Jack Rieger, a dedicated father and well-traveled skier from Rochester, NY, is not alone. While he’s searched the country to visit its best ski resorts, he finds himself on this crisp, bluebird March morning at a place that’s new to him, Keystone Resort, nestled in an idyllic corner of the upper Snake River Valley. This wasn’t his idea, but now he’s a convert, and nearby several other parents are undergoing a similar revelation.
“The kids wanted to be here for the park; that’s our reason for coming,” Rieger smiles, pointing to his brood of two teenage boys and their 10-year-old sister — and beyond to the vast playground of mesmerizing, cutting-edge features. This is the acclaimed A-51 Terrain Park, ranked No. 3 in the country by Freeskier Magazine, and home to a collection of rails, jumps, table tops and pipes that have drawn famed park athletes ranging from Andreas Wiig to Jossi Wells to make this home.
“They heard all the stories about this place,” Rieger says of his kids, “and they just love this stuff.”
And where does that leave Jack and his wife, both strong skiers who’d like to find some powder and who also appreciate the finer things in a ski getaway, such as upscale accommodations and creative cuisine?
“We like the variety of skiing here, and I was surprised at how much expert terrain there is,” says Rieger, who was planning a trek to The Outback, which had been blessed with seven inches of new snow overnight and which still, two decades after opening, remains one of the best kept secrets for double-black diamond terrain in the state. That journey will have to wait, because his kids have persuaded him to venture into Freda’s Incubator and try one of the small features (he promises to heed the advice on the sign: “Inverted Aerials Not Recommended”).
Later, the Riegers can settle in at one of the six neighborhood villages at the base, and the parents will be able to sneak out for a romantic dinner at one of Keystone’s award-winning restaurants: Ski Tip Ranch, the mountaintop Alpenglow Stube, or The Keystone Ranch.
The word is getting out on Keystone, particularly for families but also for any skiers and riders seeking an unpretentious, easily navigable, all-encompassing outdoor paradise. On my first River Run Gondola ride that morning, accompanied by Keystone Marketing Director Christian Knapp, we sit face-to-face with an Indianapolis couple who are on their very first ski vacation–and hear a tale that brings a grin to the marketer’s face (as well as a denial that the ride was staged).
“We’ve never had so much fun,” the couple gushed in unison. “We both took lessons and now we’re headed to the top of the mountain. We absolutely love it. We want to buy a place here.” The blissful twosome had plenty of reason to smile: From the top, they could meander down one of Keystone’s signature runs, the green, winding, three-mile-long Schoolmarm.
So what is it about Keystone that meets more needs of more visitors than virtually any other resort? The foundation is that six-neighborhood collection of accommodations, all conveniently linked to the lifts and highlighted by the self-contained River Run Village and its pleasing, all-ages-welcome mix of shops, restaurants and activities. The lodging choices range from affordable to sublime, and most have all the amenities you’ve come to expect from Vail Resorts, from outdoor pools/hot tubs to kid-friendly game rooms.
The resort’s back-to-back-to-back, three-peaked layout remains the biggest draw. The frontside Dercum is home to classic cruisers (try Flying Dutchman or Wild Irishman) as well as the steeps of Go Devil and Last Hoot plus the aforementioned A-51. The added bonus is that a healthy chunk of Dercum, including the terrain park, is open until 8 p.m. when night skiing is offered.
Located at the gondola summit are two unique attractions: The two-story Snow Fort, the centerpiece of the resort’s recurring Kidtopia celebrations designed for the younger set, and Adventure Point. The latter complex includes one of the best tubing parks in the state, with four adrenaline-pumping lanes that navigate a good pitch followed by a lengthy runout (in the summer, snowcats push snow from the massive Snow Fort to the tubing hill, which stays open into July).
Adventure Point also includes snowbike and snowcycle rentals, and serves as headquarters for the Keystone Adventure Tours snowcat operation, which takes passengers into Independence Bowl for plentiful powder and a delicious gourmet lunch at a cozy yurt.
Behind Dercum is where Jack Rieger and other strong skiers and riders find the true beauty — and challenge — of Keystone. The 11,660-foot North Peak is a majestically sculpted mountain, with steep, sustained trails ranging from Cat Dancer to Ambush. The Outpost, a superb on-mountain dining facility, is just below the summit.
The third peak is The Outback, from which visitors can choose from a dozen runs, ranging from steep glades (dive in between Badger and The Grizz), the main blue boulevard, Elk Run, and Wolverine or Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride on the southwestern boundary. There is also the option to go higher by riding the $5 Outback Cat Shuttle (or to hike it).
Even with Keystone’s ample manmade assets, the natural splendor of the views back here are arguably the resort’s finest attraction.