Keystone Adventure Tours take skiers right to the top of the mountain
keystone resort» o really appreciate Colorado’s mountains, you have to get some elevation under you.
Thankfully it’s easy to remember the grandeur and beauty of our peaks if you just get on top of one.
While I’ve often written about heli-skiing, cat skiing and hike-toskiing, it’s usually to promote the ongoing quest for pristine powder. I realize I haven’t said enough about the stunning views you get to enjoy atop those mountains before skiing down them. But even the most thrill-seeking skiers and riders will admit that the beauty of the backcountry is one of its greatest draws.
I was vividly reminded of this perspective in February, when I climbed out of a snow cat atop a peak just east of Keystone’s Independence Bowl. In every direction were familiar mountaintops that I felt like I’d never really seen before.
There were fourteeners I had summited as a teen, the Gore Range, where I camped as a child, and the back bowl of Arapahoe Basin, where I had been skiing just a few days before. But I had to be reintroduced to it by our guide, because I’d never seen all of it so magnificently laid out before me.
What’s different about the view from a mountaintop is the vastness of it. Standing on a summit is like looking out over the ocean, watching massive waves coming in. The scene is beautiful in its enormity and seeming endlessness. I know it has been said before,
Tbut we often forget the peace of being so small when surrounded by a landscape so big.
To put it more simply, the scenery was so amazing on top of that mountain it made me actually pause for several minutes before going after the powder down the side of it.
And besides, there is always powder when you go out skiing with Keystone Adventure Tours — because if there isn’t snow, KAT don’t go.
James, our guide, explained that if there aren’t untracked sections in the operation’s 800plus acres of skiable terrain, they cancel the trip. “We want people to have a high-level experience, so we aren’t going to take them if we can’t provide that,” he said.
Snow curators of sorts, the guides coordinate which areas and aspects they take groups down to preserve the powder. Our trip was days after a storm, but we were presented with five runs without a track on them. The snow, in bowls and trees protected from the wind, was consistently soft and just-below-the-knee deep. Since the terrain is usually at a pretty good pitch, skiers need to be advanced intermediates to sign up for a KAT trip.
Keystone’s snow standards make it a great experience, but an experience you might have to wait for. If a trip is canceled because of lack of snow, those skiers are fit into the next available spot. It’s a good idea to reserve a spot early. The cat usually starts making runs in mid to late December.
My own lack of planning (combined with a lack of snow) denied me a ride with KAT in the 2014-’15 season, so I was raring to go when I got the chance in February. I was even on time for the 8:15 a.m. ski fitting at Mountain House.
The trip’s $285 experience includes powder skis (to keep them organized they name them after Pro Rodeo Bulls — I was riding “Black Sabbath”), a catered lunch in a yurt overlooking the Tenmile range, 5,000 to 6,000 vertical feet in the Independence, Ericson and Bergman bowls and the stunning views from the top of each of them.
I took not only those views home with me, but also the elation from being on top of those peaks. Chryss Cada is a freelance journalist and Colorado State University adjunct professor based in Fort Collins. Find her on the Web at chryss.com.