Best Ski Towns: Keystone Resort, Colorado

Vail, Colorado has long been synonymous with top-notch skiing, but vacationing families may overlook one of the most family-friendly gems in its crown: Keystone Resort. Less well-known than nearby Vail, Beaver Creek, or Breckenridge, Keystone is located an easy two-hour drive from the airport hub of Denver on I-70, right in the heart of the Rockies. Operated by Vail Resorts, Keystone is a ski town unto itself, with a quaint slopeside village, a full scope of lodging options, fine and family dining, and so many apres-ski activities, kids will certainly sleep well at night!


I had the opportunity to visit Keystone last month, and the moment I arrived, I knew it would make my list of Best Ski Towns. All the essential elements for a great family ski vacation can be found within the resort: convenient, cozy lodging, easy and affordable dining, great skiing, a top-tier, full-service ski school, stunning scenery, and most importantly, a dedication to the family ski experience on the mountain and off.

During the high season, Keystone is literally buzzing with activity. While I was visiting in the fall off-season, construction crews were hard at work on a brand new, full-sized family ice skating rink, located in the heart of the village, and despite the fact that the snow hadn’t yet begun to fall, I kept hearing about KidTopia, a family festival running on scheduled weekends throughout the ski season. KidTopia is a full program of winter events, movie nights, themed parties, and entertainment, at the center of which is a real-life ice castle snow fort (remade each winter, of course!) for kids to explore slopeside. Families can also snowshoe, snow tube, and take sleigh rides when not hitting the slopes.


For quality ski and boarding instruction, Keystone offers their Ski and Ride School, where families can choose between group lessons by their children’s age, family lessons in which the whole family is involved, or private lessons. All take place in a centralized section of the mountain, where fun interactive elements vie for kids’ attention and offer a whimsical addition to lessons. Keystone also offers a full-time daycare for the littlest ones, and–most appealing to my family of skiers–an adventruous Cat Skiing and Riding program that delivers families (or just mom and dad) deep into unexplored power to make new tracks! Every level of skiing is catered to, and with such mix-and-match options, families won’t feel ‘boxed in’ to lessons that take them away from each other.


Tip! As with any ski resort, don’t forget about the off-season! Temperatures may rise, but prices drop in the summer and fall, making the off-season a great time to visit Keystone. During our stay, we enjoyed the many hiking trails in the immediate area (Keystone employees at both the lodge and condo registration offices can point out great hikes on a map). Bike and jogging trails criss-cross the resort, offering miles of beautiful scenery, and only 25 minutes away by car, Lower Cataract Lake awaits with a family-friendly two mile loop amid quaking aspen and high peaks. Summer activities also include river tubing, fishing, and rafting.

Lodging: Keystone offers so many different types of lodging, it’ll make your head spin. Every level is accommodated, from lodge hotel rooms to home rentals. During our stay, we called the family-friendly River Run condominiums home. Comprised of two and three bedroom condos in beautifully themed multi-level buildings, the location is perfect: right in the heart of the River Run village, it’s ski-in, ski-out, so there’s no hassling with shuttles or parking. The lobby of our building housed a roaring fireplace, comfy couches, and ski lockers, and the outdoor patio welcomed us with a steaming hot tub and guest-use BBQ. Laundry facilities are located in-house as well; though I’ll tell you they’re on the top floor to save you from looking for them as long as I did! Our unit in River Run was very spacious and comfortable for a family with a full kitchen, living and dining area, and two bedrooms and bathrooms. We were able to shop for food on our way into Keystone and cook most of our own meals, and from our balcony, we could see a main gondola.


Dining: Right in River Run village are a vast number of family-friendly pizza parlors, pubs, quick-service sandwich shops, coffee shops, and even a small grocery store. When not dining in, any type of food you might want can be found within a few steps of your condo, and most deliver. For a special night out, I recommend one of two fine dining restaurants, with or without the kids: the dining room of the Keystone Lodge and Spa serves delicious, locally-inspired options from top chefs (I had a house-made ‘pocket pasta’ that was to die for), and the unique Ski Tip, housed south of River Run in the historic Ski Tip Lodge offers an amazing wine list and four-star culinary options paired with the wonderful ambiance of a cozy ski cabin (the original home of Keystone’s founding owner). If the weather is nice, take cocktails on the outdoor patio, and ask for your dessert by the cavernous fireplace in the living room. Kids are welcomed at Ski Tip with their own varied and inspired kid menu, but keep in mind that your fellow patrons and inn guests will most likely be seeking serenity and relaxation after a long ski day.


Getting there: If you’re driving, Keystone is very accessible on I-70. From Denver, travel west on Interstate 70 and exit at the Silverthorne/Dillon exit (#205). At the end of the exit ramp turn left (East) at the stop light onto Highway 6. Travel 6.2 miles into Keystone Resort.

While staying in River Run, cars are parked in the nearby indoor, underground garage, but you may not need it again until you depart: the Keystone shuttle service, operated by Colorado Mountain Express, got us everywhere we needed to be in the resort. For those flying into Denver, the same shuttle service gets families efficiently and safety to Keystone straight from the airport.

Tip! Keystone Resort is situated at over 9,000 feet above sea level. Families not used to this altitude will want to take it easy on their first day, and be sure to hydrate while on vacation and before arriving! I was raised at 5000 feet, and still felt the effects quite strongly!

As I disclose whenever applicable, Keystone Resort hosted me during my stay, covering accommodations, transportation, some dining, and a spa treatment. While generous, this compensation came with no expectation of a positive review.