Date: December 9th, 2013
The Christmas carols are playing, the servers and housekeepers are transforming the Great room for the holidays, the sleigh has been taken for a test ride, and Elizabeth has finished her amazing gingerbread village. The new staff are busy learning the ins and outs of their jobs while the returning staff are tidying up the place, getting the ski trails ready, the horses prepped and the tubes blown up for some serious sledding. With 4 days left until we open for the winter season, we are excited and ready to greet guests on Saturday afternoon!
In the midst of all this hubbub, we welcomed into the ranch family Eamon McGlynn this past weekend. Alaya and Cholly are doing well and keeping all of us away from their new little boy. We’re all trying to be respectful of their space right now, but are all itching to meet little Eamon. The good thing about having a dude ranch baby is there is never a shortage of babysitters and baby holders.
In the coming days, we’ll be putting the final touches on the ranch and getting all our logistics in place to open up on Saturday. Then, we’re off to the races for the holiday season. We’ll be singing carols around the fireplace in the Great room, taking sleigh rides in fresh snow, skiing to forests of little Christmas trees, dancing our way into the New Year, and just enjoying the holiday season with laughter, cheer and grand adventures. After the holidays, we’ll switch over to adult only stays, so things will quiet down a bit. From early January until mid-February we’ll have guests coming to enjoy a winter vacation with the company of other adults. Some make it a romantic getaway, some come for a quiet time by themselves, some grab the girlfriends for a girls getaway, and the reasons keep coming for why people come to Vista Verde for a winter getaway in the mountains. We love to play in the snow, so we are looking forward to making some great memories with our guests this winter!
Date: December 9th, 2013
Four Great Vacations for Winter Horseback Riding in the Snow
It’s a dream for many… bounding through the snow on a horseback. While some ranches close during the winter, others are open for winter activities and guests can enjoy horseback riding through the snow. We’ve picked out four ranches in Montana and Colorado where you can horseback ride this winter.
Many dude ranches and guest ranches that offer horseback riding also offer other winter snow activities, including cross country skiing, ice skating, horse drawn sleigh rides and have downhill skiing nearby. Check out the below photos and get inspired to get outdoors in the crisp winter air for a horse ride.
#1 The Resort at Paws Up in Montana
#2 Bar W Guest Ranch in Montana
#3 The Home Ranch in Colorado
#4 Vista Verde Ranch in Colorado
Learn more about more great ranches for winter vacations in the Equitrekking Vacation Guide, an online guidebook focused on dude ranches, guest ranches and horseback riding vacations.
Date: November 25th, 2013
It’s late November now at Vista Verde Ranch. As I gaze through the window of the fly shop out across the open pasture snow is falling slowly…almost hypnotically. The occasional whinny of a horse stands out in stark contrast to the otherwise still and silent ranch-scape. While the winter-white scenery and tranquility never seem to lose their luster, these can be cold and lonely times for a fishing guide. Okay, I’m being a bit melodramatic here, but even though I will soon be joyfully touring the backcountry on skis with our beloved winter guests, I find it hard to say goodbye to the warm summer days spent standing in the cool waters of the Elk River with guests casting to shy cutthroat trout. So, here’s the segue into my intended topic… As the snow grows deeper and temperatures fall and ice begins to form along the edges of the river, where do the trout go? What do they eat? Can they still be fooled with a fly? If you were hoping for a shorter blog post, I’ll sum it up succinctly for you.
1) Not terribly far
2) Certain types of aquatic invertebrates, and
3) Yes (albeit with a somewhat more tedious approach).
For those still interested, please read on.
To properly understand a trout’s wintertime behavior, we must consider a few things. Water temperature, water levels and flow rate, and insect activity all play into what trout are doing and where they go during winter months. Allow me to first describe two different types of river systems found here and across the country; Freestone and Tail Water rivers. Freestone rivers are classified as those which flow freely from source to confluence or termination without impediment from dams, reservoirs or other obstacles. The Elk River, for example, is a “freestoner” as it flows unhindered from its genesis below the Zirkel Mountains to its confluence with the Yampa River. The Yampa River, through Steamboat Springs, however, is a tail water since its flows and temperature are largely determined by releases beneath dams at both Stagecoach and Catamount Reservoirs. Classic tail waters will generally experience less wintertime fluctuation in water temperature and flows due to the fact that they draw water from the bottom of a reservoir where the water is less affected by air temps and in a more consistent supply. This creates a more consistent and stable aquatic environment for both the fish and the insects they eat. Conversely, a freestone river is very much affected by ambient conditions and can often fluctuate broadly based on air temps, ground water supply, snowmelt and freezing. For the sake of this blog, we’ll focus on how fish behave in a freestone river system.
For any of you with whom I’ve had the pleasure of fishing, we likely spoke about some of the key requirements of trout in order to better determine where they “hang out”. Food concentration, protection, water temperature, and resting places are some of the most important. The same needs hold true in the winter as in the spring, summer and fall with some changes to the individual importance of these requirements.
Food: As I often say, “It all begins with the bugs”. As water temps decrease, so do the activity levels of aquatic insects. Where, in warmer months, we experience bountiful hatches of caddis flies, mayflies, stoneflies and midges, the winter months can seem almost devoid of any real “bug life”. While this isn’t exactly the case, most species of aquatic insects do tend to hunker down a bit and await warmer water temperatures to pupate and eventually morph into winged adults. With the exception of chironomids (midges), some small stoneflies, and even smaller mayfly species, much of the insect world takes a noted break during the winter. So where does that leave our hungry fish? Not to worry. Trout, in particular, have a biological response to these conditions. As water temperatures near the point where insect activity drops off, trout experience a sharp decrease in their metabolic rate, therefore requiring much less food to sustain life. While they won’t likely experience much growth during this time, it allows them to hold out until the feeding season resumes in the spring.
Protection: Just as in the summer, trout must be hyper vigilant of predation. Larger fish, eagles, and predatory mammals are typically more than willing to make a meal out of vulnerable trout, especially in the winter when other food sources are less accessible. Overhanging rocks and logs, ice shelves, submerged brush and vegetation all provide a level of protection for fish; however, deeper water often provides the best safeguard from overhead danger. As water levels drop throughout the winter due to freezing and lack of runoff, trout may find it more difficult to locate deeper water and thus will need to relocate to sections with deeper pools. This is often a reason for fish migrating downstream during the frozen months.
Water Temps: Fish are cold blooded animals and therefore lack the internal mechanism to self-regulate their body temps. They require their environment to be within a certain sustainable temperature range. Trout thrive in water that is typically too cold for many other fish species, but they still have their limits. The general temperature range for rainbow trout survivability is 35 – 75 degrees F. however, optimum temps are somewhere between 50 and 68 degrees (cutthroat and brook trout prefer water slightly cooler and brown trout are comfortable in slightly warmer water). While these numbers are a good guideline, it’s interesting to note that trout will often become conditioned to their home environment. For example, it’s not uncommon to find fish doing quite well in the Elk River when the water temperature is only a degree or two above freezing. When targeting trout in the winter, an excellent starting point to be on the lookout for is where a groundwater seep or spring enters the river. Because spring water maintains consistent temperatures independent of the seasons, it can often be just the few degrees of warmth the trout are looking for.
Rest: While resting places aren’t often included in the “must haves” section of a trout’s house hunting criteria, they become paramount to a trout’s survival during the winter. As mentioned before, when a trout’s metabolic rate is greatly reduced it becomes crucial that the minimum amount of calories be expended in its day-to-day efforts. Expending energy fighting the current in shallow and swift sections of river is far from a trout’s agenda during these cold times. While in the summer fish can be found broadly distributed feeding across many areas of the current, it’s more common in the winter for fish to congregate in greater numbers in slower deeper water where the velocity of the current is diminished. They are more concerned about conserving energy together than competing for food.
So, now that we understand just what it is that trout are seeking during this time of year we can better determine where they are, what they’re doing and whether or not they’re being forced elsewhere in the river system. And, if still bound and determined, as I am, to brave the elements and cast a fly in the winter around here, just fish where the fish are and be accurate with your drift because trout will be far less willing to expend the energy to move toward your fly. Also, if you’re fly fishing from atop the ice please check it first for stability. Better yet, let us fit you for some skis and join in on an epic Colorado backcountry ski adventure!
Whether in the backcountry or on the icy river, I hope to see you soon up here at VVR!
Date: November 18th, 2013
This past weekend was a flurry of preparing for winter in my house. We’ve already pulled out the snow clothes long ago, as we’ve been getting snow off and on since October. This weekend was more of putting the final touches on so we’re ready to go when ski season begins at the Steamboat ski resort. First up was going to the local showing of Warren Miller’s Ticket to Ride movie. This used to be a rite of passage for me and my friends growing up. It was a time to really start anticipating the upcoming ski season, and get excited for the snow to come. I haven’t been to one of those shows in years, and this marked the first (hopefully annual) Wilson family excursion to the movie. Our girls loved it, and were dancing in their seats to the music and were laughing at the funny ski scenes.
Later in the weekend we picked up our ski passes at the Steamboat resort ticket office. Passed around our necks, we then headed to buy helmets for both kids at the Christy Sports ski shop up at Gondola Square. They have been a partner of the ranches for a couple years, and provide our guests who want to go skiing at the resort with a great rental and retail experience. It was nice to experience their top-notch service myself, and reminded me why we send our guests their way.
So, the kids are all set. We’re ready for winter. In fact, they’ve already put their cross country skis on and cruised around our yard, making jumps, falling down, rolling around. Kid are like puppies in the snow.
That was a long opener to talking about gearing up for your winter family vacation, but while I was preparing my family for winter this weekend, I was also fielding phone calls from families looking at coming to Vista Verde for their winter vacation. One family from Florida asked the question that so many ask, “What gear do we need?” It is a bit of a mind boggle when you live in flip flops and t-shirts for most of the year. So, here is one mom’s thoughts on what you need to make your kids comfortable during their winter vacation at Vista Verde:
- Snowpants- for kids, get some bib type overall snow pants. Put it this way, when kids roll around in the snow, bibs will keep the snow from going down their pants. Nuff said.
- Boots- this is the area to spend a little more money to get them warm and waterproof boots. They’ll be in them day and night, so this is important.
- Jacket- If you have a good water-resistant jacket already, you can always layer underneath it to keep your kid warm.
- Long underwear- Cotton is bad in the cold weather. So, get wool (we love Smartwool) or some sort of wicking/breathable synthetic long underwear. This will keep your little critter toasty and warm.
- Fleece- Almost everyone has a fleece sweatshirt. This is great for the layer that goes on top of the long underwear.
- Socks- Invest in 3-4 pairs of good wool socks. Nothing beats wool in the snow!
- Gloves- You will not regret getting a warm and waterproof pair of gloves for you kiddo. I prefer mittens as they keep their little fingers warmer. They even make some that go a little ways up the arm, so you can keep the snow out again. Kids get into the snow (literally) more than we do as adults, so being able to tuck the mittens in under their jacket, or having a long sleeve on the mittens so they go up their arm a bit will help keep their hands warm and dry.
- Hat- Don’t need to get fancy here. Just a nice, warm hat to keep their little head warm. Oh, and bring some sunglasses too!
With all that, you’re pretty well set. If there isn’t a ski shop near you, this stuff can all be found online at places like REI (they had a pair of kids snowpants on sale for $39.99 today!) or LL Bean. Or, you can check out our local friends at Christy Sports. Remember, you can do laundry while you’re here, and things also dry out really fast in our dry climate. If your kid went really crazy in the snow that day and got their boots wet, just put them by the heater at night, and they’ll be dry in the morning.
If you’re thinking about planning your winter vacation at Vista Verde, just give us a call and we can help give you more winter vacation planning tips! 800-526-7433.
Date: November 13th, 2013
Often times when I tell people we are closed for the off-season, they ask me what I’m going to do with all my free time. Well, even though we’re not open for guests to come stay at the ranch, it doesn’t mean we’re not busy. In fact, for certain folks at the ranch this is the busiest time of the year. Bill, who oversees all our buildings, vehicles and water system has a list so long he barely found time to take off for a little vacation. Down at the barn, the wranglers are working busily, trying to get as many colts started as possible and working on the 2 and 3 year olds to get them polished up with their training. In the office, we are still busy booking reservations, getting all the logistics of the winter season in place and have just finished hiring the last of the winter staff.
I took a little walk around the ranch just now so I could catch up with what everyone is doing and how things are coming along. For those of you who have been following the progression of the season, you may be shocked to know that almost all that snow we had last week has melted. So, now it’s a bit of a muddy mess. That’s the story this time of year: snow comes and then it melts, then it comes in again, then it melts. Hence, why we close down. Last week I was skiing, and this week I brought my running shoes back out.
On my little walkabout, I first ran into Charlie and Brandon. They spent last week demo’ing the deteriorating deck of the Adventure Center in a blizzard. This week they’ve been enjoying the sunshine as they rebuild the decking. They had the music playing in between the noise of the saws, drills, hammers, etc…
Next up was a stop by the bunkhouse, where Bill and Bubba are preparing for a remodel. Right now they are just hauling out furniture to empty the place out. In the coming weeks they will be re-doing the layout of the downstairs and adding a set of stairs to get up to the bunks. We will all miss the days of climbing up the ladder to go to bed…..well, maybe someone will miss those days, or not.
After the bunkhouse, I headed down to the indoor arena. I didn’t stop by the housekeeping area to say hi to Devyn, as I had just seen her earlier. She is back here between trips and catching up on some of her to-do list. The machine shed was pretty quiet as Carson is off for a bit, and Nathan and KP were up at the barn doing some cleaning.
Once in the indoor arena, I saw John and Annie riding Cali and Reyna. Both of those fillies are coming along really well and look great. John and Annie shared that they have really enjoyed spending some time this off-season hauling a few horses to a local horse trainer friend of ours to ride with him. They’ve picked up a ton of new ideas and had fun getting a different perspective from his training philosophy. As much as we all know Terry is loaded with knowledge, it is great to get a different point of view in horse training.
As I headed back down to the Lodge, I saw the carpet cleaners making their way down cabin row. This week they are cleaning all the carpets so we can go into the winter season with everything spic and span! Back at the Lodge Melissa and Malori were busy in the office, working on their many projects. Melissa has been fielding phone calls all day long about our winter season. People are definitely thinking winter right now and are asking a lot of questions about what we do and when they can come to the ranch.
And Ben? Well, he’s just sitting around by the pool eating bon-bons. Actually, I suspect he would be thrilled to take a break from budgets and insurance policies to sit by a freezing cold pool right now.
So, yes, there is definitely still activity going on here at Vista Verde during the off-season. It may be a little more quiet around here right now, but once the snow sticks and we have our winter wonderland in place for all of you we’ll be ready!
Date: November 11th, 2013
Choose your own adventure at these snowy U.S. ski destinations
By Jody Schmal | November 7, 2013
As ski season kicks into high gear this month, powder fanatics will be snapping on their skis and boards and checking their pack lists.
Whether you’re looking for a first-time family vacation, a romantic getaway or a thriving après-ski scene, here are the latest happenings at some of the most Houstonian-savvy spots in the United States this season:
WHAT’S NEW: In family-friendly Snowmass, there are 230-plus new acres of ski-able terrain, along with the recently completed Elk Camp Lodge, a LEED-certified $13 million on-mountain restaurant and coffee shop.
Meanwhile, Aspen’s Highlands Mountain has 20 acres of new gladed terrain, and also is appealing to families with its Perfect Holiday package deal, where kids age 12 and under can ski, stay and eat free (with purchase of an adult lift ticket) over the Christmas holiday, Dec. 20-25. Must be booked by Nov. 15.
For the fancier sort, two of Aspen’s most beloved and iconic high-end hotels – the Little Nell and Hotel Jerome – have fresh upgrades. The ski-in/ski-out Little Nell has new VIP suites designed by Holly Hunt, and the resort’s Element 47 fine-dining restaurant opens this month on the base of Aspen Mountain.
The 93-room Jerome, with its historic J-Bar and rustic-chic décor, is offering several packages, such as the Peak Performance Ski Retreat (available Jan. 5-March 31, from $685 per night). With a three-night minimum stay, it includes ski equipment rental from Gorsuch, daily lift tickets for two and breakfast. Order up the private bath service from the Jerome’s new Auberge spa: a therapist visits your room to draw you a bath (with your choice of salts or argan oil) and leaves behind a fruit plate and wine.
DETAILS: Season opens Nov. 28; stayaspensnowmass.com.
WHAT’S NEW: It’s an exciting year for Breck. The resort is adding more than 543 acres to its famous landscape with Peak 6, one of the most notable Colorado ski area expansions in years.
Peak 6 includes 400 acres of lift-served terrain and 143 acres of hike-to terrain, representing a 23 percent increase in the resort’s skiable acreage. With that comes two new lifts, three new bowls – including the first above-treeline intermediate bowl – and 10 new cut trails.
To check out the fresh terrain in high style, book a condo at the luxe ski-in/ski-out One Ski Hill Place at the base of Peak 8, steps from the BreckConnect Gondola, which easily transports you to Peak 7, fairly easily to Peak 6, and into the charming town of Breckenridge. Added bonus of staying here: an on-site bowling alley.
DETAILS: Now open; breckenridge.com.
WHAT’S NEW: Families and high-alpine fans will love Copper this season. For starters, Camp Woodward, a nearly 20,000-square-foot ski, snowboard bike and skateboard park recently underwent a $500,000 renovation. All synthetic snow surfaces have been replaced with surfaces designed for wheels, and there’s a new beginner foam pit with 2- and 4-foot jumps, a pump track designed for the development of park skills and new programming to bridge the gap and yield results on snow. Fun for kids and adults, you may even rub elbows with a would-be Olympian in training through mid-December, prior to the U.S. Freeskiing Grand Prix taking place at Cooper Dec. 16-21.
On the mountain, high-alpine enthusiasts will be happy to know there’s a new direct lift to the stellar skiing and riding in Spaulding Bowl, Upper Enchanted Forest and Copper Bowl.
There’s also a new on-mountain audio intelligence app call Sherpa, which tells you what you’re near, where to go and what to do when you get there. It’s locals-only, insider information, available for the first time to everyone on the mountain. Sherpa taps into the knowledge of lifelong employees, ski patrol and local experts and makes that wisdom available to anyone with a smartphone.
DETAILS: Now open; coppercolorado.com.
WHAT’S NEW: To improve the on-mountain trails for skiers and snowboarders, Crested Butte Mountain Resort has removed trees for tree skiing aficionados, between the current trails of Double Top and Black Eagle.
There also are three new kid-specific trails in the Painter Boy area, along with interactive play and learning activities and areas. During the holidays, families of four can get four nights’ lodging at the Grand Lodge and three nights skiing in Crested Butte for $999 if they book the Grandest Christmas Package.
Another resort option is the Nordic Inn, Gunnison County’s longest operating lodge, which is enjoying a total interior and exterior renovation. Steps from the Mount Crested Butte ski-area base, local owners bought property last year and have updated all 28 guest rooms, common spaces and the on-property mountain chalet in a Colorado-classic-meets-contemporary style. Stay four nights and get the fifth one free if you book before Nov. 20. High-roller with a large crew? Check out Scarp Ridge Lodge, a two-year-old, seven-bedroom property in downtown Crested Butte that comes with a personal chef and expert guides.
After dark, hit the newly redone historic saloon and gaming hall Kochevar’s, or grab a slice and some wings at the relocated but still hip Secret Stash, housed in an old county store building downtown.
DETAILS: Season opens Nov. 27; skicb.com.
WHAT’S NEW: With new nonstop flights on United Express this winter, it’s never been easier for Houstonians to visit Jackson Hole. Especially since upscale resorts in the area offering so many enticing reasons to stay.
The Four Seasons Resort and Residences has a new Michael Mina restaurant called the Handle Bar, beckoning with pub grub – think Wagyu burgers – and a selection of local beers, artisan cocktails and whiskey. There’s also the resort’s Haute Route Ski Experience deal ($1,399 per night for double occupancy, valid Jan. 30-Feb. 4): a five-night, four-day package that includes ski instruction – from experts who have inside knowledge on the best tracks and hidden stashes for novice to advanced skiers at Jackson Hole Mountain resort – along with plenty of other perks such as breakfast, a special wild game cooking session and cocktails at Handle Bar.
In Teton Village, Teton Mountain Lodge & Spa is known for its slope-side location and 12,000-square-foot, three-story Solitude Spa with indoor and outdoor swimming pools and an oversize rooftop hot tub. Well, the resort has a new restaurant, Spur Restaurant & Bar, with locavore-savvy executive chef Kevin Humphreys serving up home-style cuisine such as Snake River Farms pork tenderloin. Plus, ladies might be interested in taking advantage of the fit-for-all-levels Elevate Women’s Ski Camp Jan. 13-17, which includes four days of instruction from professional skiers Crystal Wright (Freeski World Tour Champion) and Jess McMillan, après ski meals and Pilates classes to stretch and strengthen worn ski legs.
DETAILS: Season opens Nov. 28; jacksonhole.com.
WHAT’S NEW: In addition to updating its snow-making capabilities and working on a $1 million night skiing project, December marks the debut of the multimillion-dollar Four Points Lodge, arguably Steamboat’s most significant on-mountain improvement in a decade.
Located in the Storm Peak/Four Points area of the mountain, the 13,000-square-foot, two-level structure includes a 200-seat dining room, a casual lunchroom with healthy options downstairs, a 35-seat bar, an outdoor barbecue grill, flat screen televisions and retail space. At 9,700 feet up, expect stunning panoramic views of the Yampa Valley, too. Go on a Friday or Saturday night and take a climate-controlled Snowcat Taxi up the mountain for a Northern Italian dinner.
Meanwhile, the ski-in/ski-out Sheraton Steamboat Resort and Villas unveils its roughly $9 million remodel this month, including the completion of 56 new luxury suites. Another nice lodging option is Vista Verde Ranch, which is offering its Winter Carnival package ($2,755 for two) Feb. 5-8. It includes three nights at ranch in a fancy cabin plus one night at the Sheraton, along with meals, booze, guides, equipment, activities and transfers.
And mark your calendars for the ever-popular 40th annual cowboy downhill event in Steamboat Jan. 20, during which – you guessed it – rodeo cowboys race down the mountain.
DETAILS: Season opens Nov. 27; steamboat.com.
WHAT’S NEW: In addition to United nonstop flights from Houston to Eagle Airport, accessing Vail’s 5,289 acres of skiable terrain is even easier now with the introduction of two new chairlifts. There’s the new six-passenger lift replacing Vail’s highly-utilized and recognizable Mountaintop Express Lift (No. 4), thus increasing capacity and reducing lines. There also is the high-speed Gondola One with heated cabins and free WiFi for a comfortable and quick seven-and-a-half-minute trek up the mountain.
High-end properties also are debuting new looks and amenities. The Ritz-Carlton Residences (both ownership and rentals) is rolling out its new Lionshead Collection of designer abodes by Colorado designers such as Eddy Doumas. In nearby Beaver Creek, the Ritz-Carlton Bachelor Gulch recently completed a $15 million remodel. Book a room for four nights in the posh Club Level through Dec. 31 and receive the fifth night free.
Also in Beaver Creek, the 17,000-square-foot, on-mountain restaurant named Talons has joined the scene. An upscale cafeteria setting with a barn-recalling facade, it has 500 indoor seats on two levels and 250 outdoor seats, with dishes such as a Colorado lamb burger, homemade soups, carved meats and thin pizza. Anticipate an indoor/ outdoor bar and an outdoor smokehouse, as well.
DETAILS: Season opens Nov. 22; vail.com.
WHAT’S NEW: Winter Park’s talked-about, 48-passenger “Cirque Sled” is a snowcat ride that will provide adventurous skiers and snowboarders easier access to the Vasquez Cirque, where 1,332 acres of off-piste terrain awaits. Passes cost just $10 and are valid for unlimited rides all season long. Open last year, the Coca-Cola Tubing Hill is also getting buzz, with its four banked lanes, as is the hot-chocolate-serving Hill House cafe nearby.
Though many opt to simply commute from Denver (67 miles away) or from another resort, the Zephyr Mountain Lodge comprises 230 one- to three-bedroom condos a mere 110 feet from the Zephyr Express Lift. In addition to hot tubs and fireplaces, it’s close to a number of dining options. Deals through April 20 include 15-percent off one-night stays, and 3rd night free packages.
DETAILS: Season opens Nov. 13; winterparkresort.com.
EIGHT MORE, OFF THE BEATEN PATH:
The Colorado Gems card costs only $20, and it allows skiers and boarders to get two-for-one full-day lift tickets at eight participating under-the-radar resorts across the state.
The Western-authentic Gem resorts are: Arapahoe Basin, Eldora Mountain Resort, Loveland Ski Area, Monarch Mountain, Powderhorn Resort, Ski Cooper, Ski Granby Ranch and Sunlight Mountain Resort.
Each Gems Card – only 5,000 are available – is good for one use per resort, per season, and they expire at the end of April. Card holders also have access to special flash deals, or promotions offered by each spot throughout the season.
For more information and to purchase, visit coloradoski.com/gems.
Date: November 4th, 2013
With Thanksgiving right around the corner, Chef Chol thought it would be perfect timing to share his recipe for turkey brine. Enjoy!
VVR Turkey Brine (for one 15-18 pound Turkey)
1 Gallon Apple juice
1 Gallon Water
1 ½ Pounds Kosher salt
12 ounces dark brown sugar
4 cinnamon sticks
2 bay leaves
3 star anise
¼ cup pickling spice
- Combine all ingredients in a large pot and simmer for 5 minutes.
- Cool in the refrigerator overnight. (Alternatively, you could simmer the ingredients without the water and pour over 8 ¼ pounds of ice, and you could use the brine almost immediately)
- Brine Turkey 12-15 hours before roasting and refrigerate.
To Roast the Turkey:
- Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F. Remove the turkey from the brine, rinse the turkey and pat dry with paper towels, inside and out.
- Rub the turkey with soft butter, inside and out, and place breast side down on a “V” rack in a roasting pan (this allows the breast to remain moist) and roast for 30 minutes at 400 degrees. After 30 minutes, turn the oven down to 325 degrees F.
- One hour before turkey is done (an unstuffed turkey will take about 15 minutes per pound at 325 degrees F), flip the bird to breast side up (using wads of paper towel usually works) and roast until internal temperature of the thick part of the leg reads 165 degrees F. Let the bird rest 30 minutes before carving.
Date: November 4th, 2013
We have had a lot of very special horses here at Vista Verde. The best ones are ones we can trust with the many kids who come to the ranch to be cowboys and cowgirls. Every once in a while we get one of those horses who just rises above the rest.
Pinky is one of those extra special loves. Not only has Pinky been here forever, but he has been a super rock star horse for all of those years. He didn’t need time to settle down and mellow out. He was just great from the get-go. Over the years, Pinky has been a care-giver for hundreds of kids. As a mom and a horsewoman, I can tell you there is no price tag high enough for a horse who will be trustworthy with your kids, responsive to their confusing signals and tolerant of their erratic behavior. My daughter fell in love with Pinky several years ago. Riding him a few weeks ago she was frustrated that he wouldn’t canter. What she couldn’t understand is that although Pinky’s days of going fast are long behind him, he is perfect in every way. He carries her safely. He doesn’t stop and eat grass along the way (most horses can’t resist that amazing grass out here!), he stops, go’s and turns when she asks him. He doesn’t spook at ANYTHING. He’s patient, kind and caring. Heck, this is a horse who has spent every week of his life the past 10 summers getting swarmed by a group of kids with paint on their hands as they paint Pinky.
In the past couple years, as he aged, he was used a little more lightly and just for the kids who weren’t going to ride too hard. It’s taken a lot of grain and extra care to keep him going through recent winters. With another winter looming we felt that it was time to help find Pinky a place to live out his years with a little less effort. So, as of this past weekend, Pinky has headed off to Nebraska to live with former staff member Anita. He will be used for an occasional pony ride, but will mostly live a life of leisure going forward.
For all those little people who have love Pinky, and all those parents who have trusted Pinky with their kid’s well-being, we send him off with a huge fan following and a bucket load of carrots, hugs and kisses.
Date: October 30th, 2013
By Bill Vanderford
Vista Verde Ranch is the best of the west
The cow all the guests at the Vista Verde Ranch had named “Diabolical” had his vicious-looking eyes piercing into mine as he made an instant pirouette, but my anticipation was way ahead of him! Even before his athletic move, I had jerked my horse Gunnar’s head in the right direction and slapped him with the reins to cut off the bad cow. That turned him back toward one of the best cowboys in the West … Terry Wegener, where he would have no escape!
Terry and I had cut this bad boy out of a herd of Texas cows to teach him a lesson and make him behave. We ran him to the middle of a corral about the size of a football field with Terry and his prize horse, Gun Shy Gangster (better known as Gunny) on one side and me and Gunnar on the other. In order to wear the cow down, we cut him off at every angle to keep him between us until his tongue was hanging out. In retrospect, I labeled our efforts … Cow Soccer!
No doubt riding and learning about horses and cows is one of the main reasons that people visit dude ranches in Colorado, but Vista Verde Ranch offers so much more. They truly make an extra effort to let you experience everything that they offer, but will go out of their way to see that all of your other requests are satisfied. Much of the staff is comprised of seasonal young people from all over the country who are checked thoroughly … including a personal visit from General Manager, Ben Martin. Therefore, the youngsters and the permanent staff all have a zest for life, love to engage with guests in conversation or ranch experiences, and have the best attitudes I have ever seen in all my days of traveling the world!
Though I have ridden horses off and on since my childhood, I learned more about them during my week at Vista Verde than I could have imagined. Just being around Terry Wegener is an education in the mannerisms and psychology of horses. He and his wife are also involved in the training and riding of the Denver Broncos horse Thunder at the football games.
The horse program at Vista Verde Ranch is top of the line when compared to any other in the West … partly because of the very large heated indoor riding area. This venue allows Terry and other trainers like Annie Bolognino from Montana and Nicky Throgmartin from Indiana to work with the younger horses and give special Horsemanship Clinics for guests regardless of the weather.
The Mare Barn also gives the breeding stock a quiet place away from the central ranch to deliver and raise the foals. Though Terry is in charge of the breeding and horse sales, Annie and Nicky primarily work with the younger horses and share this experience with guests of the ranch. Because Vista Verde Ranch is located in the National Forest and has access to the wild and beautiful Mt. Zirkel Wilderness Area, horseback riding and hiking trails are numerous, adventuresome and breathtaking! You can even ride your horse to a hidden sanctuary among colorful Aspen trees to partake in Wild Yoga with expert instructor Kelli King.
I found the fly fishing and guides at the ranch to be knowledgeable, personable and quite talented in the numerous waters available to anglers visiting Vista Verde. The possibilities range from small creeks to rivers to still water lakes and from very simple fishing to extremely difficult. Rainbow, Cutthroat, Brook and Brown Trout are always possible catches as well as Mountain Whitefish and Grayling.
A true hero from the US Army’s Special Forces, Brandon Martin, is the Director of the Fly Fishing Program and a pleasure to be with anytime. His expert fly fishing partner in the program is Bubba Veteto from Colorado who loves to hang out with the chefs in the kitchen when he’s not guiding guests.
It would take a book to relate all there is to see and enjoy at Vista Verde Ranch near the famous ski resort village of Steamboat Springs, CO. One of the most important things to know is that any visit to this ranch is All-Inclusive … and they live by that even to the point of free pick up and delivery to the airport that is nearly an hours drive from the ranch.
The Lodge and Cabin rooms are authentic log structures with all the comforts seen in other fine resorts with one exception … no TVs in the rooms. The diverse cuisine created by top chefs can range from simple barbecue to intricate gourmet meals with many different wines. Summer activities include numerous horse-related opportunities, barn dancing, fly or spin fishing, mountain biking, hiking, yoga, cooking classes, wine tasting classes, rock climbing, rafting, local shopping tours, and photography just to name a few.
There’s probably not a bad time of year to visit Vista Verde Ranch, but I feel that I hit it at the most opportune moment for the best photography in the early fall. At the beginning of the week, the weather was like summer with midday temperatures reaching into the high 60s and falling to the 40s at night. Soon the mercury began to fall, and all the bright gold Aspen trees changed in two days. During the last part of the week, we were blessed with a blanket of more than a foot of powdery snow. It was the perfect time to experience the gorgeous metamorphosis that occurs annually in the mountains and valleys of Northwestern Colorado.
In my opinion and that of other guests, this is the best, most diverse, and client friendly working ranch in the Western USA. However, it is very busy throughout the year, so reservations in advance are necessary for couples or families. For more information or bookings, go to the Vista Verde website (www.vistaverde.com) or call them toll-free at: 800-526-7433.
Just one week in the early fall was a revelation to me of this part of Colorado and gave me a taste of summer, fall and winter on a ranch. Now, my dream is to return one day to experience the winter ski season when the ranch is all decked out for a Cowboy Christmas.
Date: October 30th, 2013
By AnniePlease note that this is an informational blog post, not an instruction piece intended as a how-to in training a horse.
Every safe trail riding horse needs to be “bomb proof.” But what does that actually mean? The goal of Vista Verde’s dude ranch breeding and training program is to breed high quality performance horses that are not only phenomenal in reining and cow work but also enjoyable on a trail ride. Teaching our horses to be safe and well mannered starts with teaching them to expect the unexpected. A great horse helps makes a great vacation, after all!
Preparation is key when teaching youngsters. There are several methods we use in starting our young yearlings and 2 year olds to begin to learn how to be handled, saddled and eventually ridden. One of the tools we like to use when introducing young horses to be ridden for the first time is an old sack or grain bag tied to a 50-foot rope. This is a method of desensitizing young horses to their first time carrying something behind their eyes, where eventually a person will end up sitting in the saddle. Other key preparation training has already taken place to set this young horse up for being able to handle this stage.
When starting a horse to carry this noisy little bag, we make sure that our flag training, ground cues to go forward, stop, reverse and turn are already solid in the colt. We have already worked over this horse’s back from the fence, so he has been able to see things going on behind his vision and has shown progress in switching eyes, as objects (flag, pad, saddle, arm, leg, chaps etc) start on one side and end up across his back on the other.
Step 1: Let Him Be Curious
It is important to play off a horse’s natural curiosity and desire to play! Allowing them to be curious builds confidence to check things out and inspect new things rather than shying away from them. We want to develop their “thinking mind” instead of having them getting worried and letting their protective prey instincts take charge. Allowing the colts to follow anything out in front of and below their eyes is the best way to introduce anything new. It is a non-confrontational way to help them to inspect and accept. Being able to pick up and play with the object means the colt is ready and more comfortable with the bag. We will walk around dragging the bag behind us but out in front of the colt so he can clearly see it.
Step 2: Tossing around field of vision
Being able to toss the noisy bag in all areas and not have the movement startle the horse is the goal. This teaches them to accept commotion: people, wildlife, and activity going on unexpectedly around them. It also helps them become used to things happening behind them without those actions being cues to move or go forward. Riders taking off gear, jackets, hats etc is often a cause of discomfort for horses, and their reactions are sometimes seen as unexpected by riders. Once they are comfortable here, it lets us know that it’s now time to start touching the colt with the bag and rope.
Step 3: Touch all over
Most importantly, all horses should be desensitized to having things running between their legs (dogs, children, ropes) because at some point in their lives it is bound to happen. In the images you can see how I will purposefully swing the bag beneath the colt’s belly then drag it towards me and the colt from the opposite side. Again, this engages their “thinking brain” and teaches them not to react. This builds confidence between the horse and human as well. At this stage they start to check in more often and almost seem to ask a question like, “Is this something you want me to do something about?” Then you know you’re teaching the lessons that will build an excellent student to learn some pretty important things someday.
Step 4: Bag goes for a ride!
There are times when a sudden movement from a horse will send a rider off balance. If the worst case happens and a rider were to fall off, it’s important that the horse be prepared to have things be where they aren’t expected. This can help prevent a bad accident from getting worse. Obviously this is serious business. If a horse has been taught from the beginning to expect the unexpected, the odds are better that the horse will quiet and wait for help and check in, instead of letting their natural instincts of flight take over.
So we work this noisy bag all over the colts, ask them to walk, trot and lope with it. Let it drag around behind them, let it bounce annoyingly at their sides while they are moving out. Their response at that time will tell us just how bothered they are feeling. Sometimes they will scoot at the sudden recognition that something is there and they cant seem to get free from it, but with proper preparation beforehand, it is sometimes just a little scoot and then they even out. This will tell us what their response might be like for the first time it’s one of us up there instead of the bag going for a ride!
Date: October 29th, 2013
Looking to do something different to ring in the New Year? Get out of the city and experience the Western, the exotic and the fun traditions at ranches and horseback riding destinations that offer celebrations on New Year’s Eve.
From Mexico to Colorado and Israel to Arizona, we’ve compiled some interesting and enticing getaways for a memorable New Year’s celebration. These dude ranch and riding vacation owners have organized special experiences for New Year’s Eve, so you can enjoy the cultural traditions of each area and go horseback riding, too.
Vista Verde Ranch, a luxury guest ranch in Clark, has a grand New Year’s celebration. It starts with a wine pairing dinner for the adults, during which the kids and teens go down to the indoor arena for a mini-carnival type party, including pizza, games and more. Then the families meet up after dinner for a Cowboy New Years. Ranch staff clear out the furniture in the great room, decorate the place like it’s going out of style and then host a barn dance with the families and staff. The ranch has fun activities going on over on the sidelines in between dancing and socializing.
In fine rancher style, early to bed and early to rise, Vista Verde Ranch rings in the New Year with the folks on the East Coast (so it’s only 10pm Colorado time) with the one and only Vista Verde Boot Drop and firework show. Ending the night a bit early makes it doable for the kids and allows everyone to get some rest as they hit it hard with the outdoor adventures the very next morning. This year the ranch will hold the Vista Verde Ranch Arena Bowl on New Year’s Day. Guests have been told to don grubby clothes for a game of touch football and some good times in the indoor arena. There are only two cabins remaining for New Years at the ranch!
Add some Mexican flair to your New Year’s Eve at this boutique Mexico guest ranch, which has only one room left. At Rancho Las Cascadas, guests enjoy a traditional Mexican New Year, including fireworks, a family dinner, sparkling wine, music, ringing bells and more. You’ll experience unique traditions at this festive New Year ranch celebration. For example, lentils are spread around the door as a symbol of abundance, meant to drive anything bad from the previous year out of the home. The ranch also offers unlimited horseback riding–– not nose to tail–– on Mexico’s open range on 500,000 acres and through beautiful countryside.
At this Granby, Colorado guest ranch, which has been operating since 1919, guests ring in the New Year at a traditional western-swing dance or during a torch-lit ice skating or a moonlight cross-country ski tour. The midnight countdown includes a live band. The ranch also offers a variety of outdoor activities to enjoy the snow. C Lazy U has shuttles that will take you to Granby Ranch Ski Resort and Winter Park Ski Resorts. You can sled down the C Lazy U Luge or play hockey on the frozen pond. There is horseback riding in the morning and afternoon, and in the heated indoor arena, as well as a hot tub for soaking after time on the trails.
Celebrating New Year’s Eve at Elkhorn Ranch, fifty miles southwest of Tucson in the Sonoran Desert, is a family affair. Kids are welcomed to the ranch’s special New Year’s Eve party, where the piñata is always a hit for the little ones. The ranch also has a midday feast on New Years Day. Guests can play outdoors in the Arizona sun, horseback riding in the picturesque Baboquivari Mountains and the open Sonoran desert country of the Altar Valley.
Sundance Trail Guest Ranch in North Central Colorado offers a quirky December 31st New Year’s Eve Murder Mystery Party. During the “all evening” affair, which starts with appetizers before dinner, guests untangle each others’ half-truths, evasions and hijinks. The murder mystery game is solved prior to midnight and includes Champagne toast as 2014 commences. The New Year’s extravaganza also includes a morning brunch and morning or early afternoon horseback ride.
Sirin Riders, which offers all-inclusive equestrian vacations on Quarter horses and Appaloosas in Israel, has a 9 day, 8 night horseback riding vacation departing December 28th, 2013. The Tour Israel horseback riding vacation starts at the north of Israel in Galilee and ends in the Judea Desert. It includes a special excursion to swim in the Dead Sea at the end of the ride. Guests stay in country lodges, get one night camping in the desert and one night in a hotel in Tel Aviv, making for a diverse New Years holiday vacation.
Date: October 28th, 2013
Imagine waking up in a warm bed at Vista Verde Ranch on Valentine’s Day morning. Your sweetheart is next to you, bundled up under a cozy comforter, still snoozing. You look outside and see snow lightly falling on the trees. What to do today?
An early morning dip in the hot tub as you watch the horses start moving around for the day. Following a hearty breakfast in bed you are heading out on a snow shoe tour with one of the ski guides. Or, maybe you decided to work on your horsemanship skills with one of the wranglers in the indoor arena? Don’t forget, you also have a sleigh ride for two planned in the afternoon after some quality time wooing your honey on the sledding hill. Nothing speaks romance like screaming down the sledding hill, hand in hand.
Of course, the highlight of the day is the ever popular Aphrodisiac dinner prepared by Cholly, John and the chef crew. Creative cuisine paired with wonderful wines, and then later in the evening…..that’s completely up to you.
Intrigued? Learn more about our winter vacation packages and plan your romantic Valentine’s Day getaway now.
Date: October 28th, 2013
Last Friday the kids from the North Routt Charter School loaded up their bikes into large horse trailers and headed to Vista Verde for a day of biking and fun times at the ranch. Luckily the weather was gorgeous and sunny, so the kids had a hay day goofing off on their bikes all around the ranch. Some went out on the single track trails, some headed to the bike skills park and some of the little ones just puttered around on the dirt roads.
Steve and Kelli played host to the kids by teaching them new skills and encouraging them to have fun on their bikes, no matter what their ability. The ranch was buzzing with excitement and the sounds of giggling.
After riding, playing and having a picnic lunch, the kids loaded back on their bus, the bikes back into the horse trailers and they headed off to school. Part of the curriculum for the North Routt Charter School is Expeditionary Learning Outward Bound (ELOB) and Service Learning. For example, student-owned projects enable the students at NRCCS to learn academic subjects while connecting to the people and places in our community. All three of these educational programs encourage our students to use their “place” as a learning resource, incorporating direct learning experiences into core curricular activities.
It was great to be a part of the student’s learning and we loved sharing the ranch with them for the day!
Date: October 25th, 2013
This past summer, I had the pleasure of working on a really exciting project with one of our talented staff. Maddy O’Neil came to the ranch as a ranch hand for the summer, after visiting the ranch as a guest last winter. He has a background in illustration and aspirations of creating a children’s book. So, not having planned on putting together a children’s book for our Vista Verde friends, I suddenly found myself working with Maddy on putting this concept together in one summer.
Maddy crafted the vision and spent countless nights sitting in the Lodge drawing in his sketchbook. As he and I met weekly the story came together page by page. It went from sketch book to computer and now to the printer. When Maddy revealed the book at our end of season staff party the room was filled with laughter that just wouldn’t end….and you will see why soon. It’s a charming story of a sweet moose who is trying to find his place at a little dude ranch in Colorado.
Keep your eye out for the books to go on sale soon, and you can have your own copy of Wille the Moose!
Date: October 18th, 2013
This year we tried something new for the ranch. With so much demand for the fall ranch stays in September, we decided to extend our season a couple weeks into October. It was an experiment to see if we could get guests to come visit us in October– a time when the chance of weather is a bit higher, but also a time that can be one of the most stunning months of the year.
Success! Or, at least by our count it was a great success. We had a really nice number of guests who came to try out this new season. Many of them got two seasons for the price of one, as guest Traci told me with a laugh. We had days of blue skies, warm sunshine and a forest full of golden aspens. And then we had snow–magical, fluffy, amazing snow like nothing we’ve seen in October before. As you can see from this photo, we didn’t let the weather stop us, and the contrast of the snow with the golden aspens was off the charts. Many of the guests came for our standard week-long stay, but some tried out the shorter stays we were offering during these two weeks.
Will we do it again? Absolutely! It was a great time to celebrate the transition of the seasons, enjoy cozy-ing up to the fire each evening and share this time of year with some wonderful people.
Now the ranch is closed until mid-December. It’s a time for gathering up as a team and hashing out what worked and what didn’t, what we want to change for next year, and what we want to keep the same. The bikes are being put away and the skis hung up on the racks. The saddles are getting cleaned and oiled. Horses are getting some extra training and projects are getting checked off the list. The scaffolding is up in the Great room for dusting those magnificent beams and changing those very hard to reach light bulbs. Through all this we’re still answering the phones and emails and getting folks booked for this winter and next summer. We thank everyone who made this past summer and fall so amazing, and look forward to playing with those of you who are planning your winter stays soon!
Date: October 14th, 2013
10 Great Dude Ranches for Advanced Horseback Riding, Lopes & Gallops
Dude ranches are synonymous with horseback riding, but many experienced horseback riders want to know about ranches where they don’t have to ride “nose-to-tail” and can perhaps lope (canter) and even gallop. Whether you’re an English rider, dressage enthusiast or cutting horse queen, there are a variety of dude ranches where you can find challenging horseback riding on quality horses.
Check out the below 10 great dude ranches for advanced horseback riding. Have a place you’ve been you’d recommend, please let us know your suggestions!
This boutique central Mexican ranch, located on a mountain plateau, has flat fields and quiet unpaved roads that are excellent for gallops for confident riders. Read a traveler’s review of riding here.
2. Geronimo Trail Guest Ranch in Winston, New Mexico
This New Mexico guest ranch does not require you to stay in a line “nose to tail” and does offer trotting and loping for capable riders where the terrain allows. They also offer games on horseback at all gaits and can accommodate all ages and levels of riding skills.
3. Drowsy Water Ranch in Granby, Colorado
This Colorado guest ranch has over 100 head of horses and horseback riding is their primary activity. Advanced riders have many opportunities to explore and blaze trails while handling their horses from leisurely walks to smooth lopes and gallops.
4. Southern Cross Guest Ranch in Madison, Georgia
This ranch is unique in that it’s located in Georgia, but also in that it allows unguided riding for qualified guests, meaning you can take a horse out on your own. Small guided groups are always available. You’ll be encouraged to groom and help tack the horses for a true hands-on and bonding experience. Riders may trot and canter either guided or unguided while here– conditions permitting, of course.
5. Vista Verde Ranch in Steamboat Springs, Colorado
This horse lovers’ luxury dude ranch offers adventurous trail rides in small groups that accommodate all riding levels. There are plenty of opportunities for more advanced trails and faster horse riding. They also have a beautiful outdoor arena and for winter, a full-sized and heated indoor riding arena. Ranch Trainer Terry Wegener, a NRHA Money winner, has a background in reining and ranch versatility horse training, competition and judging. Horsemanship clinics include basic horsemanship and more focused cattle work clinics. For a more intensive riding experience, join the fall cattle round-up, which takes riders into the National Forest.
This Wyoming working cattle ranch is great for experienced riders who want a bigger working ranch experience amid a small number of guests and no “nose to tail” riding. Advanced riders will experience high end horses and instruction with experienced wranglers, charro’s, cowboys and cowgirls. Guests may be able to lope during the intermediate and advanced rides, where the terrain allows.
7. Tanque Verde Ranch in Tucson, Arizona
Guests who pass the lope test can ride fast when the desert trails allow at Tanque Verde Guest Ranch, which has some challenging desert terrain. Watch out for those cacti! The special Harmony with Horses program works with riders to develop extensive horsemanship skills and better self understanding through horses.
8. Bar W Guest Ranch in Whitefish, Montana
In addition to the exciting and challenging ranch sorting and team penning in the arenas, guests are challenged during a rodeo with barrel racing, pole bending, stake race, and the keyhole race. While you’ll frequently be climbing on mountain trails at a slower pace, the meadows and pastures allow for more aggressive, faster ride with loping through more open country.
9. White Stallion Ranch in Tucson, Arizona
Experienced riders may enjoy loping/ cantering through the desert on adventurous fast rides at this longtime Arizona dude ranch. Rides range from fast to slow and include options for all day rides, mountain terrain and, back at the ranch, team penning.
10. Hideout Ranch in Rodeo, New Mexico
This is a true riding ranch. Guests ride over a million acres over three mountain ranges. Each trail is unique in both scenery and challenge, with some trails climbing to eight and nine thousand feet elevation. There are areas on many of our trails where the urge to lope is too strong to resist – particularly the Parade Grounds at Rucker. Guests are welcome to join ranch owners and wranglers when they work cattle, which presents an entirely new skill set. Since riding is the focus, Hideout Ranch offer lessons both in the Round Pen and out on the trail. Longtime horse owners often visit this ranch and they too learn something new.
Date: October 14th, 2013
Travel and Adventure: Colorado dude ranch combines activities, serenity – Metrowest Daily News
By Lesley Sauls
I had mentioned an interest in taking a trail ride, and the ranch’s general manager suggested I might first enjoy a riding lesson with one of the veteran wranglers. I was reluctant, having been on horses sporadically throughout my life. I’d hoped instead for the thrill of a snowy trail ride, but his sun-browned and smile-creased face coaxed me into accepting.
They were eager for their meal, and a few bold steeds chomped into hay bales to pull them right off the sled. Others were more patient and waited for us to pause and toss their dinner to them. We rocked and bumped slowly around the pasture and back to the barn when our load was gone.
The ranch sits between these peaks in the Routt National Forest, and its guides trek with guests daily into the 3 million acres of wilderness on snowshoes and skis.
My adventure began with simple moves to learn how backcountry skis function with their grippy bottoms and wide footprints, and in time I was telemarking down pine-filled slopes between frozen cascading beaver ponds covered with fluffy snow that made a soft landing for my not-so-skilled tumbles. We proclaimed ourselves on a moose hunt and successfully found evidence of their recent presence in the area. I couldn’t wait to share my stories with the Ohio Group.
From that point I picked up trails and lifts that took me all over the mountain. Lunch at the Four Points Hut included steamy chowder that warmed me to my chilly toes. A gregarious ski-school class of students from Florida, Alabama, Illinois and Australia invited me to join their group in their search of a bear den and a previously spotted porcupine napping in a pine tree. Not wanting to miss such an opportunity, I joined them on the run that was aptly named, “Why Not?”
Brandon had said to lean into my discomfort to find my growth when he taught me to telemark. I might have fallen more often than I leaned during my stay, but I left the ranch with a good bit of growth, too.
Date: October 10th, 2013
Often times we see wildlife around the ranch or out on the trails. You may have seen the crazy moose photo on Facebook last week. If not, check it out. This one was a little too close for comfort, but luckily everyone minded their p’s and q’s and Mr. Moose left without any fuss. Then there are the wild cows. They were supposed to be good kids and cooperate with getting rounded up in September. However, this bunch was so unruly and wild that many of them are still out there in the woods enjoying the bounty of a wet summer and luscious grass. Of course there have been deer, bald eagles, elk, fox and more other wonderful critters spotted around the ranch.
But, the most laughable “wildlife” story recently was that of Baylee and her little lamb. One unsuspecting fall day Baylee hopped on her horse with some guests and headed out towards the National Forest for a nice, long ride through the aspens. What she wasn’t expecting was a black sheep to come hunt down her ride, attach herself to the group, and follow them back to the ranch. No joke, this lamb joined them for a long ride through the mountains before following them back to the ranch. Upon returning to the ranch, the lamb decided she wanted to join the herd. However, the horses weren’t so sure about that. The wranglers said they have never seen such a sight as the entire herd going after the lamb like it was some foreign invader. Baylee’s little lamb was rescued out of that mess and put into a pen. She spent a week or so at the ranch while we tried to find her rightful owner. No luck there but we were able to find a home for her at a neighbor’s small ranch where she is now living with some other farm animals. So, just remember, you never know what you will run into out in the woods!
Date: October 7th, 2013
Meet Oliver. He is one of our “behind the scenes” ranch dogs at Vista Verde. Unlike Rosie, who likes to join hikes and ski trips, and Trooper, who takes part in horsemanship clinics and trail rides, Oliver lays pretty low. Although behind the scenes, he still has benefited from the great natural dog food that our good friends at the Honest Kitchen provide for our resident ranch dogs. Oliver belongs to Erica (runs the kids program) and John (chef) and here is his story:
Oliver is no ordinary ranch dog! He was was discovered at 2 weeks old on a beach off of the gulf of Thailand when Erica was still living and teaching in Bangkok. After raising him in the busy city of Bangkok, he soon became a beach bum in Florida for a few years. Once Erica met and married John, and relocated to Colorado, Oliver transitioned into the life of a rocky mountain dog! Oliver loves life as a ranch dog- he gets to go on long hikes in the beautiful forest, play in the plentiful snow, and chase after those pesky marmots. While Oliver is always working up an appetite at VVR, he remained a very picky eater.
It wasn’t until Honest Kitchen was introduced into his diet that he actually looked forward to his next meal. He now waits excitedly, wagging his tail, to be served when before he would have to bribed with all sorts of treats on top. Ollie cannot get enough of Honest Kitchen dog food and I have no doubt that this food will keep him healthy and happy!
Date: October 1st, 2013
When Stern Bloom Media partners David Bloom and Michael Stern take a break from the year-round heat of Miami, they pack up their ski gear and go west—this time, to Vista Verde near Steamboat Springs.
When the words “snow”, “mountains” and “Colorado” came out of Michael’s mouth, I thought, cool, you want to go skiing? But, when more words came, words like, horses, stables, and dude ranch—a flood of not-so-enticing images flashed through my mind: leathery-skinned cowboys, smelly horses, cold baked beans and freezing our butts off by the campfire in the middle of winter. No thanks!
He argued that this would be an adventure, an opportunity most people would never have. Plus, he added, what if you could enjoy the best of both worlds? What if we go downhill skiing for a few days and then spend a few more days at the dude ranch? He then directed me to some online reviews about this dude ranch (which turned-out not to be a dude ranch at all, but rather a luxury ranch resort) known as Vista Verde, near Steamboat Springs, Colorado.
I spent the next 10 minutes reading the reviews, 100 percent of which were positive. Endorsements such as Trip Advisor’s Certificate of Excellence, a Fodor’s Choice designation and the AAA Four Diamond Resort award only fueled my enthusiasm and intrigued me further. Vista Verde is an all-inclusive, year-round destination that caters to families, singles, couples, groups and clubs. I went from intrigued to excited in no time, so we switched gears and launched into the planning phase of our trip.
We decided to fly directly into Steamboat Springs’ Hayden Yampa Valley Airport (this proved to be a sound decision, because the alternative was to fly into Denver and drive four-plus hours to the property). We would then go straight into Steamboat Springs for a few days of downhill skiing, then head over to Vista Verde for another three days of serious outdoor adventures before returning home (there’s a limit to how much independence our loving wives allow us to enjoy at any given time). Once our bags were packed, we headed to Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, where we boarded a Southwest flight to Denver International; from there, we flew into Hayden Yampa Valley Airport, which is about 30 minutes away from Steamboat Springs. As promised, the good people of Vista Verde picked us up from the airport and drove us to our hotel in Steamboat Springs. (We stayed at the Steamboat Grand, which was right across the street from the ski lift. For more information visit steamboatgrand.com.)
After two fantastic days of skiing at Steamboat Springs, we were collected by the friendly people at Vista Verde in their SUV and driven to the ranch about 45 minutes away, pretty much in the middle of nowhere. But, what Michael and I came to learn very quickly is that this is exactly the point: to get away from the stresses of everyday life. A certain metamorphosis began the moment we crossed the threshold. For one, it’s a spectacle of natural beauty. Nestled at the base of the mountain, it encompasses over 560 acres in Clark County. And, because Vista Verde is a working ranch, there were beautiful horses everywhere. This place is so far removed from the big city that we were literally forced to unplug. Between limited cell phone and Internet access, and being connected to Mother Nature in such a pure way, it compelled us to relax and connect with the world in the way that it was probably originally intended by the higher powers.
We made it to the main house, where we were greeted warmly by our first names as if we were family, and that’s also how we were treated by everyone—not just staff, but also our fellow guests—throughout our stay. Our greeter took us on a tour of the ranch, which was somewhat of a surreal experience in that we didn’t see a single person on the duration of the tour even though the ranch can host up to 40 guests at any given time. Where was everybody? What had we signed up for? Well, something that called up memories of sleep-away camp as a kid, where the idea is to keep guests busy with planned activities throughout the day. Of course, all the guests were busy participating in one of Vista Verde’s many activities which range from horseback riding, cross-country skiing, yoga, photography, dog sledding, snowshoeing, backcountry skiing, sleigh rides, sledding and much more.
After our tour, we checked into our cabin, we expected a lot of wood and basic amenities. Well, there was a lot of wood, but the amenities were anything but basic. This place was nicer than most luxury hotel rooms. Inside were top-of-the-line appliances, high-quality furniture, a fridge stocked with beer, wine and snacks; we also had our own private hot tub overlooking the horse pasture. It felt like home, but nicer. The staff makes you feel so comfortable, it’s easy to forget where you are, and personal touches are everywhere—when you get a Vista Verde logo branded into your pancakes, you know they are all about exceeding the guests’ expectations. Speaking of food, the private chef cooks everything from scratch, and just as you expect and hope for on such a sojourn—but not necessarily from an all-inclusive experience—the offerings were all topnotch. It’s authentic western hospitality combined with the lodging industry’s highest standards at its finest—and oh yes, you get to go skiing. For more information about Vista Verde Guest Ranch, as well as its summer activities, visit vistaverde.com.
Date: September 24th, 2013
Howdy friends! Brandon here with another installment of The Fly Blog. To the loyal fans of this humble periodical (both of you), I apologize for the time that has passed since my last posting. I can only imagine the lengths to which you must have gone to fill your time in the absence of my musings. I suppose my best excuse is that we’ve just been so busy having a blast with our ranch guests on the water that I’ve neglected to share it with everyone.
As I now type, a raucous late-summer storm is pelting the fly shop’s roof with hail and raindrops that appear large enough to each fill a shot glass. It’s another in a string of rather refreshing storms we’ve been getting over the past couple weeks here. Not enough to slow us down or dampen spirits, but enough to keep both dude ranchers and fish happy.
So let’s get caught up on the fishing… As some of the nearby lakes and early-season hot spots began to taper off by late June, the Elk River heated up right on cue; and if I’m being honest I’d admit that I was sweating it a little bit. Springtime rapids mellowed nicely into summer flows and fish began showing up in their predictable places. While we waited for many of the fish to work their way back up to us – after last year’s drought conditions – Bubba and I had the opportunity to hunt out some lesser utilized fishing spots near the ranch. Initially this was carried out to bridge the gap while awaiting the Elk River to turn on, but we came across some really good water that made for great trips and some wonderful memories along the way. Stalking wary brook trout and cutthroats with two and three weight rods in the smaller waters of the South Fork of The Elk and the Middle Fork of the Little Snake became staple trips for us that guests looking for an adventure really enjoyed. By mid July the Elk River was in full swing with fish feeding readily on well presented grasshopper and stonefly patterns. In addition to The Elk and its tributaries, we’ve had a blast with some of our guests who booked private water on the Yampa River and the North Fork of the North Platte through our association with The Rocky Mountain Angling Club. Some truly exceptional trips and a chance to get out on some of Colorado’s best fly fishing properties!
Terrestrial patterns (hoppers, crickets, ants and beetles) are continuing to produce for us now, well into September, but will soon give way to late season mayfly hatches as we march our way into fall. Brown trout and brook trout are our two species that are fall spawners, as opposed to rainbows and cutthroats which spawn in the spring. I’m looking forward to targeting some larger-than-average brookies in the high mountain lakes this fall; their spawning colorations are really something to see!
We still have about a month left of fishing this season before turning things over into a snowy vacation destination. If the season thus far is any indicator of the remainder…bring it on! Hope to see you soon.
Date: September 15th, 2013
We know our horses are tough and will go for miles and miles. Although we all work hard at the ranch, there is no doubt the our equine staff members work the hardest. They carry our guests with a willing attitude and caring demeanor through the woods and over mountains. The horses that make up the Vista Verde remuda are special beings, and only those who can handle the hard work and have kind hearts can make the cut. Even though I know that, I got a great reminder of how hard they work when Faye sent me her Fitbit report for her week at the ranch. Maybe you use Fitbit for your own personal fitness assessment and goals. But DB the horse was the one being tracked during a week earlier this month.
As you can see, Faye and DB covered some ground while they were out playing in the Colorado mountains. We’re a little concerned about their lack of sleep, and wonder where the party was all night? In the barn? Chasing owls and coyotes in the pasture? But, more than anything we are glad to see no change in weight. You know the food around here…..sometimes the calories burned don’t quite offset the extra intake.
Next up is to put a GPS tracker on DB so we can map out all their adventures.
Date: September 11th, 2013
You may not think of dude ranch and romance in the same thought. But, besides the fact that I could go on and on about how a dude ranch vacation can be a really romantic vacation option, this post is not about guests enjoying a romantic getaway. It’s about the staff. Yes, those of you who have been here love to try to figure out what couples might have formed over the course of a season. With a group of young people all living and working together as well as sharing a love of serving people and being in nature, how could you expect a little romance to flair up every now and then? Yes, we preach to our staff professionalism and to be very careful getting emotionally involved with someone who you work with so closely. But we also celebrate the wonderful pairings that have come out of the ranch romances.
This summer, we celebrated two more marriages of VVR Alumni. Earlier in August, Cliff and Lindsay celebrated their marriage in Indiana with some other ranch alums attending the wedding. And just last weekend Eliza and Brett tied the knot in Vermont, also surrounded by some dear friends from the ranch.
It’s so exciting to see these two couples stepping into the next phase of their lives. We wish them all the best in their marriages and their lives ahead of them. They have become part of a special group of people who have found romance at this Colorado dude ranch. I’ve lost track of the count, but it’s close to 20 couples, and the babies…..I couldn’t even begin to start counting them. VVR Alum couples, please share your stories and updates with us in the comments section. I know there is at least one baby due soon in Idaho, but maybe even more on the way elsewhere?
Date: September 4th, 2013
One of the many joys of being at Vista Verde year-round is watching the seasons change each year. Every year the timing is a bit different due to the weather we have had and are having at that time. I find myself remembering differences in the various years based on how it ties in with various weeks at the ranch. For example, this fall I am reminding myself that during past years the fall colors are popping out already during our first cattle round-up week. This year they have been a little more shy and seem to be waiting for future weeks. Having said that, the lead up to the full explosion of colors is almost as exciting as the time when golden aspen leaves fall on the trail below our feet and hooves.
Prior to the trees changing, there are these subtle color shifts that occur in the forest. Our wonderful Jess captured some of these recently when she went out riding.
If you haven’t experience fall in Colorado you should run, not walk, to your computer and start planning that trip. It’s not the same as the East coast explosion of colors, but it is truly magnificent. Every year I am reminded and astonished by the beauty of the fall season. The angle of the sun shifts so the light is mystical, especially more so in the morning and evening hours. The colors are rich and the contrast with the beautiful blue sky is extreme. There is no better time to be out in the forest riding, hiking, biking or just sitting.
This is the time for adult only weeks and now we are starting our cattle round-up outings. It’s so fun to watch couples enjoy a romantic getaway or a group of girlfriends share laughter on their special time together. But, aside from the stunning scene playing out in the forest what we love the most is the sound of joy. My good friend gave me that term last week as she described the noise in the dining room one night. It was loud. And it was joy.
Plan your trip. Book that ticket. Even if you aren’t coming to Vista Verde for your fall getaway, get yourself out to Colorado! But, I will mention that we do still have a little space during the first two weeks in October…..the colors may be starting to fade but the beauty of fall in Colorado will still be surrounding us at the ranch.
Date: August 29th, 2013
Recently it struck me that we aren’t very good at letting our guests know about the healthy and/or local products that we mix into our offerings at the ranch. We do make an effort to support local businesses as much as possible, and we do continuously look at what we are serving our guests to try to find healthy options for them. So, I sat down to make a list and decided there is no better time than the present to share that list with you.
- The cabin amenities are all locally made by Steamboat Soap Company. Soap, shampoo, conditioner, body wash and lotion. We love this company, and their sister company Ranch Organics!
- All our coffee comes from the Colorado coffee roaster the Steaming Bean.
- Many ranches ship their horse hay in from the cheapest location. We proudly support a fellow ranch family just 10 miles down the road by purchasing from them the 225+ tons of hay that we use to get through the winter.
- Love those eggs? That’s because they are cage free and organic.
- And the dairy products? Yep. Organic (hormone free) milk, butter and yogurts are all out on our buffet.
- The fresh and tasty lettuce and greens are all organic.
- Bacon! It may not be good for you, but at least all our pork product is locally processed heritage breed Berkshire pork.
- Fresh made breads with organically grown wheat flours.
- When in season Colorado peaches, corn and lamb.
- Sustainably sourced, line caught fish and shellfish.
- Of course, we can’t overlook the greens and herbs from Bill’s garden right behind the kitchen!