After a day on the slopes, there are mountains of fun when the sun goes down.
By DEB ACORD
KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS
KEYSTONE RESORT, Colo. -- Ice crystals form a natural curtain on the gondola that glides like some magic elevator to the summit of Keystone Mountain. It's dark, a moonless night, but at 11,444 feet, the stars are close enough and bright enough to color the snow-covered landscape below a gray-blue.
The village below crackles with activity. Steam from a hot tub outside a River Run condo complex hangs in the cold air. A bonfire draws a crowd, as does an acoustic rendition of "American Pie" wafting from a nearby nightclub.
The gondola's destination is a restaurant perched seemingly at the top of the world. One of Keystone Resort's signature places to dine, the Alpenglow Stube is the highest gourmet restaurant in North America.
Draws people in
On this night, as the temperature plummets to the single digits and a slight breeze makes the pine and aspen trees creak in the cold, the restaurant still draws hungry diners. They arrive in pairs and larger groups.
Some are still dressed in the high-tech nylon gear that kept them warm on the mountain all day. Others have chosen to dress in apres-ski attire that looks more retro than recent -- calf-length mink coats; fur boots; elaborate, puffy hair styles.
All are typical of Keystone, a resort that combines skiing as good as any in the West with an all-inclusive philosophy that offers such varied nonski activities as yoga, wine-tasting and wellness classes.
Keystone is divided into three mountain bases that serve its three mountains -- Keystone Village, home of the sparkling 5-acre ice rink; Mountain House Base Area, where a learning hill and learner-dedicated lift sprawl; and River Run Base Area, which feels like a village, complete with a pedestrian mall, carefully tended bonfires and access to the River Run Gondola.
Most ski resorts close their mountains when the sun goes down. Then the action moves to the closest town's main street.
Keystone is different.
One of four large world-class Colorado resorts owned by the Vail Resorts conglomerate, Keystone sprawls in Summit County, 15 miles northeast of Breckenridge and 20 miles east of Vail and Beaver Creek.
The smallest of the quartet, but not by much, Keystone isn't connected to a village. Keystone is the village, says Margie Bootenhoff, who has worked here 28 years.
Bootenhoff started as a waitress in the Snake River Valley that surrounds the resort. Today, she is vice president of marketing.
Bootenhoff says Keystone has grown into a resort that offers visitors everything they could need or want.
"We don't have a main street," she says, "so we've had to animate the resort ourselves, think of ways to entertain people."
The most obvious way to entertain is with its terrain -- 1,861 skiable acres.
Another way: a handful of superlatives. The resort has one of the most extensive family resort programs in the country; the largest Zamboni-maintained outdoor skating rink; the tiptop Alpenglow Stube; and 55 percent of its terrain set aside for thrill-seeking black-diamond skiers and boarders.
And then there are the nights. Keystone isn't afraid of the dark, and it's the only Colorado resort and one of the few in the country offering night skiing.
Long after the sun retreats, skiers and boarders not intimidated by the nighttime cold can ride the gondola after 4 p.m. to access 17 lighted blue and green trails and a 235-acre terrain park.
Keystone is about 60 miles from Denver, a straight shot up I-70 into the mountains. It's a popular day trip for Colorado residents with a Buddy Pass, a season pass that can be used there and at Breckenridge, Vail, Beaver Creek, and smaller Arapahoe Basin, just up the mountain a few miles. It's also a popular destination for people from across the country.
There are two hotels and 1,600 condos in Keystone, nearly all managed by the resort. And most of the shops, restaurants and nightclubs scattered on the resort's three mountains are also resort-owned.
The result: a seamless transition from ski to apres-ski.