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Slope Specs: Keystone, Colorado's Early Season Leader

In Colorado's high country, Keystone -- Colorado's first ski mountain with big-time snowmaking and night skiing -- is the first to open.

In Colorado's high country, Keystone and Loveland long battled to be the first to open. Because Loveland mainly draws day skiers, Keystone (tel. 800/468-5004; has lately stopped competing. Keystone, the closest total resort to Denver (75 miles), plans to open on November 9. It was Colorado's first ski mountain with big-time snowmaking. Improved, expanded and greener thanks to energy offsets even as it turns the slopes white, this snowmaking system now covers more than half of the terrain.

Keystone is Colorado's only major resort (and one of the few in the Rockies) with night skiing. In-season, lifts operate from 9:00am to 9:00pm daily. With night lighting and reliable early snow cover, Keystone welcomes tireless individuals and teams who join the annual 36 Hours of Keystone (November 30-December 1, 2007), 36 hours of nonstop sliding and live music featuring top regional bands.

Keystone's terrain ranges across three interconnected mountains. Dercum Mountain, originally Keystone Mountain and renamed in honor of founder Max Dercum, is the only one with lodging, transportation and full services at the base. Much of the resort's beginner and low intermediate terrain is here, including Schoolmarm, a long, easy trail that snakes gently across the mountain's front face. Many other runs are named after historic mines or mining terminology. Want to guess what Jackwhacker means?

In addition to chairlifts, the six-passenger River Run Gondola climbs Dercum Mountain, enabling even first-timers to reach the mountaintop beginner area. Dercum also boasts a large portion of Keystone's snowmaking system and most of its night-lit runs. Two mountaintop terrain parks, the big-league A51 Terrain Park and the beginner park called the A51 Incubator, are served by a dedicated double chairlift and are also lit for night-riding.

To reach North Peak, ski off the back of Dercum Mountain via a wide intermediate run or thread through the trees of The Windows -- or ride a transverse gondola. North Peak is known for fabulous low-intermediate to high-intermediate cruisers like Starfire and Prospector, and steep mogul trails like Ambush and Powdercap. North Peak is behind The Outback, which boasts Keystone's best and most varied glades for intermediates and experts. Take a short hike to the Outback Bowls or grab a snowcat ride to the Outback Ridge -- at nearly 12,000 feet above sea level, well worth the $5 per-ride supplement.

Advanced and expert skiers and riders can book a day with Keystone Adventure Tours, a backcountry-style experience akin to heli-skiing ? but with a snowcat instead of a chopper. Guides lead groups down 860 ungroomed acres in three wide-open bowls. A new yurt provides shelter for mid-day breaks. If you prefer to keep your feet on the ground and never board a ski lift, check out the outstanding Keystone Nordic Center for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and guided group activities.

To reach Keystone, grab an airport shuttle. You won't need a car. "On-campus" accommodations range from vintage condos tucked into the woods, spiffy units at the River Run base and the newly renovated Keystone Lodge & Spa (tel. 866/455-ROCK; Keystone's own bus system provides free intra-resort transportation, and Summit Stages (also free) links it with other Summit County centers, including nearby Silverthorne with economical motels, condos and a huge outlet shopping center. Any Keystone lift ticket is valid at nearby Arapahoe Basin and Breckenridge, and multi-day passes are good for a day or two at Vail and Beaver Creek.

Keystone dining is the peer of its skiing. For the finest dining, try the Alpenglow Stube at the top of North Peak (reached two gondola rides), Keystone Ranch (the summer golf club) and Ski Tip Lodge, a 19th-century stagecoach stop that Max and Edna Dercum turned into Colorado's first ski lodge in the 1940s -- long before they launched Keystone in 1970.

Keystone Stats

Lifts: 2 gondolas, 1 high-speed six-person chairlift, 6 quad chairlifts (5 express), 1 triple, 3 doubles, 1 surface lift, 3 moving carpers; uphill capacity, 33,564 riders per hour Trails: 121 (19% easier, 32% more difficult, 49% most difficult; 15 for night skiing)

Terrain Parks: 2 (and 2 pipes)

Vertical: 3,128 feet

Skiable Acres: 1,215 (snowmaking on 684 acres)