Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Travel Tuesday: Ski Series Part 3 (Keystone Colorado)

After amazing trips to Sun Valley Idaho and Big Sky Montana, I was hooked on long ski trips - and it wasn't long before I started researching my next one. I decided that for once I actually wanted to travel over a holiday - New Year's Eve, to be specific - and so I did some research on which resorts have the best New Year's Eve parties.

Most of the ones that were mentioned were in Colorado - not surprisingly, when you have big names like Breckenridge and Vail out there - but there were a couple less expensive (and not so overwhelmingly large) resorts on the lists that I found. One that popped up a couple of times - for having a great New Year's Eve party, and night skiing as well - was Keystone.

View from my studio condo in Expedition Station at Keystone's River Run Village

Of course, this trip was bound to be more expensive than the previous two years. Not only was I traveling over a major holiday, but I wanted to make sure I had five full days of skiing (as opposed to the four I had in Montana and the three I had in Idaho). Thankfully I was able to book a studio condo, which at least meant saving money on eating out ;)

(And said condo had a gas fireplace, which was pretty much the best. Especially if you want warm socks.)

Keystone is about an hour and a half from the Denver airport - possibly even a little closer than that. It's hard for me to judge the exact amount of time because on the way there it was snowing and therefore the drive took a lot longer; on the way back, we actually stopped in Denver for the last night of the trip (and therefore didn't go all the way to the airport). And of course, Denver is a major airport - which meant the plane tickets were a heck of a lot cheaper than those to Sun Valley or Bozeman. (And although the Sun Valley airport was fairly close to the resort - maybe 25 minutes or so - Bozeman was a good hour and a half from Big Sky.)

The snowy drive was definitely nerve-wracking and long, but the bigger issue is that we arrived after 11 PM and had trouble figuring out where to check in. As it turns out, there is no front desk at River Run. Anywhere. It's the main village for the resort, but there's no 24-hour front desk. Grrr. We finally realized that we had to get back on the road and drive about a half a mile back the way we'd come to check in at the Inn.

And then we had to find parking - late at night during a holiday weekend - in a garage that clearly does not house enough cars for even half the rooms in the building. And the spots are TINY. And if you go all the way to the back of the garage in anything other than a SmartCar, you're going to have to back all the way out.

But finally we made it to our room. We pretty much threw our stuff down and went out to have a drink - but it was around 11:30 at this point, and everything was closed. Everything. On a Saturday night. Of a holiday week.

(Now, when I posted about Big Sky and Sun Valley, I didn't give a play-by-play like this, and I promise that I won't continue to do so in this entry ;) These are just very important things to note, things that greatly affected my opinion of Keystone as a whole.)

In the end we decided to go to bed and get up early to ski - and that brings me to the first actual review portion of this entry ;) The skiing at Keystone was interesting, to say the least. The best way I can sum it up is that the easy trails were pretty darn easy, minus some slopes that were pure ice because of the amount of traffic they saw - but then the next step up in trails was a big 'un. As in, sure, good green circles, WTF blue squares?! It may have had more to do with the fact that the blue squares were a lot steeper and also had the same problem with icy patches.

Because of this, I stuck to a pretty small area of the resort - Dercum Mountain - for most of my trip. Sad but true. The thing is, the other peaks - North and Outback - were, shall we say, out of my bravery level. But really, that's okay - I made a great playlist, popped my ear buds in, and enjoyed as much of the mountain as I could without feeling like I was overreaching myself.

But what really made the skiing at Keystone enjoyable was night skiing. I'd never been, and wow...what an experience. There's really nothing like it. The trails weren't super crowded at this resort, despite it being New Year's week, but at night they were practically empty. Everything looked and sounded different. I honestly can't believe it took me so long to experience something amazing - I mean, I've been skiing for about 15 years now! Sadly, there aren't really that many ski resorts that offer night skiing, but wow was I glad that I chose one that did for this trip ;)

Unfortunately, in terms of other activities - at least ones that existed outside of skiing times - Keystone was pretty lacking :-/ While they had a tubing hill, ice skating rinks, and several restaurants and bars in River Run Village, despite the ski lifts being open until 8:30 (which technically means one could ski until about 9 PM), everything closed by 10 or 10:30. And by everything, I mean everything - including the private "you can only get into them if you have a room key" hot tubs.
Even the gas-fed 'bonfires' turned off by 10:30 PM :-/

The one night that things stayed open later was New Year's Eve, of course. Every year Keystone has an 80s party with a live band - if you buy tickets ahead of time it's around $12 or so (and a couple dollars more at the door). Of course, the bar situation is...interesting at best...but the band was good, they had a free photobooth, and even an 80s costume contest! We enjoyed the party for a couple of hours before heading over to 9280 to enjoy a [admittedly crappy] DJ and to watch the ball drop.

Again, though, other than New Year's we were - excuse my language - shit out of luck. If we'd been there with a bigger group of friends it would have been easier to make our own fun with game nights and the like, but alas, that wasn't the case, and so for activities outside of skiing Keystone was obviously quite a big disappointment.

In terms of food - well, as previously noted, we saved money by cooking and eating most meals in our little studio condo. However, we did bonus a $100 gift certificate to use on merchandise or dining at the resort, and most of that went to a meal at Der Fondue Chessel at the top of Overlook Peak. I already wrote a pretty lengthy review of this place on Yelp, and my general consensus would be "don't bother". Though to be fair, the dining room here does look really neat...

The only other restaurants I tried out were Pizza on the Run and Haywood Cafe - the former had pretty good pizza (that's saying a lot, for me - when it comes to pizza anyway) and the latter had some great bacon infused Bloody Marys as well as tasty sandwiches and fries. I also frequented the bars at Inxpot and in the lodge at the top of Dercum Peak - you can't be $3 Irish Coffees at the former, and the "Cuddle Bunny" drink at the latter was the best thing I've had in a while.

The "Cuddle Bunny" involved hot chocolate, Bailey's, Rumplemintz, whipped cream, and Creme de Menthe. AMAZING.

In the end, if you have a family of skiers I definitely see how Keystone would be an awesome choice for a ski trip - but if you're on the younger (youngish?) side, as I am, it maybe wouldn't be your cup of tea. And while it was nice that our ski passes were good at several other resorts, the day we drove out to Breckenridge was a crowded disaster :-/ Perhaps we would have enjoyed A-Basin a bit more, but alas, that was not the choice we made. So for us I'd rate this ski trip a 3/5 - and that mostly because (a) it wasn't overly crowded even during a holiday week, and (b) again, the night skiing was *amazing*. Pin It

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