par with Buffalo and Dakota. It has its own heated outdoor pool and hot tub, fitness room and steam room.
Red Hawk Townhomes: As expected, these townhomes are right next door to Red Hawk Lodge. If you are looking for more space and more privacy, then the townhomes are a good fit. They are usually about 10% to 15% more costly than its condo brethren and most units require you to park outside.
Lone Eagle & Timbers: These buildings are not exactly part of River Run, but most people think of them as part of it. As far as guests are concerned, they are part of River Run. These two buildings are very different animals from the other buildings. They are both true ski-in and ski-out. They are most certainly Luxury buildings. All units feature the usual assortment of granite counters, stainless appliances, killer views, exclusivity and of course a price to go with it. Expect to pay about double what you will pay from the other River Run buildings. Hey if you can swing it, do it. It is worth the experience. Both buildings feature their own private pools and hot tubs. They each have beautiful lobbies, work out rooms and steam rooms. The Timbers also has a private sauna. The Timbers is the most exclusive of the two with only 29 condos.
Mountain House Base Area:
The first thing to know is that the Mountain House area is the older part of Keystone. The second thing to know is that older just means different. It does not mean worse. Mountain House is certainly more relaxing and natural in feel. There are many condo buildings that range from 50 yards to the lift to as much as a 10 minute walk. If you are walking it is easy and scenic. You will meander through the various pathways, over streams between beautiful Aspens and Pines. The base area has several restaurants and all the normal stuff. There are 2 high speed lifts at this base area. Mountain house has plenty of activity, but virtually no congestion. Strongly consider Mountain House during peak times.
Chateau Du Mount: Hands down this is the absolute best kept secret in Keystone. These condos are a 30 second walk to the lifts. These condos are huge. A typical 2 bedroom is twice as large as a 2 bedroom in River Run. Furthermore, even though this building was built in the early 90’s it is extremely well maintained and has amenities that no one else can claim. The big amenities is a large IN CONDO hot tub in every unit. Even though this building is just as exclusive, convenient and beautiful as the “true” ski-in / ski-out building, the price is about half as much.
The Rest of Mountain House: This area features condos that were built mainly in the 80’s. Some are amazing and fully remodeled. There are just too many buildings to detail one by one. The most important recommendation is to select the exact condo you want. DO NOT allow a rental agency sell you on Gold, Silver or Bronze. If you go with this option, you will just get the luck of the draw. Rent through the owner or through a rental agency that will allow you to pick your condo.
Lowest Priced Times To Come: Early November and April. If you want even cheaper, come after Keystone closes. Stay in Keystone and ski Arapahoe basin.
Money Saving Tips: There is another very good article that deals with this topic, but here are some quick tips. Save money on ski rentals from Mountain View Sports. Book online and save 20%. Rent through Sky Run or Summit County Mountain Retreats and save 25% on ski rentals. Most local merchants offer discounts during the week and during off peak times. Most rental companies offer various discounts on dining, snowmobiling, sleigh rides, and more. If you plan on skiing more than 5 days in the season, check into the various season pass deals.
What To Avoid: Keystone Sports in River Run is not a good option for ski rentals. The employees are seasonal and they can range from good to poor. This is not a good recipe when it comes to fitting skies. Improperly adjusted skis hurt at best and can blow your knee out at worst. Also, the equipment is not generally the most current. Finally, this ski shop is the highest price of all the shops. There really is just not a good reason to rent from here. If you are willing to pay the rates of this place, try d2dskis.com and have the best skis delivered to your condo and professionally fitted at your convienence. They will also pick up your skis for free.
Dining Options: Here is the deal. Nothing in River Run is bad. It all ranges from okay to pretty good. The prices are not sky high, but they are higher than stuff in town. If you are looking for really great breakfast and lunch, go to The Haywood Cafe. It is walking distance from both River Run and Mountain House, but it is not technically in the resort. Really great and really reasonable food is here.
Excellent, but expensive evening meal food is best at The Snake River Saloon. Very good service, very good food. It is pricy, but it is about right for the quality.
Drive 7 miles to Dillon & Silverthorne for several good options.
Think about going to Breckenridge at least one night (preferably during the week). For the most part the prices are high, but there are many dining options and it is fun to walk around main street. Parking is not fun in Breckenridge, but since it is fun to walk around town, it really is not a big deal when going to dinner. On the other hand, unless you are aching for some frustration, avoid Breck for skiing. Keystone will spoil you!