My husband and I are huge fans of the EPIC pass. I wrote a prior article on why I choose EPIC each and every year. But I will admit, when I started with EPIC it was super daunting knowing where to go, where to stay, how to navigate your pass, what else to do, etc. I’ve decided to start blogging on the individual resorts to help people out a bit. Also, we have the world’s most wonderful chocolate lab who loves loves loves the snow, so I try to highlight doggie friendly places wherever possible!
Just a note, navigating this situation is a bit weirder in 2020 with COVID and reservations, but I’ll leave that for another post if I can find the time.
Note: The majority of photos on this page were taken by Steven Ciezki, superman and husband extraordinaire.
Keystone Resort is great because it’s the closest resort to Denver that’s on EPIC. There are a lot of other resorts around the area, but this is 1.5-2 hour drive from the airport depending on traffic. The airport is ALL THE WAY on the east side of Denver which always adds time to the drive. If you happen to live in the city of Denver, especially downtown, the drive is MUCH shorter, 60-90 minutes.
Proximity to Denver is also one of the downfalls of the resort. It’s pretty busy on the weekends because it’s so close to the city. A lot of locals drive out just to ski for the day. If you’re heading out, I recommend weekday skiing.
Most likely, you will fly into Denver and drive to Keystone. I personally recommend Southwest Airlines for all your travel needs, but especially for flying with ski and snowboard gear, since they’ll still check your (even big gear bags!) for free. While you’re at it, why not trying logging enough trips to grab a Companion Pass? If you’re not traveling with gear but planning to rent, book with whoever. Just check kayak first and go with whatever’s cheapest (except Frontier… I hope they fall off the planet).
Getting to Keystone
The Denver airport is super annoying and has their heads up their asses. It’s ALWAYS a train wreck. The oversized bags come out in a different place than the rest of the luggage and often take a lot longer. Security is a total nightmare and often TSA Pre-Check and other amenities are closed, so don’t rely on them.
At a bare minimum, it will be at least a 20-30 minute endeavor to get your snowboard bags picked up and catch a shuttle over to wherever your next location is – rental car or shuttle.
Renting A Car
One option from here is to rent a car. No matter what company you go with, try to rent an All Wheel Drive (AWD) vehicle. The mountains, even this close to Denver, are dangerous!
All the rental car companies in Denver Airport are offsite and require shuttle rides. The shuttles can be packed during ski season and can add another 20-30 minutes to your trip. I often compare this to snowboarding at Park City, which is a flight into Salt Lake, and easy baggage claim and super fast airport security, and a literal walk across the street and right into the rental car spot. In fact, your car in Salt Lake is probably closer to the terminal that your shuttle stop in Denver. Ugh.
Anyway, after all that, I definitely recommend Hertz for your car rental company. Why?
- Hertz is “Get In and Go” and “Drop Off and Run”. There’s no lengthy car inspection. No walking out with an associate. None of that non-sense that other companies like Enterprise do.
- Hertz Gold, their membership program, is totally free and worth it. When you book your car you get dropped off at the Gold Member area and your name is on the board with your car stall. If you don’t have one already, sign up for a free account.
- If you book enough, you’ll upgrade to Gold Circle or President’s Circle. At this point, you don’t get assigned a specific car, you can grab anyone in your Tiered Membership area. This is especially good for renting in the mountains, since these areas tend to have a few AWD cars around.
Driving From Denver
if you own a car with All Wheel Drive (AWD) you’re fine, but if not you NEED to have some chains in your car. Thanks to Amazon, these are now approach-ably priced. We keep a set of these in the back of my husbands Front Wheel Drive CR-V. If you want a slightly nicer set, I recommend these.
You can also choose to take a bus or charter a car from Denver International to Keystone. It’s a pretty fast, easy option but they generally only leave at certain times of day so you might be waiting a bit. They will drop you directly at your hotel, resort, or Airbnb though.
EPIC runs a series of buses and so does Peak 1 Express. They’re both excellent. I took the EPIC shuttle from Denver to Vail and they had wifi that was good enough for me to stream episodes of the Simpsons! Pricing depends on time of year, discounts, and how far advance you book, but it’s probably safe to say $80 per person RT to Keystone is about right.
Where to Stay
We chose to stay at Keystone Lodge and Spa. For much of ski season this lodge rings in at ~$125 per night which is outrageously cheap for a 4-star hotel in a ski town in winter. The lodge is about 0.6 miles outside of the main town and ski-lifts but it’s a wonderful walk past some lakes and streams and they have a totally private (and free!) black-car shuttle service to and from the lifts in winter. You just call and they’ll throw your gear in the back and drive you right over. They’ll also take you into town for shopping, dinner, whatever, but we never used it for that. The walks were nice enough.
You can valet the car for $25 a night or park across the street in the open lot that’s free. We chose the latter and you should too if you have a rental car. Given the above, you won’t need the car the entire time you’re at the resort.
The Lodge and Spa are extremely dog friendly (it is an extra $50 to have your dog, but well worth it). The staff was incredibly nice to our huge chocolate lab, giving him water bowls and dog treats at check-in and lots and lots of love and pets. In fact, when we went to pick up our car at the end of the trip Grover got scared of the tunnel to the other side of the street and the valets just held his leash and played with him while we got the vehicle situation squared away! Room service drop off was also accompanied by greetings and pets from the dog.
The lodge has a spa that we didn’t use but that looked extremely nice. They had an indoor and outdoor pool and hut tub and, unfortunately, the gym was closed while we were there (they were re-doing the floors) but also looked killer. The hotel is 6 stories, so I actually just ran steps one day for an hour and that was really enjoyable and no one bothered me.
The room we stayed in was ok… 6/10 I’d say. They weren’t fantastic but they were definitely easy enough. I am sure that rooms on higher floors are nicer, but if you have a dog they [very graciously!] put you in a double queen room on the bottom floor. Each of these rooms has a glass door directly out to the big open park and walking path in front, which was great! They also had doggie bags in multiple locations outside in the park.
The rooms also had a small mini-fridge (no microwave) and a humidifier. During COVID, the restaurant did room service and also pick-up from the restaurant on the second floor. This included a good set of options including all 3 meals of the day, apres ski snacks and drinks, and full bottles of wine and cocktail. I was a huge fan of breakfast and it was REALLY large. My husband and I split the All American Breakfast each morning, which included choice of meat, eggs, toast, and a mess of breakfast potatoes. Yum!
Note that if you have an EPIC pass, it’s 20% off the Keystone Lodge and Spa above and 20% off the hotels below if you book through their site.
- Hyatt Place Keystone – Close to the resort, features a free ski shuttle and free breakfast. Definitely pricier (around $250 per night) and probably fancier than the Keystone Lodge and Spa. This place is dog friendly but charges an extra $75 per stay for your companion.
- River Run Condominiums – Around $300 per night. These are ski-in and ski-out condos. These are full apartments from studios to multiple bedrooms, but they do not allow pets in the rooms 🙁 These are also available through Airbnb.
- Lakeside Village Condominiums – Around $200 per night. These are on Keystone Lake and not a far walk from the mountain, maybe 10 minutes to the lift. These are full apartments from studios to multiple bedrooms, but they do not allow pets in the rooms 🙁
The town of Keystone is relatively small but you can also look at an Airbnb. Just set your filters to doggie friendly and make sure you’re reasonably close to the mountain (as Airbnb can sometimes place you super far!).
If you don’t mind driving you can venture a little further out. Because of COVID the mountain isn’t so packed and the parking lots are relatively empty. Making a reservation and driving/parking should be relatively easy in 2020, but I definitely would NOT count on it for subsequent years.
Skiing / Snowboarding
I’m not a great snowboarder. I’d place myself squarely in intermediate. I can ride regular and switch down a blue and navigate a black and some moguls in regular. If I am feeling fiesty, I can ride some tree lines, up along the sides of the hill, and even do a jump or two. This is just to place my riding relative to yours. Take my advice or leave it.
In my [humble] opinion, Keystone offers a solid two days of riding on any given trip. Below are some recommendations. Break up your riding and your numbers of days however you see fit.
If you stay in or near River Run Village or if you stay at Keystone Lodge and Spa, you’ll be entering the park at the bottom left of the map near the ski & ride school. There are two options from here: the River Run Gondola and the Summit Express. Unless it’s freezing, take the Summit Express. You have to walk like 30 yards further across a bridge to get to Summit Express, but there’s always a HUGE line at the Gondola because people don’t realize there’s a lift that goes to the same exact spot on top within such close proximity. They both drop you off at the same place and I’m assuming you want to ride.
From here there are a few options. If you want a slow, long and open run to get your day started, SchoolMarm is almost 4 miles long from top to bottom. It’s also a great last few runs of the day, since it’ll get you practice without making you totally exhausted from hard riding.
All the blues – Flying Dutchman, Bachelor, Frenchman, Wild Irishman, Paymaster – from the top of Summit Express and down to Montezuma are SUPER fun and a little less populated that SchoolMarm will be. Also, I’ve found that the lifts halfway up the hill are often less populated, and Montezuma seems to be no different. I kind of avoid Argentine and Peru Express lifts for this reason. Just riding Montezuma and cruising the wide swath of blues in there will get you a half a day’s worth of riding 🙂
From the top you can also take Mozart down to the Ruby Express and Santiago Express lifts. The riding back here definitely gets a bit harder and there are very few ways down the mountain that aren’t all black. If you’re nervous… well, go slow. And you can always find your way to Mozart and back down, which is the furthest west trail on this block of the mountain.
If you’re looking for more adventure and have enough time to get further from home, taking Spillway or Anticipation (my fave) from the top of Santiago Express will get you over to the Outback Express lift. There are a lot of great runs back here. Mr Toad’s Wild Ride, Wildfire, and Wolverine are all super fun blacks that any intermediate rider can go down without peeing their pants. And they meet up to a blue before hitting the lift again, so are not overly scary [at least for long]. There are also a bunch of blues for exploring – Oh Bob, Big Horn, Porcupine, and Elk Run. You can spend a half day doing quick runs in this area just up and down the Outback Express. And, since this is out of the way, there’s generally 0 lift line, especially if you get over to this part of the mountain early in the day. This will also keep it from being a skied out ice sheet. If you’re more adventurous than me, there’s also some back-country un-groomed stuff that you can ride at the top. I’ve never done it but friends love it.
You can find a larger map of Keystone as a .pdf file here. You can check EPIC here for the terrain and lift status at Keystone before going. It’ll let you which lifts are runnings, which trails are open, and which are groomed. EPIC’s app is also pretty useful but it’s a pretty crappy design. You can download maps to your phone which gives you access when your signal is poor in the mountain, which is a plus. Here’s the link for Apple and Android.
What [Else] To Do
Outside of snowboarding, there’s not a ton to do in Keystone, but there are some awesome and cute activities.
Keystone is home to 2 ice skating rinks. One is Keystone Lake itself; a true frozen lake and it’s the biggest maintained rink in America! It’s actually halfway smack in between Keystone Lodge and town, so it’s an easy walk from either place. It’s open from 9 am to 5 pm everyday in winter and is $15 to skate for 2 hours and $15 to rent your skates. Surrounding the lake is lakeside village. There are some restaurants and shops and so it’s easy to hang out before or after for an enjoyable afternoon.
The other rink is Dercum Square and it’s right in River Run Village where the gondola for skiing is. Unlike Keystone Lake, Dercum square is small but super well maintained. When we were there it opened at 1pm and was open till 8pm and was $15 per adults. We got there early to fill out the waiver and everything. Because of COVID, they let you sit far from each other in the square and start filling out forms around 12:30. As soon as you were done you paid and got out on the ice! It was amazing. My first time ice skating on perfectly smooth glassy ice. Here are some of my glamour shots below.
The rink was super kid friendly and had free cones and lots of places to wobble around. The ice was well kept and around 4p they host a second round of skating where they refresh the ice in between. The rink is so small there’s no zomboni, they just do it manually which is cool.
Keystone and the surrounding areas have some AMAZING hiking.
We didn’t do any snow shoeing which we were there, but we just threw on some boots and did some hiking down by the creek. Keystone has miles and miles of hiking and running trails that hug rivers and head over and under bridges. In particular, we did the Keystone Gulch Trailhead, which is accessible within walking distance of the Keystone Lodge and Spa, is doggie friendly, and is absolutely beautiful.
We didn’t really do other stuff, but it’s worth mentioning what there is around. This page has the full list of winter activities. The town is small and wandering around will only get you about an hour; I know because we had to do it while waiting for the ice skating rink to open. We actually just would up sitting by a fire and snuggling with each other.
But, there are full blown activities you can do:
- Nordic Adventures – If you’re looking for something athletic to do, cross country skiing and snow shoeing are both awesome. They also offer you a usually untapped view of the terrain. Dress Warm!
- Snow Tubing – I’ve done this before, not at Keystone, but it’s SUPER SUPER fun!
- Snowmobiling – Super fun! Again, I’ve not done this in Keystone but I’ve done this in Breck and other places (in the Rockies and outside) and it’s a great way to explore. Dress warm!
- Sleigh Rides – I find this pretty boring and cold, but if you have little ones they might get a kick out of it.