Keystone is a lower-key (arguably underrated) resort in Summit County, Colorado. Internationally, it is not as well-known as the co-owned Breckenridge and Vail in the area. Despite this, it has one of the bigger terrain areas in Colorado and is one of the only mountains in Colorado which has night skiing.
Photo: Bushwhacker Trees at Keystone - Ryan Fantau, Vail Resorts
Keystone is located in Summit County about 2 hours’ drive west of Denver along the I-70 highway. You can get to Keystone easily from Denver by car, or you can use the Colorado Mountain Express which takes you from the airport for around $100. Keystone employees get free transportation.
The Summit County bus is free for trips around Summit County which means you can get into Dillon, Silverthorn and Frisco without a car.
Dillon has cheap supermarkets such as Safeway while Frisco has a Walmart if you need anything for your apartment. The buses usually go to about 12pm so staff often head into the bars in Dillon and catch the last bus back.
The Summit County bus also takes you to the resorts of Breckenridge, Copper Mountain and A-Basin if you want to change your resort on a day off.
Keystone is part of Vail Resorts, which also runs Vail, Beaver Creek and Breckenridge in Colorado. Vail is trying to make Keystone the more family-oriented resort of this Colorado group. There are a lot of events that focus on families and kids, and less for the ski bum crowd than other Colorado resorts.
The village at Keystone is quite spread out, but it is very quiet, with just a few hotels and condominiums located throughout the valley. River Run Village near the base of the Gondola is the centre of the village and is where you will find the limited number of bars and restaurants. West Keystone and North Keystone contain mostly condominiums.
The nice thing about Keystone is that you live in the solitude of the mountain but still get into town every so often for a break. Staff often go into Dillon once a week just to get away and run errands even though most of what you need is available in the village.
Keystone is small community so you will get to know everyone from lift operators to the HR department. This is in comparison to the larger resorts of Vail and Breckenridge where people tend to stick within their departments. For this reason, Keystone is a great place to come as a first time seasonal worker and an easy place to meet people.
However, Keystone has a younger feel to it and can be a bit bro-bra sometimes. At 25, you might be among the older seasonal workers there.
The staff is mostly American but there are always a lot of South Americans through the job programs. There are sometimes a handful of Europeans and Australians.
There is not much nightlife at Keystone village. Most staff go into Dillon (7 miles) or Frisco (18 miles) if they are looking for a big night out using the free Summit Stage bus.
Breckenridge is also about 20 minutes’ drive away for a bigger night out, although the road there is quite windy and demands attention.
Nonetheless, there are nightly specials at different places and happy hours, while $5 pitchers at the Goat is hard to beat after a day on the slopes! You are also likely to encounter other staff every night at one of the few bars given there aren’t many places to go out.
Keystone is made up of three mountains - Dercum, North Peak and The Outback. The terrain gets more challenging as you go further back towards The Outback. The majority of the terrain is intermediate as there are plenty of cruisers and groomers for the families and kids. There is less in the way of beginner and expert terrain.
The frontside – Dercum – has primarily groomed runs and intermediate cruisers. This is also where you will find Keystone’s exceptional terrain park which attracts large crowds every weekend from Denver. Riding the Peru lift is always fun because you can often see pro riders practicing and you feel like you are at the x-games!
There is no truly steep terrain at Keystone, but there are some nice gladed runs and bumps to explore, especially at The Outback. The best powder will often be found in the trees on powder days.
There is a bit of hiking available in-bounds up at North Bowl and Bergman Bowl, but not a huge amount of backcountry, especially as Colorado law disallows backcountry skiing except through designated gates. Cat skiing is also available, for a fee, to explore the large Independence Bowl.
Keystone has the largest night skiing terrain in Colorado and is one of the few mountains to offer night-skiing at all. The gondola runs until 8:00pm most nights of the week with selected runs open on the front side. Groomers are often out at 3:00pm so there will be good snow for night skiing that is not completely icy.
Because of cheap season passes and proximity to Denver, Keystone gets very crowded, especially on weekends. The lift infrastructure is very good, however, and moves the crowd reasonably well.
Average snowfall is 235 inches / 597 cm.
One of Keystone’s downfalls is its weather pattern. Even though it is located in Summit County with Copper Mountain, Breckenridge, and A-Basin, it will inevitably get the least snow of these mountains. This means a lot of man-made snow and poor coverage on a bad snow year, or just not great powder days on days when these other resorts get huge snowfall.
Keystone is run by Vail Resorts, which is one of the largest ski companies in the world. All job openings for the Vail Company are posted at jobs.vailresorts.com/
Jobs are typically posted from September.
Minimum wage in Colorado is USD 8.23 per hour and most seasonal jobs pay around this. This will just cover rent and other expenses and you likely will not save any money.
The best paying jobs are in the restaurants because you receive tips. However, for this reason, these jobs are harder to get.
Staff get a season pass to the other Vail resorts of Vail, Beaver Creek and Keystone. Keystone is accessible by the free summit county bus but to get to Vail and Beaver Creek you will need a car (although the drive is not far).
One of the best things about Keystone is the night-skiing, meaning you will get on the slopes virtually every day of the season even if you have to work during the day. Staff either get onto the slopes early before their shift starts, or after work until 8pm when the Gondola shuts down.
Many staff start as lift operators and work up from there, coming back season after season. This is a great way to meet a lot of people and move around departments and other Vail Resorts.
The Summit Daily is the local newspaper and might have jobs.
A lot of people try to work in the restaurants at night in Dillon, Silverthorn and Frisco so they can ski during the day. The good thing is there are a lot of restaurants in these three towns. With these jobs you don't get the employee pass that you would if you worked on the mountain, but a season pass isn't that much if you are making so much more and have more freedom.
See Work a Winter Season in the United States for information on work visas to the U.S. and job programs for ski resorts.
Vail Resorts hires students on J-1 visas each year, principally through job partner programs which run job fairs in other countries. Vail Resorts works with three J-1 visa job companies:
Obtaining a sponsored H2B visa is a little difficult unless you have a specialized skill such as ski instructing. J-1 visas are the most likely way for internationals to get hired.
Keystone provides good employee housing. This is a great way to meet people and then move out after a season if you don't know anyone when arriving.
There are three tiers of housing from the really cheap to more expensive.
Keystone will match you with roommates or you can request who you want to live with in all of these units.
If you do not elect for staff housing, a good option is Summit Cove which is half-way between Keystone and Dillon so you get the best of both worlds. It is around 5-10 minutes from the hill. However, you do have to drive everywhere from there so going out isn't as easy.
Dillon is closer to the hill than Silverthorne but both are good options as it will only be a 20 minute commute at the most. There are a lot of condos for rent in Wilderness, but in the winter it can be icy getting up the hill.
In the Summit County area, you could expect to pay around $500 - $600 per month per person per room at a reasonable place.