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Keystone Thanksgiving 2014

post #1 of 8
Thread Starter 

A little delayed, but thought I'd share for anyone that is interested:

 

I drove from MN to Keystone with my kids (10 & 13) and one of my nieces (13) for a short ski trip over the Thanksgiving break. We'd planned this trip before the early Nov. snowstorms that helped make this a great early season, so were even happier with the conditions than we expected. We opted to drive to save $$ over airfare/car rental and also my 10-yo daughter qualified for a "School of Shred" ticket, so her skiing was free, making it a pretty reasonable trip.

 

We left MN after school on Tuesday with plans to drive as far as I could before getting tired and stopping somewhere mid-Nebraska. Everything started out great with good roads and a clear weather forecast. We actually hit a little snow squall in western IA, which turned out to get bigger. It left 9-11" of fresh snow in MN the next day! Which meant we probably missed THE best skiing day in MN for the season lol!

 

We continued to pound pavement and by midnight or so the kids were sleeping and I was still feeling awake and alert, so I kept on going - right through Omaha - Lincoln - Grand Island. For good or bad, between Grand Island and North Platte nature called, so I pulled into a wayside rest. After a quick bathroom break, the kids told me that it was "impossible" for them to fall asleep in the car and the seats were getting so uncomfortable... (even though they'd been sleeping for hours ;-) ) So we headed to North Platte and grabbed a room at the Fairfield. Checked-in at 2:15 AM.

 

Fast forward a little over 4 hours, and the kids are awake, alert and want to get going again! At that point I could've used a little more sleep, but heck I wanted to get to CO as soon as possible too! Packed up our toothbrushes again, stopped downstairs for some scrambled eggs and waffles at the complimentary breakfast and were on our way by 7AM or so.

 

It started to lightly snow shortly after crossing into CO, we stopped for gas around Julesburg I think it was and there was an inch or so, just enough to turn the pavement a good white. I was glad we had stopped at that point though. After gassing up, and heading back to I76, my ABS kicked in as I was about to turn on to the on ramp. I then did a little acceleration test on the ramp and spun quite easily. Knowing what the conditions were, I slowed my pace down a bit and was glad I did as we passed 11 vehicles in the ditch over the next 20 miles or so, including a few rollovers. Lots of state patrol and two trucks getting people out and I couldn't help but think that it could've been us if we hadn't stopped and I had still been cruising a long! 

 

We decided to stop and grab some lunch in Denver before heading up into the hills, so we found a Subway for a quick lunch. While eating I mentioned to the kids that years ago I had stopped up on Lookout Mountain and seen Buffalo Bills gravesite and what an incredible view of Denver it was from up there. They wanted to check it out, so that's where we headed next. All three kids had various camera-equipped devices busy as we drove up the front range snapping pictures of incredible vista after another - yes, we're flatlanders! They've seen mountains before, but always from above, they've swam in both the Atlantic and Pacific, but had never driven, skied or hiked in the Rockies, so this was pretty awesome for them!

 

Finally got to Lookout Mountain, which really is a great little stop, just a few miles off I70. We parked got out, and immediately witnessed a marriage proposal! A young couple was just off the parking lot in a lookout/signage area - the kids saw and heard it, and told me about it. I missed the initial proposal, but saw/heard the happy aftermath - very cool! We took some photos, wandered around taking in the sites and did walk up the trail to Buffalo Bills grave. Then back in the car, my next planned stopped was at the top of Loveland Pass, but that wasn't to be as the Pass turned out to be closed, so through the tunnel we went. Traffic was backed up like crazy though, so took about an hour to get through the tunnel.

 

We kind of debated heading right to Keystone and skiing right away, but I was a little leery about that based on a past experience when I had done that and cramped up really bad on the slopes at Winter Park. When you're driving 14 hours by car, you almost inevitable ended up slightly dehydrated, and I didn't want the kids to get started that way, so we opted for some snowshoeing instead. We found a nice parking lot on the east side of Lake Dillon and went for a leisurely snowshoe hike. It felt good to really work our legs after being in a car for so long and helped to get our lungs to acclimate a little bit as well. We enjoyed the views of the surrounding mountains, Breckenridge in the distance, the reservoir below and found a makeshift teepee up on top off the trail as well.

 

By the time we finished, it was time to go pick up keys for our condo. We had rented a 2bd/2ba condo in Redhawk Lodge on VRBO for about $650, comparable units via Keystone Management was $900+, even with kids ski free, that still didn't make sense for u. It turned out to be very nice, a little different view than I had expected, but we did look out diagonally at the River Run gondola and could see the lighted slopes all night - very cool! The condo was nice, kitchen area a bit small, and not quite stocked like home as advertised, but had everything we truly needed. We got unpacked, found the ski lockers and got our equipment stored, cooked up a quick supper and went searching for the pool and hot tub! The pool was decent, but you had to be actively swimming or it got a bit chilly. I opted for the Hot Tub and that was where I stayed. The kids swam several times that night and other nights, but the hot tub was choice for the rest of the trip.

 

After swimming, we  headed back up to the condo, I wanted to go wander around the village and my daughter came with, the other two opted to stay in the condo so they could catch up with their Instagram, etc. My daughter and I had fun finding giant checkers and chess boards, we sat by the village bonfire for a bit, wandered over and found the ice rink. Then we walked through a few shops before calling it an early night in preparation for an early start the next morning.

 

The next morning, Thanksgiving Day, dawned with clear bluebird skies. We didn't make first gondola, but they were still handing out donuts when we got over to the line! Coming from MN and a typical 200' vertical run, I suggested we start with a run on Endeavour at the top of Dercum mountain, just so everyone could make a couple turns before hitting the bigger runs. Then the kids noticed the "mine tunnel" in the little kiddie terrain park just left of the magic carpet, so we ended up making a couple runs up there. Then we hit Schoolmarm for the kids first "real" Colorado run!

 

We stayed together about 1/2 way down, but my daughter isn't quite as advanced as the other two, and after watching them spend a fair amount of time standing and waiting, I told them to go ahead and head down, but to come back up and back down Schoolmarm again. Everyone had cell phones on them, so I was confident we be able to find each other again without too much trouble. Good thing we did too, because after 2 laps and all of us completely missing each other, we figured out that the two teens were skiing down to Mountain House base and then back up to the top of A-51 and only seeing about 1/2 of Schoolmarm per lap. Me and my 10-yo were skiing down Ina's Way to River Run and doing full laps. Once we realized that I told them to head to River Run and had no further problems.

 

That first day I logged over 22K vertical feet - kids were a bit less as I made some laps on Frenchman, Wild Irishman and Spring Dipper after lunch, while they made some more laps through the mine tunnel area at the top. Snow coverage was very good on the greens and even in the trees off of most of the runs for a little variety while I waiting on the kids. On the steeper pitches of the blue runs though there was some exposed dirt, grass and rock. I was able to avoid most of these areas though, simply by taking a cautious look over any rolls or drops in the slope to pick a good route.

 

We stopped skiing about 5:30 that day, as we had reservations for the Thanksgiving Buffet at the Big Horn Bistro. Even though we planned to eat most of our meals at the condo, I wanted to do something special for Thanksgiving and this buffet did not disappoint! They had all the traditional, turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberries, etc. but also Prime Rib, Pork Tenderloin, Rack of Lamb and a huge table full of an incredible variety of desserts including a chocolate fountain that the kids loved with strawberries, marshmallows, etc. for dipping. That meal was definitely the non-skiing highlight of our trip! By the time we finished eating and got back to the condo night skiing was over, so back to the hot tub we went! ;-)

 

The next morning, again crystal clear blue skies, we headed to Breckenridge. I debated the gondola parking lot or trying to find something closer to Peak 9, but ended up just pulling into the Gondola lot. Carpool rate of $7 seemed reasonable and lines weren't too bad, we essentially walked from the car directly into a Gondola cabin. We started on the CO Super Chair, had our EpicMix photo taken at the top and skied down Upper 4 o'clock, then made a couple of laps on the 5 chair before heading over to Peak 9. On our way to Peak 9 we took the cutoff to Sawmill, which initially my kids didn't like as it's fairly narrow, but once around the first corner, we found nearly untouched powder just off the edge of the trail and everyone was all over it. This was the kids first time in some true powder and they loved it! We ended up making 3-4 laps on that trail! We also make some runs on Peak 9 and the kids enjoyed the "Haunted Forest" another little terrain/fun park with a mine tunnel and other Halloween themed objects. We stopped for quick snack at 10 Mile Station on peak 9 before making a few more runs and left Breck around 2:30 or so. We had decided to cut out a bit early on the drive over because everyone wanted to get a bit more night skiing in since we had stopped early the night before.

 

Back at Keystone, we drove right up to the ski-check by the gondola, dropped off our skis, then drove back to the Red Hawk, up to the condo for a quick late lunch/early supper. By 4:30 we were back on the slopes and enjoyed several more runs on Schoolmarm and Silverspoon. The girls called it a day first around 6:30 or so and headed back to the condo, leaving my son and I to ski for a bit - this was fun, but without the girls we ski a bit faster, and a bit more "on edge". At one point at a split between two trails he pointed out a nice gap through the trees with what looked a little jump at the end. Looked like fun, so I dove in... and emerged with some nice new grooves in my helmet from a low hanging branch that I hadn't seen! No injuries, no falls though - and battle scars are cool, right? ;-)  After a bit my son called it a night, and I opted for one more run at my own cruising speed. Ended that day with about 19K vertical feet I believe and of course another soak in the outdoor hot tub while looking at the lights on River Run in the distance!

 

The next morning, Saturday was our last day skiing and we decided to take the short drive up to A Basin to start the day. We started with a couple of runs from mid-mountain down on Wrangler, Chisolm and Sundance. After getting warmed up, we hopped on the Lenawee lift and headed to the top and make a couple runs on Lenawee Face and Dercum's Gulch. Then ended our time at A Basin with another run on Wrangler and Moose Hollow before heading back to finish the day at Keystone.

 

Back at Keystone, we again drove right up and dropped our ski off by the gondola, grabbed some lunch at the condo and the after 2 1/2 days of skiing the kids wanted a little longer break, so I headed over to the gondola by myself for a couple of runs. I headed over to Spring Dipper and Santa Fe, and this time spotted another one of those kids fun parks, the "H&H Mining Camp" and made a note to mention it to the kids. On the way down I was really evaluating the run trying to decide if my 10yo daughter would be able to handle it. There were two stretches that concerned me, one fairly steep stretch that was about 150-200 yds long and another 50yd or so stretch wtih some moguls on it. Those two areas would test her, but I decided I thought she could handle it. Once I met back up with the I mentioned the run to the kids on the gondola ride and asked them if they wanted to try and told them about the mining camp. They all decided they'd give it a try. It did test them a bit, but they all did well and it turned out to be one of their favorite runs! They loved the H&H Mining Camp too, which has 4 of those mine tunnel obstacles in a row!

 

Of course for the younger/developing skiers the trick is when you get to the bottom of Spring Dipper, to look for the route that goes under the gondola, avoiding River Run trial! We took some combination of Jaybird, Modest Girl, linking up with Ina's Way to get back to the Summit Express, must better for keeping everyone closer to their comfort zone. I myself only skied River Run's full length once, and between the icy conditions, multitudes of people and starter bumps ti was a challenge.

 

We stopped for supper around 5 that evening, fully intending to come back out for night skiing again after doing a bit of souvenir shopping. But after eating and shopping - finding some great deals on Keystone sweatshirts (for $20!?!), etc. everyone decided they done, just didn't have enough energy after going hard for 3 days straight. So we grabbed our skis from the ski check, walked in through the garage at Red Hawk and loaded them right into the car. Headed up to condo and changed for one last soak in the hot tub to round out a great, successful first ski trip to CO for the kids!! Can't wait for the next one!

 

A few random thoughts/notes:

After skiing Keystone, Breck and A Basin within 3 days one thing that really stuck out to me was that Keystone was the only one to have a full top-to-bottom lifts for full vertical laps. Vertical feet doesn't mean anything other than an interesting stat comparison between days, but it was much quicker to add up at Keystone vs. Breck or A Basin due to not having to ride multiple lifts to get to the top. We really enjoyed some of the runs at Breck, but it seemed to take a lot of time waiting in lift lines and on the lift to get where we needed to be. I'm sure a lot of that came from phased development, but it didn't see overly efficient to me. At Keystone we could take that 9-12 minute ride up Dercum and then have a nice 30 minute ski down. At Breck it seemed almost reversed. A-Basin was better, but the lines at the bottom for the Black Mountain Express were pretty long, Lenawee lift was better. Some of that I'm sure is due to the Thanksgiving crowds.

 

If I were to do it again, I would build at least one more day into our schedule for a mid-trip rest day and do our shopping and maybe some snowshoeing or tubing that day. Each day I could see the kids tiring out just a bit earlier, and I felt the same. I know we don't ski at the same pace as a lot of people, but being from MN where we really have to work for a 10K vertical day, we were far exceeding what we were used to.

post #2 of 8
Thread Starter 

 

 

post #3 of 8

Great TR.  Those kids will remember that trip for a lifetime.  And you will remember it with them.  Way to go Dad.

post #4 of 8

Great TR, thanks!

 

@Eagle93, I'm guessing this was an Epic Pass driven trip, and you ski Afton Alps at home?    I ask, as VR get bashed a lot (including by me), but your trip is likely a testament to how Vail's Epic Pass strategy is bringing new skiers into the sport.    MN being within driving distance of CO really can make for an affordable family trip with the Epic Pass.

post #5 of 8
Thread Starter 

Thanks guys, yes, we'll definitely remember it for a long time to come!

 

 

@tball I've skied at Afton Alps before, but honestly the last time was 20ish years ago. Afton is about 2.5 hrs from me, while Mt. Kato and Powder Ridge are 75-90 minutes, so they usually gets our day trip business and if we're going to make a weekend trip, we usually head towards Duluth, where we can get 800+ vertical feet. With that said, we're debating going to Afton over the holidays, but even then for us it's almost the same distance to Welch Village which has more vertical.

 

So, no, the Epic Pass didn't really drive our trip, but the ability to ski multiple areas on a multi-day ticket was nice. I was kind of treating this as a "sampler" platter trip. I started planning back in August long before the snows came and for a first trip, want to insure that even if each resort only had a couple of runs that we could hit a couple of different resorts to have some variety. It also insured that I'd have a variety of terrain to gauge the kids comfort levels for future trips. And I had never skied Summit County before myself, always having skied Winter Park/Berthoud Pass and Steamboat before, so I got to check out some new places too! ;-)

post #6 of 8

Well in that case, give Copper a try next time!  It would be great for your group, with all the things you liked about Keystone and none of what you didn't like about Breck, and less crowds and cheaper tickets.   You just can't try multiple areas on one ticket... but you can get cheap tixs to A-basin and Loveland if you really want to.  

 

Glad you had so much fun visiting our playground!

post #7 of 8
Thread Starter 

Copper is definitely on my list, I considered it this year, but read that early season can be a bit iffy with all the racers, etc.

 

I'm also a Boy Scout leader and we might make Copper our base for a high adventure trip this summer. Looking at some mountain biking, hiking and some intro-level white water rafting. The boys have quite a list of ideas (including a possible day at A Basin if it's still open in mid-June) so we'll have to see what they focus on.

post #8 of 8

Great report! Sounds like a terrific trip.

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