Adventures in Colorado’s snow country

It’s easy to get lost in Vail. It’s just as easy to find yourself in Keystone.

Here’s how to get turned upside-down at Colorado’s largest mountain resort: Take your whole family skiing, and just try to stay together.

My four-year-old daughter, for example, is a timid skier compared with her brother, a kindergartner. He left her in a billow of powdered snow.

Next, ensure you have the worst wireless connection on the mountain. That would be AT&T’s, which jumps from four bars to “No Signal” (and back) every other turn. So all of those text messages that ask, “Who’s with you?” may, or may not, be delivered until you’re back in your hotel room.

Then add a sprawling mountain to the mix. Vail Ski Resort is seven-miles wide with more than 5,000 acres of terrain, not unlike some European ski areas that are so massive, you can ski all day and not hit the same run twice.

For us, it all resulted in several entertaining hours of family time.

One minute, my two sons Aren, 8, and Iden, 5, were following me off Chair 15. The next, Aren had vanished. What happened? Had he taken a turn and joined his mother and sister on the beginner slope? I texted Mom. No answer.

This would have been the perfect opportunity to fire up Vail Resorts’ new EpicMix application, which tracks skiers with Radio Frequency Identification chips in their passes. Vail owns several other ski resorts, including Breckenridge, Keystone, Heavenly and Northstar, so you can also follow your activity across the other ski resorts, either online or through a phone application.

If I had a strong enough wireless signal, I might have been able to pinpoint my family’s exact location, and I wouldn’t have worried that my second-grader had plummeted off a cliff. Instead, I decided to take Iden on a search party mission, and for the rest of the morning, we skied around looking for our missing family.

Vail may be the perfect resort in which to lose yourself, on the slopes– advanced beginners will appreciate its generous, groomed runs, while skiers with an appetite for moguls will find enough to keep them busy in its famous back bowls,– and in the lodge– there’s a distinct alpine theme in each of its base villages, whether you’re staying at a hotel like the upscale Sebastian (where First Lady Michelle Obama checked in during a President’s Day weekend visit with her daughters) to the new Solaris Residences, a luxury condo development that gets raves for its bowling alley.

Although no one wants to be lost forever. When you’ve finally found your family– and I won’t keep you in suspense, I eventually did– and your appetite returns, then you’ll want to check out some of the fine restaurants and snack shops catering to hungry skiers.

The Game Creek Restaurant, a mountaintop dining experience that is decidedly kid-friendly. Bistro Fourteen at the top of the gondola is an easy place to meet-up for après-ski fondue. Also high on our list: the Creperie just across the street from Solaris. Try the vegetarian crepe with spinach, sun-dried tomato and cream cheese. Or if you have a sweet tooth, like our daughter Erysse, the cinnamon sugar crepe is the way to go.

Despite members of our group easily disappearing over at Vail, in comparison, it’s almost impossible to get lost in nearby Keystone Ski Resort. The mountain is smaller and wireless coverage is generally good. With one major base area featuring ski-in/ski-out condos like The Springs and a smaller base close by, it’s a safe bet you’ll be able to find everyone at the end of the day.

Keystone’s slopes are not quite as wide as Vail’s, so that also tends to funnel everyone to the same place– for better or worse. If you’re a beginner or an advanced beginner, you’ll want to spend a day or two with Keystone’s ski school instructors so you can learn the mountain basics. It’s easy to make a wrong turn and end up face-to-face with a steep bump run.

Another thing to be aware of in Keystone is the altitude. If Vail leaves you short of breath, Keystone will take your breath away. My skiing companion informed me there was only half the oxygen in the peaks as at sea level, and I believed it.

The opportunities for finding yourself in Keystone aren’t limited to the slopes. Mom had a chance to enjoy a spa treatment based on an Inuit cleansing ritual at the Keystone Lodge and Spa.

Keystone’s food is also a find. The Alpenglow Stube at the top of its gondola is staffed by culinary school students and features a menu that rivals any fine-dining restaurant in nearby Denver. If that’s your thing (and it was definitely our thing) then you’ll also want to visit the historic Ski Tip Lodge, an equally impressive dining experience. The highlight was the dessert menu, which featured chocolate mousse, blueberry cobbler, and layered sponge cake. But isn’t that always the highlight when you’re traveling with kids?

And there’s the pizza. We stumbled upon a little place called Pizza 101 in town and came back for seconds the next evening. As Aren, who is known to be a picky eater, exclaimed: “Best. Pizza. Ever.”

Once the altitude sickness and the surprise of losing and then finding half our family wore off, we left Colorado with fond memories. The kids are now enthusiastic skiers, thanks to the superb snow and fun slopes.

And next time we go, maybe we’ll leave our iPhones at home.

(Photo: Erysse with her report card at Keystone Resort. Behind her, her instructor explains her progress to Kari. Photo by Christopher Elliott.)

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