Beyond the slopes: Fun for kids of all ages at Keystone

Visiting a ski resort has become so much more than hitting the slopes and soaking in the Jacuzzi at the end of a long day. Resorts such as Keystone in Colorado have added a number of activities and attractions to make a mountain getaway all the more fun and varied for families.

My family and I recently took part in a compressed version of Kidtopia at Keystone Resort, 90 miles west of Denver. What is it? "Kidtopia basically epitomizes our family programming at Keystone Resort," said Tucker Vest Burton, communications coordinator, " get tired, they can't ski for 3 days, 5 days straight and that's why we have our Nordic Center where you can go kind of on a nice snowshoe or we have our tubing hill. We have our five acre ice skating rink. We've got a lot of other stuff going on here."

The Kidtopia Media Showcase had many of the typical Kidtopia activities, but packed into one busy weekend. (Hello, Jacuzzi!)

"Usually the daily programming happens Monday through Sunday on a rotation throughout the entire season," Burton said, "but we wanted to have you guys to experience what a family... over Christmas or Spring Break would experience during the whole week."

The event included free skiing and lessons, but temperatures were in the teens on the day of our visit and my husband did not think our 4-year old was ready for lessons just yet. So, we decided to start at the Keystone Nordic Center for a relaxed outing on snowshoes. Inside the Nordic Center, you can pick up trail passes for the cost of a movie $11 per adult (children under 12 are free). All the equipment you might need for cross country skiing or snowshoeing is available to rent, including sleds for parents who want to pull an infant.

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We set out on the trail which was a little steep in the beginning, but after a few minutes, the trail widened and the incline became more moderate. Sunglasses are a must, as it was very bright once we got going. Of course we forgot shades and the staffers kindly lent us a pair of goggles to protect our daughter's eyes.

We didn't get too far because our daughter was hungry from the busy morning of packing and driving up to Keystone, so my husband doubled back to the Nordic Center to get her filled up on chili at the soup bar. I continued on the trail solo, with a feeling of calm, enjoying the peaceful trail and picturesque views, happily undisturbed.

It's common to find articles or books with the expression, "if you can walk, you can snowshoe" and this is true, as I have never been a natural athlete. You don't have to be experienced with GPS and interpreting topographic maps to hit the trail here. Keystone's Nordic Center at Keystone has bright orange flags planted in the ground and ties hanging from trees to keep you on track.

The Nordic Center also offers a milder version of tubing, which is well suited to my child's young age and petite size. At the tubing hill, you walk back up on your own, a great way to burn calories and kids' excess energy. Tube rentals from the Nordic Center run $16 per hour.

If your kids are older and bigger (at least 42 inches high), you can buy tubing tickets which include a gondola ride from River Run Village up to Adventure Point. Tubing there is more fast paced and bumps can be hard on your behind. It's like a rollercoaster on ice, I screamed the whole way down when I tried it when I was here on a past trip.

Adventure Point has a conveyer belt for riding from the bottom of the tubing hill back up to the top, allowing you to pack in more runs during your pass time period. I recommend if you're considering this high adrenaline version of tubing, try one session and make sure your kids are up to it before booking extra sessions.

A short walk from Adventure Point on Dercum Mountain, families can visit the Kidtopia Snowfort. It has a throne of ice, a slide, crawling tunnel and opportunities for kids to climb.

Back at the bottom of the mountain after finishing my hike, we headed to 9280 Tap House in River Run Village to take in lunch and because we were thirsty by this point, craft beers (for the grown-up's). Seats were scarce as many skiers and snowboarders had finished on the slopes.

After lunch, our group met at the base of the gondola and climbed into a horse-drawn wagon. We were handed noisemakers and hats for the Riperoo Parade through River Run Village. Keystone staffers decked out in band costumes trailed us and they towed a few lucky kids in tubes set atop wheels. We were also joined by the Winter Wizard and Yeti (a.k.a. Abominable Snowman).

Our parade ended at the the Dercum Square Ice Rink where our daughter eagerly stepped into a tent to get her face painted. Another tent included a spread of ice cream and all the toppings you could possibly want for a custom sundae, if you were brave enough to eat ice cream in these temperatures. Cushy couches and heaters lined the perimeter of the rink for listening to music and viewing action on the ice.

With the sun setting, we popped by our nearby hotel to warm up and get ready for a family friendly dinner. We were driven out to a ranch for dinner catered by Der Fondue Chessel restaurant. Live Bavarian music set the mood. The courses started with salad followed by cheese fondue with all the typical fixings of breads, fruits and vegetables. Next, we were served full plates with a mix of sausage, chicken, steak and shrimp. Dessert was, naturally, chocolate fondue. My daughter trailed the musicians who played tunes for kids and adults to dance to, including the well-known Chicken Dance.

If traditional skiing or snowboarding is what you are after, Keystone has a deal for that, too. When you stay two or more nights in a Keystone owned and operated lodging unit, children 12 years and younger ski for free. Burton told me it doesn't matter if you're staying over the holidays, there are no blackout dates and "no red tape." And if you book three or more days of lessons, you are guaranteed to have the same instructor throughout. Camp Keystone is described as "summer camp on snow" and it includes special theme days such as disco.

But with all the activities available, make sure you find time for the Jacuzzi.