The previous post I spent dissing the EPIC Pass, but praising its mountains. Vail will always be one of my favorite places on Earth, despite being sick of high prices and breaking-down lifts. Breckenridge will always be my go-to place for a party (waiting for the Plunge!), but I’ll never reveal my secret stashes there, not even if you tortured me with a ski stick (yes, that’s what they were originally called!).
Keystone? Well, Keystone isn’t really much of a secret. The mountain is pretty big, but doesn’t really compare to the other big mountains in Colorado. The infrastructure is good, but the runs a bit on the iffy side. Keystone’s problem, really, is mostly not crowds or cost, but the alternating exposure of the slopes. If you look at a map, Keystone is in fact three mountains aligned North (front side) to South (Outback). You ski the North and South side of each mountain.
The problem? The sun melts snow on the South flanks/slopes much faster than on the North sides and you end up with a pattern of alternating-quality snow. The North sides are generally colder and have the better snow, while the South sides suffer from icy conditions in the morning and can become a slush trap in the afternoon. That’s not nearly universal, of course: sometimes you want the warmth, for instance if the snow is icy everywhere and you want it to melt, in which case the North sides can remain icy and inhospitable all day.
There are more problems. For instance, while the mountain(s) is(/are) pretty big, there is only one lift that gets you from mountain 1 (Dercum M.) to mountain 2 (North M.), and only one for the entirety of mountain 3 (The Outback). The line at Santiago lift (leading up 2) can get out of hand at any time of day, because it used to be the only way to get from 1 to 3. (There is the gondola from 1 to 2 now, and it’s usually uncrowded. Take it if you want to go to the Outback!)
But this is not a litany of bad things about Keystone Resort. Instead, I’d like to present my favorite places on the mountain. I feel generous, since I am not going to see you there next year, as I will be skipping the EPIC Pass (as mentioned before).
So, first a preamble. What makes a place one of my favorites? It needs to fulfill a stringent set of criteria:
- Access through one or preferably several express lifts
- Snow of constant/predictable quality in a wide range of weather conditions
- Lack of crowds and unpleasant types
- A real challenge to get through
- No flat areas long enough to require unstrapping and pushing/walking
How this affects my choice of secret stashes is pretty clear. (1) The terrain by Alpine lift in Copper is fantastic, for instance, but the lift itself freaky slow. (2) While I love the Ruby Express lift line at Keystone, the snow can be of extremely variable quality and easily turns into an ice trap. (3) I loved Paradise Bowl in Crested Butte, but there was no untouched powder ten minutes after resort opening. (4) Groomers have long not been my thing any longer. Part of it is that you have to take them anyway to get to your favorite places, but part of it simply that I find it boring to just go down a run, whether straighlining or carving. If there is lots of powder it can be fun, but even then just a couple times.
A word of caution: the places I frequent are dangerous. People on the slopes are dangerous, but trees are much worse. Also, there are things (rocks, stumps, branches) between trees. Finally, my favorite places have cliffs, jumps, bumps, moguls, and other torture devices strewn densely in them. Proceed at your own risk, and always remember that this article was written by someone who had to sit out snow sports for 5 years because of a shoulder separation.
Now, with all that preamble, my favorite places in Keystone: