Despite having a reputation as a family-friendly ski area, expert skiers and snowboarders know that Keystone Ski Resort’s Bergman, Erickson, and Independence bowls are a paradise where you can regularly find mostly untouched snow. But in order to reach those stashes of powder, visitors have had to hike or pay to take a snow cat to the top.
That will all change next year. Keystone plans to install a high-speed, six-seat chairlift that will pick passengers up at the bottom of the Bergman Bowl and allow them to access terrain in all three popular bowls. “It’s going to be a game-changer,” says Keystone’s vice president and general manager, Chris Sorensen. “Keystone is the hidden gem for advanced skiers and riders, but this new terrain will also allow families and all guests to get above tree line without hiking. I think it will completely change how our guests, especially hard-charging locals and Front Range residents, ski and ride the mountain.”
Set to open next December, the new yet-to-be-named chairlift will pick passengers up along the Prospector Trail off of North Peak and take guests up about 1,000 vertical feet to the top of Bergman Bowl. The new terrain will include 13 trails across 555 acres, including mostly blues, one black, and two green trails in Bergman Bowl, as well as three black runs in Erickson Bowl.
Through the end of this season (Keystone is scheduled to close April 17), this terrain is only accessible via private guided snow cat tours (an all-day experience that includes lunch and numerous custom-selected lines down Bergman, Erickson, and Independence bowls), the $20 North Peak Cat Shuttle, or via hiking (the easiest access point involving a 1.5-mile hike from North Peak).
“It’s definitely going to make it a more inclusive experience,” says Keystone patrol cat ski specialist Preston Burns. “There’s going to be access for the vast majority rather than the minority to get up into that area.”
The good news for long-time touring skiers and riders who have spent years reveling in earn-your-turns access to this terrain is that they will likely still be able to find fresh turns in Independence Bowl. While the new lift will provide easier access (read: a much shorter hike) to “Indie,” as the Ski Patrol calls it, and its expert-only terrain, anyone venturing onto these slopes will sign up for a 30- to 45-minute hike out.
“A lot of people come to Keystone for that hiking experience and they’re still going to have that. That’s not getting taken away,” Burns said. “In fact, it’s just shifting over. Most people who hike don’t end up in Independence Bowl, so now people that want to hike have a new experience. Rather than Erickson and Bergman, they’ll be going over to Indie for their hiking endeavors.”
Keystone patrollers also believe the Outback—currently the resort’s most popular area for advanced skiers and riders—will be less-frequented, thanks to the new terrain. They also predict that fresh snow in the bowls will be less prone to thinning from wind with more skiers and riders packing it down.
Along with the new lift and terrain, Keystone is also expanding its Outpost lodge and deck next season. As for cat skiing, while the all-day private tours and bowl-access cats will go away, Keystone is considering bringing back a shuttle to North and South bowls from the top of the Outback Express chairlift.
“With this new terrain,” Burns says, “the whole mountain will ski like it never has before.”