Spring 2022 marks the last season of guided snowcat skiing with Keystone Adventure Tours.
The 2021-22 season marks the end of an era at Keystone Resort, and powderhounds have just a few weeks left to get one last ride on the snowcat that for nearly two decades has ferried skiers and riders to Keystone’s three above-tree-line back bowls: Bergman, Erikson, and Independence.
This summer, Keystone will string a new high-speed six-pack chairlift up Bergman Bowl, bringing the luxury of lift-served skiing and riding to both Bergman and Erikson Bowls.
Bergman Bowl was opened in 2003, named for Bill Bergman, one of the resort’s founding partners and Keystone’s first president. That year, the resort started running guided cat skiing excursions. New lifts to previously hike-to terrain invariably cause consternation among local diehards. “Some people will be bummed about the new lift,” says Dylan Dickey, Keystone’s assistant ski patrol director and a long-time KAT guide at Keystone. “But there were just so few skiers utilizing so much terrain.”
The expansion includes the new 1,000-vertical-foot chairlift, new snowmaking infrastructure, and 16 new trails, including roughly 80 acres of slopes that will be groomed. While the nearly 300 acres in Independence Bowl will remain hike-out terrain, the new lift will unlock lift-served access to 555 acres of intermediate and advanced high-alpine terrain.
The top terminus of the chair will sit at 12,300 feet, a new ski patrol shack is in the works, and the plan also includes a 6,000-square-foot expansion to the Outpost Restaurant, with 300 more indoor seats and 75 more outdoor.
The new chair promises to change the way the Keystone skis. Currently, skier traffic tends to migrate from Dercum Mountain on the front side of the resort to The Outback. Now skiers may head straight for the bowls. “It’s going to be great for the overall circulation on the mountain,” says Dickey. With the new chair, skiers and riders will be able to make laps in Bergman Bowl or ski Erikson Bowl down to Wayback Chair and then cycle back to the new lift. Dickey also points out that existing terrain in The Outback may get blissfully neglected, increasing the likelihood of finding powder stashes long after a storm.
Preston Burns, another ski patroller and KAT guide at Keystone points out that adding skier traffic to the bowls will likely make them ski better than they do now as solely hike-to terrain. “There are these big areas of unconsolidated snow in the bowls,” Burns says. “And we get these predominant winds out of the northwest that blow into Bergman and Erikson and blow the snow straight up the mountain. More compaction [from skier traffic] will help preserve the snow.”
Of course, the new lift eliminates the need for a snowcat haul—and the luxury of having all that terrain practically to yourself—so if cat skiing at Keystone is on your bucket list, now’s the time to book. There are still spots available for KAT tours, which start at $475 for a full day of guided cat skiing plus lunch. Tours run Tuesday through Thursday, and the day ends with a champagne toast at Keystone’s Mountain House base. KAT tours are slated to run through the end of March, conditions permitting. You can find more details at HERE or call 970.496.4386 to check availability and book a reservation. Advanced skiing and snowboarding skills required.
Photography by: Photos Courtesy of Vail Resorts