We touched down in Denver on New Year’s Eve just before the clock struck midnight, the soft honk of a solitary party horn somewhere on the other side of baggage claim offering a low-key welcome into a brand new decade.
As someone who always hopes that new adventures are just around the corner, a trip to Keystone, Colo., seemed like the perfect way to kick off a new year as a family — particularly since Keystone has a reputation as one of the most family-friendly resorts in the state.
After spending the night at the on-site Westin Denver International Airport, we hopped in our rental car bright and early and made the quick yet scenic 75-mile drive to Keystone, where we would discover a larger-than-life snow globe filled with plenty to delight each member of our party of six. If you have Colorado in your travel plans, here are some reasons to consider Keystone.
With a base elevation of 9,280 feet and 3,148 skiable acres spread across three peaks, Keystone offers plenty of runs for all abilities, and night skiing, too.
Because we are all novice skiers, we decided to kick off our time on the slopes in lessons — small group lessons at the Keystone Ski and Ride School for our younger son and daughter, ages 6 and 7, and a family lesson for me, my husband and our two older daughters, 11 and 8, with instructor Sue Campbell, who has been teaching ski lessons at Keystone for the past 40 years.
“It’s always been a good place to learn. We tend to have some real good green and green-to-blue runs for someone to get into the sport and progress,” Campbell said. “It’s a good place to learn and learn well.”
Thanks to Campbell’s expertise and endless patience, by the end of our lesson we were crisscrossing breezy greens, fresh powder crunching and squeaking beneath our skis. Campbell’s lesson would continue to serve us the next day, when we skied on our own as a family, the snow-dappled mountain unfolding like a treasure map of trails beneath us.
As we became focused on plotting our course, another of Campbell’s tips came to mind — don’t get so focused on skiing that you forget to appreciate the natural beauty around you.
“It’s such a spectacular environment. Look where you are. Soak it up,” Campbell said. “Enjoy your skiing, but don’t forget to look at where you are.”
Sure, we’d been ice skating before, but us Texans weren’t quite prepared for the exhilaration that comes with sliding across an actual frozen body of water like the 5-acre Keystone Lake behind the Keystone Lodge and Spa.
After some initial trepidation (I blame the ice-break scene in “Little Women,” which we’d just watched) and fortified with liquid courage (the adjacent adventure center offers snacks, hot cocoa and alcoholic beverages) we stepped onto the ice, which was adorned with a towering Christmas tree and covered with eager hockey enthusiasts playing pickup games.
We twirled. We raced. We slipped. We slid.
And then, once we were all sufficiently exhausted, we headed inside the lodge for dinner at Bighorn Bistro, where menu items such as lobster mac and cheese, braised short rib and shrimp and grits provided just the warmup we needed.
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In the village
I knew that Keystone was family-friendly, but I didn’t realize how pervasive that reputation was until one afternoon we found ourselves at Cupcakes and Canvas, a children’s group art class where everyone creates their own version of the same piece of art — think Painting With a Twist but swap the wine for cupcakes.
I was curious to see if the class, held at Keystone’s Kidtopia Headquarters in River Run Village, would entertain all four of our kids, who range in age from 6 to 11; as it turned out, quietly painting a scarf-wearing penguin was just the decompression they needed after a day on the slopes. The cupcake didn’t hurt, either.
Because we were staying at River Run Townhomes — our decked-out unit with mountain views, roaring fireplace, bunk beds and a full kitchen was a highlight of the trip — we were only a few steps from the bustling River Run Village, which offered a variety of restaurants and shops in addition to gondola access.
We loved the quirky New Moon Cafe for breakfast, where the walls included photos of celebrities such as David Bowie and the Beatles drinking coffee; the sugar-filled Snack Shack for a sweet treat; and 9280’ Taphouse and Montezuma Roadhouse for bites, apres ski and dinner. For kids’ T-shirts and toys, don’t miss the adorable Kidz Cabin; for mugs, trinkets and groceries, head to Rockin' R Ranch Trading Post.
Sled it up
Among my family’s must-dos in Keystone was sledding, something we had frequently seen romanticized in holiday movies but had never actually done.
When we saw a dozen hat- and mitten-wearing youngsters lugging colorful sleds up the hill next to the Dillon Nature Preserve Trailhead as we drove into town, we made a note to check it out.
Of all the thrill-inducing activities we tried on the trip, as a mom, this was perhaps the most terrifying. To my kids, though, it was an instant favorite and a great equalizer — there wasn’t one of us who didn’t scream as we made our way down the steep hillside. Just by sure to BYOS — bring your own sled.
“What’s the difference between in-laws and outlaws?”
“Outlaws are wanted.”
Keystone’s Sleigh Ride Dinner is a quintessential tourist activity that includes a 20-minute sleigh ride through the snow, during which your guides will offer a history of the area, fun facts about the draft horses pulling the sleigh and, yes, and some pretty funny jokes.
Once you reach your destination — an 1800s-era log cabin — you’re treated to a full dinner that includes drinks, soup, biscuits, a main course, sides and dessert.
The food was good, but the highlight of the entire experience was Becky, the exceptional cowgirl crooner who performed everything from Bob Dylan and Sheryl Crow staples to “She’ll Be Coming Round the Mountain.”
We had booked our sleigh ride for our final night in Keystone, and as we boarded the sleigh for the return trip home, I couldn’t help but hope that the new decade would bring many more opportunities likes this for us to come round the mountain.