Key­stone Ad­ven­ture Tours take skiers right to the top of the moun­tain

The Denver Post - - TRAVEL - CHRYSS CADA Around Colorado

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.

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