Winter Fun for Families: Keystone and Snow Mountain Ranch

Winter Fun for Families: Keystone and Snow Mountain Ranch 3My 10-year-old grandson Anthony blasts right past me as I yell at him to turn. Like most kids, he likes to ski fast in the fall line, turning only when absolutely necessary. I try not to spend too much time teaching; we’re here to have fun together.

Last year, I found two Colorado winter playgrounds where kid time is king: Keystone Resort and Snow Mountain Ranch. Though as different as snowflakes, each knows how to make vacation time special with families.

KEYSTONE RESORT

When you stay at any of the Keystone lodging properties (we were at the Argentine in Lakeside Village), you get a Passport booklet with coupons for free and discounted family activities like snow biking, skating, GPS Geocaching, skiing with a forest ranger, art class and star-gazing at the Keystone Science School — to name just a few — as well as coupons for discounts for dining and shops. We took advantage of as many as we could fit in a day.

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Families will have a blast on the Adventure Point tubing hill at Keystone.

Tubing — The tubing hill at Adventure Point is king-size: six steep lanes with a standup covered conveyor belt that takes you back to the top. The hour we booked went by quickly as we tried each lane to see which was the fastest. If you ask, the guides will start you off with a twist that keeps you spinning the whole way down. Tubing is also open at night whenever night skiing is operating. Reservations are recommended: 970-496-4386.

Hockey — The five-acre Keystone Lake forms the centerpiece of Lakeside Village. In winter, it’s the country’s largest outdoor skating rink maintained by a Zamboni. A hockey player for Littleton Hockey, Anthony couldn’t wait to get on the ice. He brought his own skates, but I rented from the Adventure Center at the lake. You can also rent sticks and pucks; helmets are free. With no pick-up games going on, we had the boards to ourselves until dark.

Sleigh Ride Dinner — This popular family adventure guarantees family closeness as we snuggled under wool blankets on our red sleigh pulled by huge black draft horses. They lumbered slowly through fields populated with old cabins as the wrangler told tales of yesteryear. Inside one of the historic homesteads, we shared a hot meal with other families while a singer entertained us with western songs.

Skiing — The wide green and blue runs on Dercum Mountain are perfect for kids. Ripperoo’s Forest off the famous beginner run Schoolmarm gives kids a place of their own, and a special kids’ interactive trail map shows them how to get to kid-friendly hotspots.

Kidtopia — We were there for Keystone’s first festival for kids. The centerpiece of this event is a cool ice castle — the ultimate snow fort at the top of Dercum Mountain where kids’ imaginations run wild.

Chocolate Christmas – Don’t miss the Chocolate Village at the Keystone Lodge & Spa this holiday. Every year, Keystone’s pastry chef Ned Archibald creates a miniature alpine village with moving gondola, cascading waterfall and 6-foot-tall Christmas tree with presents, all handcrafted from 2,500 pounds of chocolate. Added this eyar is Santa and his reindeer flying over the village. This brilliant chocolate creation will be displayed in the lobby through Jan. 3.

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Cross-country skiing at Snow Mountain Ranch

SNOW MOUNTAIN RANCH

At check-in, the clerk gave us a printed “program bulletin” that listed all the activities for the week. Really? We can do any of these? Since they all had time slots, we decided to make a plan after we settled into our lodging.

The home I would share with my two grandies — Avery, 9, and Bella, 7 — for the next four days was a three-bedroom cabin in a secluded neighborhood on the northwest corner of the 5,000-acre property 12 miles north of Winter Park. Snow Mountain Ranch is one of two vacation centers run by YMCA of the Rockies (the other is in Estes Park). Though the cabin had a full kitchen, our reservation included all meals, which we took buffet style at the Schlessman Commons dining hall (to great delight of the kiddos who loved to fill their own plates, and chose healthy food, by the way). Other dining options were Buckboard Grill & Grocery and Skinny Ski Café.

Like our meals, the activity list was a smorgasbord of both indoor and outdoor pursuits. Avery chose archery first since he owns his own bow and arrows. Bulls-eye! Climbing wall — up they rose like two spiders. Swimming pool — they sprinted from one end to the other. What didn’t come easy was roller-skating at the huge indoor rink in the Kiva Center that also has basketball, volleyball, ping-pong and foosball. Good natured, they laughed hysterically as they picked themselves up from numerous falls. This prepared them for the outdoor covered ice rink where I showed them my twirls and tricks. “Let’s do it holding hands,” Avery suggested to Bella after they both got the hang of it.

We would repeat these adventures throughout the four days, adding a morning on the sledding hill and two glorious afternoons on the cross-country trails, a network of more than 100 kilometers of track, set for both classic and skate skiing. The staff at the Nordic Center was wonderful to the children, making sure their equipment from the ski shop fit perfectly and giving them lessons, free to all young guests at the ranch.

Since we were there mid-week, we missed the weekend campfires, guided full-moon snowshoe hikes and movie nights. And we didn’t do the dinner sleigh ride. But we did make it to the craft shop — a plethora of projects to engage the imagination. Avery meticulously tooled a leather knife sheath for his dad, and Bella painted a goddess statue for her mom. They were all smiles as we packed up the car to head home with prizes in tow.

If You Go

Keystone: Kidtopia — Dec. 27-Jan. 3; Jan. 13-16; Feb 4-5; Feb. 17-20; March 10-14; March 17-21. Information: keystonekidtopia.com. Lodging and activities: keystoneresort.com or 800-328-1323; for restaurant and activity reservations, call 970-496-4386.

Snow Mountain Ranch: Reservations — ymcarockies.org; 800-777-9622 or 970-887-2152.

Claudia Carbone is editor of Out of Denver Magazine and an award-winning journalist. She loves outdoor adventures with her five kids and seven grandkids. Reach her through her website, claudiacarbone.com.

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