Sometimes, when winter’s clutch leaves you stir-crazy with the kids, it’s time for a road trip. In Colorado, it doesn’t get much better for families than Keystone, especially during one of its new Kidtopia celebrations, a series of events over holiday weeks that celebrates kids and families.
For us, it started with one of the smoothest, quickest check-ins ever at the Expedition Lodge at River Run Village – a good thing since Casey, 7, was konked out cold in the car after the two-hour drive and ice-skating stop at the Silverthorne pond. On the way to the parking garage, we saw a mom pulling three kids and their skis in a wagon the resort provides for free for gear-saddled guests; it was the first sign that Keystone truly is family friendly (others included diaper-changing shelves in every bathroom, and lift-ops who instinctively pull kids onto chairs from behind).
After a quick swim – as if on cue, Casey woke up in time to cannonball into the pool – we borrowed a wagon to pull the kids to a spaghetti dinner at Luigi’s before turning in for the next day’s ski.
At 8:30 a.m., we met Katie and our guide, Dan Dacey (strategically wearing a “No Whining” button on his jacket) at the River Run Gondola to begin exploring the mountain’s more than 3,000 acres of terrain and 3,000 feet of vertical. The mountain’s fleet of snowcats impeccably groom more than 62,000 acres each season, and it shows. The summer sailing instructor led us down Mozart to the Santiago Express lift, then down Spillway to the black diamond Outback Express. Lo and behold, at the top was a snowcat that, for just $5 each, shuttles guests another 500 vertical feet above the resort’s lift-served terrain into a land of wide open, kid-friendly bowls. The best part: they both got to climb over the treads and ride shotgun with the cat driver.
Lunch at the Outpost saw us to the aptly named Incubator Terrain Park before we took in one of Kidtopia’s marquee features: the nation’s largest snow fort, atop the gondola. The kids disappeared up steps, into tunnels, atop turrets and down slides. Come summer, the snow will be pushed into the nearby tubing park for summer snow-tubing sessions.
The day wasn’t over. Next stop: the highest Zamboni-maintained lake in the country at the Keystone Lodge. While Brooke and I donned hockey gear for pick-up games with two boys from San Jose and Houston, followed by another against a father/son team from Atlanta, Casey busied herself on the rink’s 20 acres, circumnavigating the perimeter while singing and practicing dance moves. “What a dork,” uttered her elder sister.
Two inches of fresh snow slowed the puck each pass, but was welcome for what the kids had coming tomorrow: their first snowboard lesson. “I need it to snow more for my butt,” said Brooke, happy for the extra cushioning.
We gained the calories right back at the Big Horn Steakhouse, where we could still see people skating as the crème brulee melted in our mouths.
“Make sure our instructor’s cute,” Brooke had advised us earlier. Cody, a dark-haired, goateed twenty-something from Wisconsin, fit the bill perfectly. While he took Casey and Brooke up to the mountaintop magic carpet for their indoctrination into snowboarding, my wife and I took the rare alone time to further explore the area. That evening, Brooke’s soar butt and all, we hit the Adventure Point tubing park at the top of the gondola. “Spin or straight?” the attendants asked. Answer the former, and they whip you around silly, faster than the disco ball spinning overhead. The swirling continued as all of us but a tired Casey next rode a second gondola to the top of Dercum Mountain and dinner at Der Fondue Chessel, where we stirred vegetables, fruits, breads and assorted meats into vats of cheese and chocolate, all to the Bavarian accordion, guitar and singing of Those Austrian Guys. Soon they had us all singing Roll Out the Barrel and waving our arms to I Don’t Want to be a Chicken.
“I missed the sticks with cheese,” Casey pouted as soon as we returned.
Day three saw us sample activities at the Kidtopia tent, where kids build sand necklaces, color personal puzzles and coloring books, make snow in a test tube, fashion color-changing bracelets and more. The downfall: I had to fit it all inside my jacket for the ski day, making me live up to the Fat Tuesday it was. Walking to the lift, the kids danced to a Radio Disney performance in the square, heckled a performer trying to escape from a straitjacket while balancing atop a ball, and detoured around a man riding a giant puppet ostrich.
That afternoon, Casey had so much fun tying ski poles together and spiraling down the slopes with Brooke that (she’s going to kill me for saying this) she peed her pants. And that, of course, relegated me to holding her underwear in one hand and longjohns in the other, both under air-heaters in the men’s room, while she looked on from the diaper-changing shelf.
The final night had us at a kids’ VIP party atop the mountain again, this time for face-painting, hors de oeuvres and fireworks, as well as another venture to the castle and tubing hill.
Then we returned home the next day, just in time to leave the kids tanned, rested and ready for their first day of school.
If You Go: Kidtopia is a festival for all things toddler, from face-painting to free performances. Kids can participate in activities including: a glowstick parade down the mountain; Disco Tubing at a lift-served tubing hill; BBQ night on top of the mountain; a parade in the village led by Keystone’s Mascot Ripperoo; live music; arts and crafts; a glowbug skate night; the Ultimate Snow Fort (complete with a snow dragon, drawbridge and lookout tower); and more. Also, make sure to grab your Adventure Passport, a booklet offered to all guests offering an array of discounted and free activities and meals, from martini-tastings to fudge-making, yoga and even snowbiking. The events are held over Christmas, President’s Day, Martin Luther King Day, mid-March and Easter. The remaining events for this season will be held March 15-21 and April 1-6. Info: www.keystoneresort.com