Keystone Resort Is a Snow Vacation Dream for Families

little boy snowboarding at Keystone Resort Gabby Cullen

Splurge on the lessons, find the playground, and don’t miss the sleigh ride

As someone who grew up in Northern California, the Rocky Mountains are somewhat of a mystery to me. I’d seen them in pictures and on TV, but experiencing their beauty? It was still on my bucket list up until a few weeks ago. My son and I took a trip to Keystone Resort, the iconic ski destination just under two hours outside of Denver, CO. It is one of the most family-friendly snow destinations I have ever visited; I can full-heartedly say that our adventure fulfilled all my expectations and then some.

Why Is the Keystone Resort So Special?

I’ve been snowboarding for almost half my life, but once I had kids, quality time on the slopes was a thing of the past. The idea of lugging all the gear (not just for myself but for little ones) seemed overwhelming, and the thought of teaching them how to get down the mountain seemed impossible. At Keystone, there are many perks and programs that make time spent there fun for everyone.

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First, there’s an amazing deal for families with kids: anyone age 12 and under gets a free day of skiing if lodging with the resort for two or more nights.

Second, the Vail Resorts Epic Pass is… epic. You can opt for a season pass allowing access to all 42 locations, including spots in California, Vermont, Colorado, Utah, and Canada. If you don’t plan on resort-hopping, go for the Epic Day pass. Customize your pass to include all or a portion of the locations and choose from one to seven days. All the deals give you a 20% discount on food, lodging, lessons, and rentals. The 2023/2024 epic pass is on sale now; check it out here.

Third, Keystone Resort has tons of beginner-level skiing and snowboarding options. Hop on the River Run Gondola to get to the top of Dercum Mountain, where you’ll find the Endeavor Learning Area, the Snow Fort, and a snow tubing hill. The entrance to Schoolmarm, the legendary 3.5-mile family-friendly run, is also at the top of Dercum Mountain.

Related: 10 Skiing Tricks to Memorize Before Hitting the Slopes

If you and your family are ready to hit Schoolmarm, look for the Kids Adventure Zones (there are four) that can be found on the way down. There are tunnels to ski through, a tree zone, and an Igloo visit. If the elevation at the top of Dercum Mountain is too much (over 11,000 ft.!), spend your time at the Mountain House beginner area. It is accessible from the parking lot, and you’ll find plenty of green skiing areas and two magic carpets.

Finally, when it comes to dining on the mountain, Keystone Resort has some of the best to offer! Summit House, on the top of Dercum Mountain, has everything from chicken tenders and hamburgers to enticing butter chicken bowls. You’ll also be treated to a breathtaking, nearly 360-degree view of the Rocky Mountains at Summit House if you walk up to the Crow’s Nest. A special dining opportunity, even for those who aren’t ready to get there by board or skis, is to hop on the Outpost Gondola at Dercum Mountain, enjoy stunning views of the valley, and enjoy lunch at the newly expanded Timber Ridge Lodge. If you find yourself at the Mountain House area, don’t miss the chance to eat at Big Burger.

What Else Can Families Do at Keystone?

little boy in River Run Village at Keystone Resort
Gabby Cullen


After finishing your last run of the day, plan on spending time in River Run Village. This is where you’ll find the best dining options for families. There is pizza, pub food at 9280 Taphouse (they have great soups, sandwiches, high bar tables perfect for people watching, and one of the best playlists I’ve ever heard), craft beer, soft pretzels and all-day hot chocolate at Steep Brewing + Coffee Co., a candy store, crepes, cookies, pasta, empanadas, and more. Seek out the huge fire pits to warm up after a cold day on the slopes. Let the kids burn their last bit of energy on the Wild West-themed playground located right before the Gondola.

Book a sleigh ride dinner at the Adventure Center at the Keystone Lodge & Spa. Once aboard the sleigh, you’ll be taken through Soda Creek Valley towards a hearty dinner and musical entertainment at Soda Creek Homestead. Go ice skating at Lakeside Village, try your hand at a game of hockey, or rent ice skating trainers from the Adventure Center.

How Do You Make Your Time at Keystone Resort Even Better?

little boy taking a lesson at Keystone Resort
Gabby Cullen


The answer to this question is simple—book a lesson. For your kids and yourself. Yes, for yourself. Keystone also offers a Ski and Ride School green run guarantee: they promise you’ll be skiing or snowboarding in green terrain in three lessons, or your fourth lesson is free. Who qualifies? Anyone ages seven and older (adults, this means you, too) can take advantage of this deal, so it’s perfect for first-timers, whatever your age. Even better, the three lessons don’t have to be in a row.

Truth time: I am a self-taught snowboarder and spent my time on blue and black diamond slopes until I had kids. But breaking down the process and explaining it to my son wasn’t something I felt comfortable doing. Our instructor, Brenden Rowan, is a level-two AASI-certified instructor with an additional children’s specialist certification. He has been at Keystone Resort for five seasons and was knowledgeable and passionate about the resort, the sport, and sharing his skills with his students.

After our experience with Brenden, my nine-year-old was boarding confidently and correctly. I took a lesson (my first, ever!) alongside my son and learned that while I can get down a mountain, I still had much to learn. When I asked him about the advantages of booking a lesson, Rowan said, “It builds skills and self-confidence. You get valuable feedback, and with that, you’ll avoid forming bad habits while enjoying the mountain.” All the instructors share Brenden’s enthusiasm and knowledge; I can confidently say that your kids will return from lessons as better skiers and boarders—tired but happy.

Where Should You Stay While at Keystone?

While I’m partial to Keystone Lodge & Spa for the quiet atmosphere and great dining options (don’t miss the BLT with egg sandwich or avocado toast on the cafe breakfast menu, or, if you have older kids, the impressive entrees at Bighorn Bistro), you might gravitate towards something closer to the slopes. The Hyatt Place Keystone is located near the Mountain House base area and offers large rooms with daily breakfast, and the luxurious Buffalo Lodge is in the heart of River Run Village. Have a big group in tow? Book a private home right at the resort.

Keystone is the closest ski mountain to Denver, and you can find plenty of affordable direct flights, which makes this dream of a resort easy to access year after year. It truly has something for everyone, from beginners to pros, and you leave wishing you were already planning your return—something I plan to do as soon as possible.

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This trip was paid for by Vail Resorts but all opinions here belong to the writer. 


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