Earlier this year, I had a great opportunity to take my family skiing at Keystone Ski Resort in Colorado. I wrote a little bit about it at the time, but now that we are back to ski season I wanted to share many more details.
I grew up with annual ski trips as a child, and I look back at (almost) all of them very fondly. Most of the trips were to mountains in either Colorado or New Mexico, and some of those trips as a child were even to Keystone. I have always had it as a very important goal for my daughter to have the same ski and snowboard opportunities growing up, so we have been leveraging miles and points to make that possible since even before she was old enough to hit the slopes.
We had been giving preference to resorts where we could stay using hotel points at places like the Park Hyatt Beaver Creek and Westin Riverfront Resort and Spa (and have St. Regis Aspen and Westin Whistler booked for this year). In fact, if you are looking for a list of lots of hotels you can stay at on points near mountains in the Western US, check out this post. However, there are some great ski mountains for families that aren’t necessarily right next to a major points friendly hotel, and there can be some advantages to staying in a condo or house that is either independent, or connected to the mountain resort itself.
For some miles and points junkies, not being able to use points to stay on the mountain will be an immediate disqualifier, and I understand that notion completely. However, when Keystone invited us to stay in one of their condos and demonstrate what a “family focused” resort was like, we couldn’t say no to trying out that experience. Do keep in mind that you can stay within an pretty easy driving distance to Keystone on points at places like Super 8 Dillon, Days Inn Silverthorne, Ramada Limited Frisco, or Holiday Inn Summit County Frisco, among others.
My husband wasn’t able to take any additional days of from work to join us on this trip, but my mom and dad were happy to come along and see what it would be like to have three generations on the slopes together. This would be their first ski trip since the mid 1990′s, so they were both very excited and a bit nervous all at the same time.
We paid for the airfare, car rental, and some incidental expenses to get there, but most of the on-resort experiences were all provided by Keystone. I’ll let the review speak for itself, but it is still important for you to know those details.
Family Focused Ski Resort:
This was three-year-old Little C’s second ski experience, so I was really glad to hear Keystone was not just family friendly, but family focused. I know this sounds like a marketing gimmick, but I honestly found it to be true. First, kids 12 and under ski free at Keystone without any blackout dates. To participate in the kids ski free program, you just need a two night or longer reservation at one of the resort’s many lodging options. They have many lodging options available via their website that would qualify for the kids ski free program from townhomes to condos to bed and breakfasts to basic rooms to entire houses. We stayed at the Redhawk Condos that are walking distance to the lifts, but I’ll talk more about them in a future post.
Of course, ski school is not free for those who need it, but once the kids are ready to hit the slopes without ski school, you can save tons by not having to buy their lift tickets. As a point of reference, a two day lift ticket for kids 5-12 is normally $120 at Keystone.
One of the simplest and most awesome family friendly amenities I saw are red wagons to help haul gear. These were located at our condos and also at the mountain itself. We never had a problem getting one (and we were there for 2013 spring break week), and they were so helpful when you have to haul both your gear and the kids gear. They also have lots of staff members who were happy to help you haul gear around as well. I have no clue why every mountain doesn’t have wagons like this!
I have read that this ski season they have introduced “Free Family Font-Row Parking” in the main parking lot and they also have introduced the first-ever family ski trail. Their 3.5 mile long green run named Schoolmarm is a great run for families to get some good practice together. They have play structures around the base of the mountain and near the ski school area that C loved playing in as we all waited to meet-up in the afternoons.
They also have a snow fort that is free for kids to play in, and a tubing hill that is not free, but has a handy “magic carpet” to bring you back to the top instead of hiking up-hill the whole way!
Ski and Ride School:
Keystone has ski school available for children as young as 3 years old, though they must be potty trained. Full day group lessons start at $163 for the day and that includes lift ticket, helmet, and lunch. One thing I really like is that if you book ski school at the Mountain House Ski School then you can have the same instructor for lessons three days or longer. Obviously this continuity is great both for skill progression and to help with the little ones feeling comfortable with their “teacher”.
The one thing I didn’t love about ski school at Keystone was the lack of a half-day ski school option with the group lessons. My then three-year-old could only handle a half day of skiing before she was ready for her mommy and a nap. Of course they are happy to accommodate you picking up your child at the mid-day point, but you still have to pay for the full day. I wish they would introduce a half-day option for the youngest kiddos.
Aside from pooping out around the mid-day mark, my daughter had a pretty good time at ski school, and even at just barely three years old learned the basics of turning, going, and stopping. Most importantly, she had a fun introduction to snow sports. Before about 4 1/2 or so, the most important thing about ski school is simply that kids start associating skiing with fun. One tip I have is that if you are going to utilize ski school at this or any other mountain, I highly recommend completing all of the ski school registration process the day before as the mornings can be quite insane and they start on-time. My other tip is don’t let your kid see you checking on their progress at ski school if they are likely to then start crying and want to leave with you. Stay hidden if you want to “spy” on them!
We also did a one hour Mom, Dad, and Me lesson where the instructor reviews what your child is working on in Ski & Ride School, and gives you tips on how to help them keep learning outside of ski school. This option is available from 4-5PM and costs $110 for the one hour. We found this to be pretty helpful and a great way to see what your kid was really learning.
Skiing with Three Generations at Keystone:
With my daughter safely entertained at ski school, my parents and I hit the slopes. They were pretty good skiers back “in the day”, and quickly they were pretty good skiers again now in their 60′s. I had just switched back to skiing after snowboarding for the last decade, but I found skiing to come back very easily, and frankly I think it is easier than snowboarding.
Keystone has runs for everyone, and we had a blast on some of the long blue and green runs. The mountain has 18 green runs and 38 blue runs. It also has 75 black runs, but many of them are not on the front side of the main mountain, so it doesn’t feel like there is any shortage of beginner and intermediate runs in case you aren’t an expert skier.
Even though we were there during “Texas Spring Break Week” we never waited more than a minute or two in line for a lift, so the mountain seemed to be able to handle the spring break crowd easily. For those that want to ski later in the day, they have night skiing that goes as late as 8PM on some nights. My dad took advantage of this while my mom, daughter, and I had a pretty neat dining experience on the mountain that I’ll talk more about in a later post. Night skiing is also great for families who need to trade off childcare duties during the day as it allows more useable time for the parents to take turns hitting the slopes. Though it can get quite cold skiing at night!
Stay tuned for a post that outlines some of the non-ski activities at Keystone such as dinner sleigh rides, a fondue dinner on the North Peak Mountain at Der Fondue Chesse, a closer look at the condo, and more!
If you have been to Keystone, I’d love to hear if you felt it was a more family focused resort than some other mountains you have visited!