Keystone Adventure Tours Puts Powder Experience of Backbowls in Reach

Colorado resort offers one of the largest snowcat skiing operations in North America

by Eric Leiberman and Dave E. Leiberman

We are surrounded by snow bowls and rounded mountain valleys, a panorama of mountain peaks in the distance, amid the softest, cleanest, whitest snow.

To us this untouched backcountry powder feels like gliding atop a cloud. We cruise down and there’s hardly any sound at all…. And while the gradient is steep, we cruise along at a comfortable, pretty leisurely pace…. There’s really no other form of skiing or snowboarding that is like this experience.

This is our first run of our Keystone Adventure Tours snowcat-skiing adventure -about 500 vertical feet down the Bergmann Bowl.

Getting fitted for the emergency beacons at Keystone Adventure Tours' office before setting out for a day of powder skiing in Keystone's back bowls © 2012 Karen Rubin/

It is relatively short, considered a “training run” to warm us up for a full-day during which we will take about eight runs most about 1000 vertical feet, each time being met at the bottom with our heated snowcat, rock n’ roll playing on the stereo, and ferried back up to the summit.

There is a heightened measure of trepidation as we start – we have only just arrived late the night before, and these will be our first runs at Keystone, and at this altitude, 12,000 ft. without the benefit of acclimating (hint: drink plenty of water and take some Ibuprofin.)

But our concerns are eased because of the excellent preparation that starts when we meet at the KAT office at Village Run at 7:45 am.

Mitch, one of the four guides who will take us out, fits us with an over-the-shoulder holster that holds a GPS transceiver (our safety precautionary “beacon”), and methodically fits us with high-performance powder skis (included in the cost of the tour; we bring our own boots, poles and helmet; snowboarders bring their own equipment).

Starting off our Keystone Adventure Tours' snowcat ski adventure bowls © 2012 Eric Leiberman/

We get to watch videos that give us a good idea of what we will be experiencing, and then we all watch a safety video.

We meet Jim, Mitch, David and Adam, our friendly, fun and skilled guides, and the rest of our international group, who hail from Germany and London.

By 8:30 am, we are out the door and on our way to the River Run gondola, which takes us up to Dercum Mountain where the 12-passenger snowcat is parked.

At 8:45am, we are on our first “KAT climb” away from civilization when our guide David, with his non-Starbucks-coffee-holding-hand, plugs an iPod into the KAT’s sound system for a little early morning rock and roll. We ascend the mountain peaks roller-coaster-style.

Keystone offers one of the largest Cat skiing operations in North America and within the first few moments, we appreciate the difference in taking such a guided trip. There is high thrill of skiing deep powder and an appreciation for the lengths the guides go to, to insure our safety.

We get to experience the pure powder joy of Independence, Erickson and Bergman bowls – Keystone’s newest expert only terrain- where we basically have the mountain to ourselves. It is like being on top of the world.

Our snowcat skiing group © 2012 Eric Leiberman/

There is a certain Zen, existential moment when I realize this is the only time in my life I’ve heard absolute silence.

Traversing narrow trees (or “chocolate chips”) in deep powder and feeling like you’re completely alone in the backcountry can be a scary feeling. But the few times I take a spill, a guide is not more than two minutes behind me showing me the best way up and out.

The most impressive aspect is how safety conscious they are – especially in these conditions when avalanches are always a possibility – and the respect we come away with for their expertise of the conditions. They are also constantly strategizing the best way down.

The guides are fun-loving and adventurous, but it clear that safety is always top of mind. They are emphatic about making sure that we are well spaced as we take our runs – so that we do not bunch up and trigger an avalanche, or if one of us were caught, “I’d hate to have to dig out more than one,” a guide quips.

“I’d hate for you to cause an avalanche on top of her.” “One at a time.” “Stay to right of his line”.

During the course of the day, we hear about 20 different ways to say “awesome powder:” “good stuffing,” “creamy licious,” “top to bottom goodness.”

We pick up the jargon of backcountry powder skiing: “That skied really nice”

After about four runs, we are taken up to a cozy yurt on the mountain, heated with a pot-belly stove, for a delicious catered lunch. It starts off with a delectable hot soup, served in a camp-style tin, which I was fooled into thinking was our guide David’s grandmother’s recipe, sandwiches and dessert cupcakes (if we selected the chocolate one we were only allowed to eat it after putting it over atop the stove.

Inside the snowcat © 2012 Eric Leiberman/

The adventure is great opportunity to meet people and by the time we are returning to the base, at 2:30 pm, the 10 people you share it with, who began as strangers are strangers no more.

There is plenty of time for conversation in the KAT, at lunch, and as you wait to traverse. This day, we ski with a group of Germans, who were much more worldly skiers than we. After spending lifetimes skiing in France, Germany, Switzerland, British Columbia, etc., they still felt this was some of the best snow they had every skied.

During the course of the day, we get about 8 runs, ranging from about 500 to 1000 vertical feet – or about 6,000 vertical feet over the course of the day. The slopes are between 25 degrees and 45 degrees.

Most of the runs are like short sprints, rather than long cruising runs.

After each run, we are met with our very own, heated snowcat.

The Keystone Adventure Tour is $240 per person, but that is actually excellent value when you consider that it includes the powder skis, the lift ticket for the day, lunch, and most significantly, the expertise of the guides, of course, the snowcat. (Keystone also offers CAT rides to the backbowls at $5/trip.).

The pure exhilaration of snowboarding the powder of Keystone's backbowl © 2012 Eric Leiberman/

Other niceties: they provide bottles of water and you can leave your stuff at the office and take a backpack on the CAT.

The tours are for expert skiers and riders who are accustomed to and adept in powder and trees. You must be comfortable on black runs and in powder/ tree conditions.

Book online ( or 800-354-4386 or call 800-328-1323 (970-496-4500) to speak with a local expert.

Massage at Keystone Spa Caps off Cat-Skiing Adventure

There is no better way to top off this amazing cat skiing adventure than the massage we enjoyed at the Keystone Lodge & Spa.

This is a total immersion into pampered luxury.

When you arrive, you are handed a warmed, plush robe, slippers and escorted into the locker room and then into the relaxation room where there is a fire in the fireplace, ice water and herbal teas, trail mix, New Age music, dim lighting, and earth-tones that immediately relax you. You lounge here for about 20 minutes or so until your massage therapist comes for you.

Our Keystone Customized Massage is precisely that – really personalized to us. After a brief consultation, the massage therapist provides guidance in selecting the style of massage best suited for you – Swedish, deep tissue, reflexology or Sports Apres, and depending upon what benefits you want from the massage: improving circulation, relieving pain, healing injuries and reducing stress (50 minutes,$120; 80 minutes, $165)

When I ask Marianne what style she uses, she says good-naturedly, that it is “Marianne’s style of massage” – her own combination of Swedish, Thai, and a slightly less common form of Eastern massage called “ashiatsu” (not to be confused with more mainstream “shiatsu”) in which the masseuse uses the balls of her feet.

This was particularly good for my back because of the greater and wide distribution of pressure, and great for anyone looking for a deeper massage after a long day of skiing. I have had a handful of massages, but this one seemed to be the most comprehensive, informed, varied and effective.

The spa offers a variety of “Gentlemens’ Treatments” including:

The glorious isolation and space of snowboarding the powder of Keystone's backbowl © 2012 Eric Leiberman/

A High Country Facial is designed for the specific needs of a man’s skin, which is often damaged by frequent shaving, sun exposure and other causes. This treatment also includes an application of warm towels and a relaxing scalp, neck and shoulder massage (50 minutes… $120); The Athlete, a rejuvenating sports massage (50 minutes, $120); The Scrub, a salt scrub infused with bay laurel and coriander (50 minutes, $125);Hand over Foot: manicures and pedicures, no polish (65 minutes, $75).

The worldclass Keystone Spa has a full range of treatments.

Marta Kodo (translation: “big melody”) is a unique technique, inspired by traditional Australian Aboriginal methods, designed to unleash blockages, relieve tension and realign the body’s energy using a combination of pressure and rhythmical spiraling movements and your choice of native Aboriginal aromatic oils to address your individual preferences (50 minutes, $125; 80 minutes, $185).

High Country Stone Massage: is a deep, penetrating energy of heated stones gliding along strategic points of your body. This is an extremely relaxing massage, where the therapist combines Swedish massage techniques with warm stones to more deeply penetrate sore muscles, increase circulation and relieve stress (80 minutes, $175).

Relaxing at the Keystone Spa © 2012 Karen Rubin/

Two-Gether: is a relaxing customized massage with that special someone and share, reconnect and re-energize. Treatments take place in the Massage Suite for Two, a specially designed room for dual treatments (50 minutes, $260; 80 minutes, $350; Hot Stone, $370).

Mother Nurture designed to relieve tension and strain experienced during pregnancy, this gentle massage treatment reduces hip and back pain, improves circulation and provides much needed serenity. (Note: This massage is not recommended during the first trimester or for those experiencing a high-risk pregnancy (50 minutes, $120; 80 minutes,$165).

Other options include an in-room massage and a “short-timer,” (25-minutes, $75).

There are also a selection of “Journeys” – a package combining several signature spa treatments, each of which is designed to offer variety, so that you can enjoy the spa experience best suited to you.

For example, Head in the Clouds is a lavish, five-hour journey begins with a full-body Babassu Sugar scrub to soften and cleanse the skin; followed by a full-body massage, customized facial, Heavenly Hands Manicure and a Sweet Feet Pedicure. For your added comfort, a complimentary glass of wine or champagne and platter of fresh fruits, bread and fine cheeses are included in this package (5 Hours, $450).

Book online, or call 800-328-1323 (970-496-4500) to speak with a local expert.

Tuesday, 13 March, 2012


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Karen Rubin is an eclectic travel writer who has been spanning the globe for more than 30 years reporting on interesting, intriguing people and places to explore for magazines, newspapers and online. She publishes Travel Features Syndicate in newspapers and online including, Huffington Post and and blogs at "Travel is a life-changing and an interactive experience that mutually benefits travelers and community." Contact Karen at 'Like' us at

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