Then it's on back to North Peak, or the back side, which is mostly bump runs and three groomed blues. Star Fire, the run the U.S. Ski Team trained on the last two seasons, has a relentless fall line straight down the mountain. "It doesn't give up," Simson says. His favorite bump run is Powder Cap. Because it's a little bit hidden off of Star Fire, its bumps stay a nice shape and don't get huge and squared off like the more popular runs. The best tree skiing on North Peak is the Bullet Glades, off the Bullet trail. Five years ago, the resort went in and removed all the dead trees, so that now the spacing is perfect and holds snow well. He likes the tree skiing in Cat South Glades, skiers' left off Cat Dancer, too. "It's not quite as steep and the tree spacing is a little wider, but it's really fun, and you can always find powder there," Simson says.
The third mountain is Outback, with acres and acres of tree skiing. "It's absolutely gorgeous," Simson says. "No highways, roads, nothing. I love the stillness." The best bump run back there is Bushwhacker. It's north-facing, so it holds its snow, and it generally only has three or four people on it. Outback is the end of the lift-accessible terrain, but there's still a lot more powder to be had in Keystone's bowls. North and South Bowl are a twenty-minute hike or a $5 snowcat ride. "When you get up there, in my opinion, it's one of the greatest views in Colorado," he says. "From that point, if I were to go north, I would be skiing what we call the Victory Chutes. They're north-facing, great snow, very steep, and it's not much work for a whole lot of fun. If I were to go south, I would follow the southern boundary of South Bowl and drop into what we call the Tele Trees, which is beautiful, old-growth pine forest."
But watch out for the boundary signs, he says.
Keystone's three other bowls — Bergman, Erickson and Independence — are hike-to only (about thirty minutes from the Outpost Lodge on North Peak) unless you want to pay for the all-day guided tour of Independence Bowl that comes with a catered lunch. "All three of those are very challenging — big, open-wide, with chutes, drops.... It's a great way to experience backcountry skiing and still be inside the ski-area boundary," Simson says. "We're doing avalanche control and making sure it's ready for the public. And yet it's a place where you can go and hear absolutely nothing. It's my favorite corner of the office."
But just because Simson likes his solitude doesn't mean he's not excited about the fancy new gondola, too. He also had his gripes with the old one, like the fact that it was so high that it would blow in a storm and they'd have to shut it down — even though it was during storms that people wanted the cover of a gondola. "This will be a huge improvement for Keystone," he says.
General Information: www.keystone.snow.com; 1-800-468-5004.
Location: 90 miles west of Denver via I-70 to exit 205 at Dillon, 6 miles east on U.S. Hwy. 6 to Keystone.
Hours: 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m.; 9 a.m.-9 p.m. on night-skiing days.
Snow Report: 1-800-468-5004.
Lift Rates: TBA.
Terrain: 3,148 acres with 121 trails; 19 percent beginner, 32 percent intermediate; 49 percent advanced/expert. The base is 9,280', with a 3,128' vertical rise; summit: 12,408'.
Breckenridge Ski Area
Once an isolated area of intermediate cruisers that took some work, via cat trails, to get to, Peak 7 is all grown up. Its base development — the first new base area since Peak 9 in 1971 — is opening this season with its own ski school, ticket and rental office. By Christmas, it will also have the high-end Crystal Peak Lodge and Sevens Restaurant, with a wood-fired pizza oven and tapas bar. The new base area will now be the first stop that the BreckConnect gondola makes on its way to the resort, giving visitors easier access to the intermediate runs and the T-bar at Peak 7 that takes experts above tree line.
Steve Lapinsohn, an owner of the Main Street Outlet and North Face store in town, has excitedly watched the progress and is particularly happy about how the BreckConnect gondola ties the resort to town. What always set Breckenridge apart from its neighboring resorts is the fact that it is a real working town that predates the resort. In fact, it celebrates its 150th anniversary this year. Lapinsohn himself was wooed away from his life as a Dallas investment banker by the town's charms seventeen years ago. "It's a great place to live," he says. "There's so much that's offered here. Not only the events and the fact that it's a real town, but it's warm and welcoming."
People who come to live here stay, he says — like many of his employees who have been with him all seventeen years. Even some who left are coming back.