Summit County is a skiers (and snowboarders) paradise. There are 5 different ski resorts in a 15 mile radius and while Breckenridge and Vail may be more well known, Keystone has unique charm to it that doesn’t compare to the other resorts. Keystone is one of the best resorts for beginners and families for many reasons. Read on to find out why…
This winter season, we spent a few months in Summit County, Colorado so we could learn to ski and snowboard.
We were total newbies at skiing and snowboarding so we wanted to make sure we picked a resort that would be perfect for us to learn at.
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I found that there was a HUGE difference when it came to learning skiing vs snowboarding at these two resorts.
I hope this review helps other beginners, families, and anyone headed out to Keystone or Breckenridge for winter skiing and riding find the perfect resort for their trip.
River Run Village
Have you seen how cute the village of Keystone is?
One of my favorite parts of Keystone is how cute the village of River Run is. It reminds me of being in Europe. There are many food options from cafes and bars to full menu restaurants and fast food options like pizza and crepes. Most are not cheap so be prepared to spend some money.
There are two large fire pits in River Run Village where you can relax and mingle. The courtyard area also has fun games set up as well as a playground.
Money Saving + Healthy Living Tip: The nearest grocery store, City Market, is 8 miles away in Dillon. Or if you are looking for healthier options, there is a Whole Foods in Frisco.
Grab Our Free Ski Trip Pack List + Unbiased Snow Outfit Guide:
Mountain House is the other main base area at Keystone. There is a lodge for food and a medical center. There isn’t as great of an ambiance to hang out at here, but it is good if you want to avoid crowds.
The lines to get on the lifts, Argentine and Peru Express are typically shorter than the lines at River Run.
There is also a learning area at the base of Mountain House, which is good if you aren’t skiing but your kids are just learning.
Gondola to Dercum Mountain
River Run is where you access the Gondola and Summit Express, which takes you to the top of Dercum Mountain where many of the runs start from.
The beginner learning area is also located on Dercum as well as Summit House restaurant. Dercum Mountain also gives you access to the backside of Keystone, North Peak and The Outpost, where there are many blue and black runs.
This Gondola requires purchasing a lift ticket, which makes it hard if part of your family isn’t skiing because they can’t ride. The line can get long, but they offer an express line for families with kids under 12 which is highly appreciated.
I prefer riding the Gondola to the top of the mountain. Not only are the views outstanding, but you get to stay a little warmer than if you take the express chairlift.
One of the coolest parts of Keystone is that there is a learning area is at the top of the mountain, which means you have epic views while learning to ski or ride.
The only downside is that the learning area is small and can get really crowded which can be difficult when you’re trying to learn.
Getting To and Around Keystone
There are free Keystone busses that can get you from East Keystone to River Run to Mountain House. The free Summit Stage bus can take you east to A-Basin and west to Dillon, Silverthorne, Frisco, and Breckenridge. The bus system is amazing and makes it convenient to stay or park anywhere in Summit County.
Keystone is right off the I-70 so if you are coming in from Denver, it is quick to get here. Although I wouldn’t let that be the only factor in deciding where to go because driving through Summit County is a treat for the senses.
Parking at Keystone
I like that parking is so easy at Keystone. There is a huge (did I mention FREE) parking lot right in front of River Run so you don’t even need to use the busses.
With little kids and all their ski equipment, even the close parking lot can be a long walk to the gondola and express lift. There are wagons you can use for free to haul all their stuff.
I think it’s actually much easier to park at the free Powerline Lot (a mile away from the resort) because then the bus drops you right at the gondola.
If it’s a really crowded weekend, you might want to head straight to the North Shuttle Lot where there is more parking and take the free shuttle in. I like that it drops first at Mountain House which has a less crowded bunny hill and fast access to Schoolmarm when you are ready to tackle a green route (see more info on runs below).
If you don’t mind paying for parking, the Hunki Dori lot will put you just steps from the Gondola. Mountain House also has paid parking just steps from the Peru and Argentine lifts.
Related Blog: Best Exercises For Skiers
Lodging at Keystone
Keystone offers more than 700 condominium-style accommodations and the free busses make it easy to stay anywhere and get quick access to the slopes and village.
If you are trying to save money by staying down in Dillon, you can still take the free bus but it takes a full half hour to forty five minutes for the Summit County bus to get to Keystone. Totally worth it though if it saves you a few hundred dollars.
Note: Keystone has a separate free bus system within the resort to get you around quickly between lots and lodges.
One benefit of booking your stay through Keystone Lodge is that kids 12 and under get free lift passes when you stay for 2 nights or longer. You also get free ice skating, free access to the nordic center, and you can hop on the gondola every Friday before it opens up to the general public.
Staying at one of the Keystone Lodges may be really nice if there are people in your group who don’t ski. There’s a spa and fitness facility at Keystone Lodge offering massage, facials, manis and pedis, as well as a fitness center open 24/7 and yoga classes.
Keystone also offers scenic and dinner sleigh rides, snow tubing at Adventure Point, Mountaintop Family Adventure Tours in a snow cat, ice skating and more so even if your entire party doesn’t want to ski or ride, you will still enjoy your time here at Keystone.
For The Kids
Keystone offers an entire program called Kidtopia geared for kids and much of it is free with your lift pass. There’s a play area in River Run, a snow fort at the top of the Dercum mountain, and free cookies for kids of all ages every day. Plus, there are other daily activities like movies, snowshoeing, parades, and a lot more.
Click here for complete Kidtopia programs.
Green Runs For Beginners
Keystone has three main learning areas, Endeavor and Scout, which are at the top of Dercum Mountain, and Discovery, which is by the base at Mountain House. The first part of Endeavor has a magic carpet ride making it a super easy place to first learn at.
On a weekday and early in the season, Endeavor was a good place to learn, but not good when it’s crowded.
Once my kids mastered the basics here, we moved over to Scout and the full run of Endeavor, which are nice progressions before you are ready to tackle Schoolmarm. These are fun and easy runs, but very short runs. Once you start getting the hang of skiing/riding and can get down the hill moderately fast, you will feel like you are standing in the lift line a lot.
Keystone is famous for its green run, Schoolmarm. It’s almost 4 miles long and has some nice drops broken up with some flatter sections making it a good run to get started on but, and this is huge, it feels like a highway.
Being one of the very few green runs at Keystone, there are so many skiers and snowboarders flying down despite it being a family/slow zone. As a newbie this was a bit unnerving and it felt very dangerous to take my 8 year old down this when she was first learning.
Keystone is not the best spot for beginner skiers who are looking to get off the bunny slopes and ride greens.
On top of that, besides Schoolmarm, there aren’t many other beginner routes once you are off the bunny slopes.
Keystone is a great place to learn to snowboard if you are a teenager or adult.
Blue Runs For Intermediates
Now if you are not a beginner skier or if you are learning to snowboard as a teen or adult, Keystone is great. My two teenage daughters loved learning to snowboard at Keystone because Schoolmarm does have some steeper sections, which actually helps when you are learning to snowboard.
If you’re confident riding blue runs, then you will love the wide variety of rolling blue terrain Keystone offers. If you are capable of riding this slightly more difficult terrain, you’ll find that Keystone can often be uncrowded.
Once you are at the top of the gondola, you can take the Outpost Lift and access North Peak that has a lot of blue and black runs that are rarely crowded.
Tip: Alcohol doesn’t start pouring until 11am so it’s worth it to get on the mountain early before some riders become a little intoxicated.
Related Blog: 25 Things to do in Summit County in Winter Besides Ski
- The quaintness of River Run is awesome and even if you don’t make it here to ski or ride, I encourage you to find an excuse to attend a summer or winter festival.
- There are a lot of great options if you are an intermediate skier or rider.
- Great families with kids who already know how to ski or ride.
- Great for learning to snowboard, especially for teens and adults.
- Epic views from the bunny slopes on the top of Dercum Mountain.
- Cost. It can be really expensive to stay here and to get the most of Keystone, you should be ready to partake in all the fun.
- This could be a pro, but Keystone feels like a destination in itself. You aren’t close to many other options. I’m not a ClubMed type traveler so that is why this would be a con, but if all inclusive feel is your type of travel, then you’ll love it.
- Few green runs and not the best runs for beginner skiers.
- Can’t get access to the views without a lift pass.
I think Keystone is great if you can afford to immerse yourself in all they offer. If you can afford it AND are going to make time to do the kids activities, a family vacation here can be a great bonding experience (#notsponsored btw).
It’s great for TOTAL beginners or intermediates and above. Not good for Green-run riders.
Don’t Forget To Grab our Free Ski Resources:
Ski Keystone with the Epic Pass
This winter season, we thought we were going to live in Summit County, Colorado and so we wanted ski passes for the season. There were three options:
- The Keystone Plus pass from Epic (which gives you access to Keystone, Breckenridge starting in April, and 5 days at Crested Butte)
- Add on Breckenridge Access to make it the Summit Value Pass
- Upgrade to the full Epic Pass and get access to dozens of ski resorts outside of Summit county as well.
Related Blog: Best Ski Passes Compared: Epic vs Ikon vs Indy