North Peak, Outback and Wayback
Front Side of Keystone
Keystone's front side is by default where most skiers are drawn, at least initially. While there are a several fun blue runs, like Flying Dutchman, on the front side, there are only a couple of black diamond runs (Go Devil and Last Hoot) that are more like glorified blue runs. Both black diamond runs are difficult to get to, having meander around the freestyle ski park and are often both closed for the first part of the ski season. The trails are chopped up and are ran every which way together like spaghetti as they meander through the mountain, with lots of very short runs, making it unclear sometimes where you are and confusing. Sooner or later, you will end up on green run Schoolmarm, which traverses the entire mountain. No matter how hard you try to avoid Schoolmarm, it is there waiting for you as the only route sometimes to get to where you want to go. The more that you ski Keystone's front side, the shorter the runs get and fewer that they seem.
Keystone redeems itself however in several ways: First, North Peak and Outback, which are essentially the same mountain, just the backsides and beyond, do offer less-crowded, more advanced skiing terrain and places that are nestled away for great peaceful skiing. Also in the Outback is a high-end restaurant which is nice place to really enjoy top quality food and drink. Second, Keystone has a nice business village to walk through which is just the right size. The walk from the free parking lot to the lifts is just under the threshold of being too far, and there are a number of great businesses (restaurants, ski shops, gift shops, coffee shops) to stop in and enjoy the entire experience. Keystone looks and feels updated, much like Breckenridge, which is plush and inviting. Young adults and singles, especially more advanced skiers, will spend most of their time skiing North Peak/Outback/Wayback. Families and small children will spend most of their time on the front side, wearing cowpaths into Schoolmarm.
The main starting point from Keystone's village offers two lifts, either the River Run Gondola or the Summit Express. I have yet to understand why they have two lifts, right next to each other, that parallel each other to the same destination at the top, but at least it carries the load.
Keystone's unique night skiing is an admirable and respectable way to try to offer something more for skiers. While this works in principle, and to a fair degree in practice, night skiing still comes with challenges. While the slopes are well-lit and even a respectable amount to choose from, the runs get very icy and the air temperature drops to sub, sub below-zero temperatures, requiring an extra layer or two. This is the place to break out the hand and foot warmers, for sure. Do not keep taking your hand out of your ski glove to take pictures with your camera while night skiing, or risk quick frostbite. Night skiing is for diehards or people who can only ski at non-traditional times. It is a nice perk.
Keystone is the expansion king. Decades ago, what started out as just Keystone's front side, was expanded to include the mountain's back side, named North Peak which became an instant hit. Unlike Breckenridge, who peaks are side-by-side across the mountain - Keystones peaks are more sequentially located (same with Vail). At Breckenridge, you can start at the base of Peak 7, 8 or 9, whereas everyone starts at the base of Keystone's front side, and works their way further into the Outback.
If you go to Keystone and are an intermediate, advanced or expert skier, do not get into a rut and limit yourself to Keystone's front side. Starting off into North Peak, Mozart is the frequent choice and gateway ski run to explore the rest of Keystone. Despite being a blue run, it is fun and a nice long run, that is straightforward, will not get you lost, and takes you directly to the next set of lifts - either back the way that you came, or further into the Outback. Or you can take yet another Gondola directly across to the next peak, without the ski-down, lift-up exercise. Diamondback, especially when not covered with moguls, is an easier black run than many might expect.
New to Keystone in fall 2011 are the new bowls, which is great news. The bad news is that there are no lifts going to them yet, they require hiking to get to the top. Once Keystone adds chairlifts to the numerous back bowls that they procured, then Keystone will begin to have the respectability as its cousin Breckenridge. Keystone is great for beginners who want to say close to the security of Schoolmarm and intermediates who want the roller coaster ride of groomers and Flying Dutchman, and have done the best with what they have with expanding endlessly outwards to accommodate advanced skiers. Expert terrain with bowls (accessible via chairlift) is still lacking and Keystone still resembles Winter Park and Copper in that regard, and less like Breckenridge, Arapahoe Basin or Vail. However the back bowls offer great promise for the future, and Keystone is a great mountain to check out if you get tired of Breck, Vail and Beaver, and want some variety, then Keystone is a great choice. Like Breckenridge, Keystone looks and feels updated and fresh.