November 2010

Dude Ranch Conventions?

I tend to break to news to people that I am attending a dude ranch convention with a little bit of a chuckle. It’s not that it’s a joke- we really have these 2 times a year! But it’s watching people’s reaction that makes me laugh. A what? Like, a bunch of dude ranchers sitting around talking about horses? Well, um, yes, that’s kind of what it is. But we also talk about marketing, labor laws, operational issues, insurance and other scintillating topics related to running a dude ranch operation. And we have some fun too. I have been heavily involved in the Colorado Dude Ranch Association, sitting on the board for the past 7 years or so. It’s an amazing group of people with whom I get to share a passion for dude ranching in Colorado. I’ve been looking forward to this meeting because after years of heading up the marketing committee and then serving as President of the Association, I am stepping down. There is still one more year on my term, but I just get to attend board meetings as Past President and carry very little responsibility. Time to spend more time focusing on Vista Verde Ranch instead of all the Colorado dude ranches!

Even better, I had to drive over Rabbit Ears Pass to get to the meeting on Sunday. With snow swirling all around, I left a little early and stopped and skied for the first time of the season on the pass. For me, getting out and playing in the snow is what it takes for me to fully embrace winter. Snow is great when you get to have fun in it! And I’m hoping that we wrap up early enough today that I can do the same as I head back to Steamboat. It’s turning into winter wonderland here. I know many of you enjoyed that gorgeous picture from the Vista Verde pond that I put on Facebook the other day, so here are a few more.

I’ll take a lap on the ski trail today for all of you dreaming of winter!

The Sounds of Snow

As I woke up to new snow this morning, it got me thinking about the different sounds of snow. Snow make sounds you ask? Yes, there are definitely different sounds with different snow.

Today’s snow is typical of early or late season snow. Sloppy, wet, mushy. Car tires splash around in it, it makes the ground underneath muddy and messy. The heavy, wet snow weighs down the trees and snaps power lines. It’s a necessary snow as we need it to get our base going, but it’s not the most enjoyable snow.

Then you have quiet snow. The kind that just fluffs under your feet, the car almost makes no noise as you drive over it, and you almost feel like you have earplugs in as the sounds of the valley are muffled when this snow falls.

Closely related to that quiet snow is the famous champagne powder snow. This stuff is often followed by a crystal clear, cold day. Everything is magnified with this snow, and every time you take a step it makes a poof sound and snow puffs up around you. Light, fluffy, ideal for skiing and playing, but not so great for snowman building. The snowflakes are huge and beautiful.

Last up on my sounds of snow is the cold snow. This snow is like diamonds, glittering and shining as it falls out of the sky. It comes on days when it is so cold the snow doesn’t get a chance to make big snowflakes, just freezes in tiny little flakes. The trees sparkle as the sun rises and shines on the snow. The sound is crunchy. Whether you are riding a horse, driving a car or walking around every time you make a move the new snow crunches.

If you’re headed for a beach this winter, you’re going to miss out on experiencing one of these kinds of snow sounds. It’s a magical world out at Vista Verde in the winter. Breathtaking. As long as you have the right gear, playing in whatever kind of snow you get is an amazing winter vacation experience.

LA Times – November 2010

Taking the Kids to a Ranch This Winter – by Eileen Ogintz Tribune Media Services

It’s a great place to introduce the kids to snow, adventure — and avoid ski resort crowds
Vista Verde Ranch

I’m floating over five feet of snow in the wilderness on skis that are slightly fatter than traditional cross-country skis.

This isn’t the kind of skiing where a snowcat takes you up a ski slope so you can ski down in deep powder as fast as you can.

Nor is this the kind of back-country experience my kids enjoy where you sling your skis on your back and hike up the mountain for the glory of skiing down — “working for your turns,” as they call it.

Vista Verde Ranch (www.vistaverde.com), 25 miles north of Steamboat Springs on some 560 pristine acres at 7,800 feet above sea level, is a place to literally slow down and enjoy the scenery from the back of a horse or on snowshoes or backcountry skis away from crowds and cars.

It’s also a good place to introduce kids to snow, if you aren’t sure how they’ll take to a major ski resort like Steamboat an hour’s drive away.

Atlanta grandparents Bill and Sally Smith brought their daughter, son-in-law and three grandchildren from Atlanta for a few days for just that reason. They expected to go over to Steamboat to downhill ski part of the time, “But we never made it. We were having too much fun,” said Bill.

“The kids loved every bit of it and didn’t want to leave,” he said, after the younger members of the family had departed.

Vista Verde Ranch has just nine well-appointed log cabins, each named for a surrounding mountain. Ours is called Farwell. Think wood-burning stoves, oh-so-comfy beds with patchwork quilts, deck hot tubs and astounding mountain views.

Of course, none of this comes cheap. Figure on more than $1,300 a night for a family of four all-inclusive, though there are much less expensive deals if you choose your dates wisely. (Come Jan. 2 to March 12 and pay regular rate for the first two guests and half off for additional ones.)

And if you don’t want all of the guided excursions, rates start at $195 a person, including meals, equipment and evening programs. At a major ski resort you could spend more without the personal attention.

There is room for just 45 guests; today there are just about 20 of us. There’s a new main log lodge with a huge fireplace that seems to invite you to stretch out on the big couches, as well as a new indoor arena — to help teach riding (there are 90 horses here).

“It has gotten used 10 times more than we expected,” said Peggy Throgmartin, who, along with her husband, has owned the ranch for the last four years.

“This is my husband’s dream since he was seven,” said Peggy, adding that it took till they were in their 50s to make it happen — here at Vista Verde Ranch. Throgmartin, scion of an Indiana family business now in its fourth generation, and his wife searched all over the West for the right place to serve as a gathering place for their own three grown children.

“We are a very close family and we wanted a place where the family would want to come. That was a big factor,” she said. “As soon as we drove up the driveway, we knew this was the place.”

The three young teens we’re traveling with were a bit more skeptical at first wondering if they’d be bored without downhill snow sports. I’m traveling with my cousins Carl and Dana Weinberg and their two kids, as well as another friend and her teenage son. We opted to try the ranch for a couple of days in the middle of a 10-day ski trip.

Maddie King, 11, whose parents oversee the activities, is convinced a kid would be crazy not to love the place. “It is a ball to get out in nature and have snow all over you,” she says. There’s nothing better either than having a snowcat pull you back up the hill you’ve just sledded down. Sledding, Maddie declares, is her favorite thing to do on the ranch.

True to her word, our teens perk up immediately. Because the ranch is all-inclusive, there are drinks and snacks in the cabin fridge — and the kids have their pick of activities, not to mention cookies. I love that for a few days, the only decisions we have to make is whether we want to ski or snowshoe or whether we want fish or lamb for dinner. (Or whether the kids want to eat with us or with the other kids.)

We spend the morning in the backcountry touring on skis, through the trees in the deep snow on National Forest land that surrounds the ranch. We end up at an ice cave built by local school children. So quiet! So beautiful!

“Nothing better than being outside on a day like this,” says our enthusiastic guide, Jeff Ballantyne, who spends summers fighting fires with the U.S. Forest Service.

He gestures to the fresh snow, the quivering Aspens, the sun trying unsuccessfully to peak through the clouds as the snow continues to fall. There are 30 guest ranches in Colorado but Vista Verde is just one of a handful that is open in winter and summer. For more information on ranches, visit www.duderanch.org.

One afternoon, we go out horseback riding — good thing we were dressed warmly. We take a tour of the ranch, past the original cabin built by homesteaders early on in the 20th century. It’s snowing gently; the air is cold and fresh. We’re limited to a narrow trail that the ranch staff has blown out for the horses, but I don’t mind the lazy pace. We mosey along happily.

The place forces you to get unplugged — there is Wi-Fi, but cell service is spotty. We go deep in the backcountry to snowshoe or ski where we won’t see another soul. Another plus: This is a safe place where kids can have some freedom and try new things — with or without their parents by their side.

The atmosphere is conducive to making new friends too, whether you’re nine or 49. All of the kids ate dinner together and then watched a movie while the adults shared a large table and an impressive meal that included tamales, guinea hen with rice pilaf, Napoleons filled with peanut butter pastry cream and an assortment of sorbets.

The good news: We’ll work off the calories snowshoeing tomorrow. The other good news: The teens are smiling.

View from Matt’s Fly Rod

Chef Matt popped into the Lodge for a while today and we chatted a bit about his fishing tales in addition to ranch related culinary items of course! As he was talking, I realized that he should really share some of these stories with you, so here is a guest blog from Chef Matt Campbell.

Hey there Steph,

Sorry I missed you before you left today. I was a little busy landing a 23 inch rainbow when you honked your horn!!! This is the biggest rainbow I have ever caught on the elk and the second biggest fish I have caught period. What a rush! Here is a picture of a nice brookie I landed earlier in the afternoon.

Fishing has been better than ever on the Elk for fall time. Fish are really aware of the coming winter especially after that cold spell. Fall fishing for me is the time of light tippet, flawless presentations, and offering big meals to hungry aggressive fish fattening up for the winter. Sometimes a big meal is just to hard for fish to pass up this time of year. In the fall fish tend to leave there homes in the runs and riffles of a freestone river and stack up in the larger deep holes. Fish can be very easily spooked so stealthiness is more important than ever with low water levels and extremely clear water. This time of year I use fluorocarbon tippet especially on sunny days where regular tippet can refract light and spook fish. During the fall I concentrate on stone fly nymphs, baetis, and streamer patterns for fly choices on the elk, but anything has the potential to work. The patterns of choice for this week were size 14 to 16 golden stones, and a baetis version of the always popular pheasant tail nymph is sizes 18 to 20.

After a recent trip to Yellowstone National Park and then to a fly fishing guide school in Livingston Montana I feel especially in tuned to what fish want and where they are located. At the school I was exposed to running drift boats and jet boats, advanced fly casting, fly tying, essential knots, wilderness first aid, reading water, mock guiding practices, jet boat maintenance and many other valuable skills. I don’t know if I would ever be a full time guide but all the skills acquired should really help me to excel in one of my other passions in life next to cooking and wine.
The food picture is a little outdoor gourmet cooking I whipped up on my road trip. It was a maple glazed pork cutlet with seared plums, garlic mashed potatoes and sugar snap peas (refined version coming to you soon on a Vista Verde menu).

As for wine some of my recent favorites are Gruet sparkling wines out of New Mexico which rival many traditional French champagne but without the hefty price tag. (the Blanc De Noir is especially delicious) Another good one which some of you may have tried in the wine tasting is Catena Vineyards entry level Malbec which is exceptional for the price. There Catena Alta Malbec is really nice as well if you want to try some of there higher end wines. There Chardonnay and Cab is also tasty but the Malbec is at the front of the pack. Another great wine to try is the Magness Merlot brought to you by the Napa Valley community college. The wines by Magness are of exceptional quality and value. Many of their grapes are being sourced from high end vineyard sights throughout Napa that can go for substantially more under different labels. All of these wines are great choices for everyday drinking wines that pair well with food or can be enjoyed alone.

I look forward to seeing you all this winter and getting to chat more.
Executive Chef
Matt Campbell

Examiner.com – October 2010

A Steak Ride in Autumn: A Vista Verde Ranch Review by Lori Guinn

My horse, DB, struggled a little to regain his footing as we climbed up a rocky path through the vivid purple, orange, gold and rusty brown leaves. DB found a sturdy foothold and hoisted us both up to the more level dirt path above, then began a confident saunter behind our guide. I found myself in the unusual place of feeling both awe at the nearly sensory-overload of my breath-taking surroundings and an extreme inner peace I would have expected more from a week in a monastery than a horse ride through the mountains.

It is not surprising that guests travel from Europe and other places around the globe to visit Vista Verde, a luxury guest ranch near Steamboat Springs, Colorado. It also follows that Vista Verde’s guests tend to be iron-clad loyal—it seemed that nearly every guest I spoke with began his or her story with, “This will be our… (How long has it been, Honey?) … our tenth year visiting so far.” The ranch’s location is ideal and its staff, accommodations and food are outstanding.

The rustic, down-home ambiance is tempered by the quality of lodging and gourmet food. The most striking observation I made though, in my two wonderful visits so far, is the camaraderie between everyone here—staff to guest, guest to staff, staff to staff, and guest to guest. The Steak Ride is the perfect example of this.

As our horses neared the elaborate outdoor kitchen set up especially for the Steak Ride, I noticed I could just see the cluster of cabins and common buildings that comprise the main ranch area. From my viewpoint, they seemed to be huddled in the valley, but not dwarfed by the magnificence around them. The buildings fit—they belong here.

Guests came trotting in a few at a time and the staff offered us wine, homemade lemonade and shrimp cocktail as an appetizer. The smell drifting over from the grills nearly made us all melt–I can’t ever remember feeling so hungry in my life. We sat ourselves on long picnic tables and talked to keep our minds off of the yumminess soon to come. At Vista Verde, the staff members and guests mingle like a close family at a much-anticipated reunion. After lots of chatting, the dinner bell rang and we all got in line to dish up. The marinated steak was covered in an herb butter sauce, but would have still been stellar without it. All the sides that come to mind while thinking of cowboy grub were laid out, including corn that tasted like it was picked at its peak a half an hour earlier. For dessert, I managed to fit a homemade peach cobbler in my extra dessert stomach. Heaven. For entertainment, Ben’s dog kept a piece of juicy cow on his nose while we all marveled. The wonder dog became a salivating statue until he was finally given the okay to wolf it down.

After dinner, the staff stayed to clean up and a few guides took us on horseback at a relaxed, casual pace back to the ranch. I gave DB lots of love pats and let him know I appreciated that he did all the work and I had all the fun. Back at the ranch, the horses were put to bed and the people party began at the lodge. The ballad singing, story-telling and a slide-show presentation of the week’s activities put everyone in a great mood. After the party, I capped the night off with a pampering soak in my cabin’s hot tub while admiring the night sky. I can pass along from personal experience–you haven’t truly admired Earth’s view of space until you’ve seen every last square inch of black sky sprinkled in stars. I can also recommend the perfect spot for everything from a horse ride to star-gazing—Vista Verde Ranch in Colorado.

Please visit Vista Verde online for more information or to book an all-inclusive stay.

Examiner’s Note: Thank you, thank you, thank you Stephanie of Vista Verde, for suggesting this visit. I would also like to thank Dace, Ben, the rest of the staff and the person who grilled my steak.

OutsideAdventureGuide.com – November 2010

Thanks to www.OutsideAdventureGuide.com for including us in this story!

Visit a Cross-Country Ski Resort for a Winter Vacation

This winter, take a cross-country ski vacation at a scenic mountain resort or ranch for the perfect winter trip. The following destination cross-country ski vacations offer excellent accommodations, delicious dining options along with an abundance of winter activities such as snowshoeing, sledding, sleigh rides, snowmobiling and nearby downhill skiing. These winter recreation vacations are perfect for the entire family or as a romantic getaway.

Vista Verde Ranch

Vista Verde Ranch offers an all-inclusive resort ranch and cross country skiing vacation near Steamboat Springs in Colorado. The accommodations and dining are excellent, the scenery is stunning and all your winter activities are outside your door. Classic or skate ski on 30km of groomed trails. Other winter activities include snowshoeing, backcountry skiing, sleigh rides and sledding. For downhill enthusiasts, ski or ride at nearby Steamboat Ski Resort.

Madison.com – November 2010

A Ranch in Winter by Eileen Ogintz
Think four-wheel drive — on skis.

I’m floating over five feet of snow in the wilderness on skis that are slightly fatter than traditional cross-country skis.

This isn’t the kind of skiing where a snowcat takes you up a ski slope so you can ski down in deep powder as fast as you can. Nor is this the kind of backcountry experience my kids enjoy where you sling your skis on your back and hike up the mountain for the glory of skiing down — “working for your turns,” as they call it.

Vista Verde Ranch (www.vistaverde.com), 25 miles north of Steamboat Springs on some 560 pristine acres at 7,800 feet above sea level, is a place to literally slow down and enjoy the scenery from the back of a horse or on snowshoes or backcountry skis away from crowds and cars. It’s also a good place to introduce kids to snow, if you aren’t sure how they’ll take to a major ski resort like Steamboat (www.steamboat.com) an hour’s drive away.

Atlanta grandparents Bill and Sally Smith brought their daughter, son-in-law and three grandchildren from Atlanta for a few days for just that reason. They expected to go over to Steamboat to downhill ski part of the time, “But we never made it. We were having too much fun,” said Bill. “The kids loved every bit of it and didn’t want to leave,” he said, after the younger members of the family had departed.

Vista Verde Ranch has just nine well-appointed log cabins, each named for a surrounding mountain. Ours is called Farwell. (Think wood-burning stoves, oh-so-comfy beds with patchwork quilts, deck hot tubs and astounding mountain views.)

Of course, none of this comes cheap. Figure on more than $1,300 a night for a family of four all-inclusive, though there are much less expensive deals if you choose your dates wisely. (Come Jan. 2 to March 12 and pay regular rate for the first two guests and half off for additional ones.)

And if you don’t want all of the guided excursions, rates start at $195 a person, including meals, equipment and evening programs. At a major ski resort you could spend more without the personal attention. (Mention Taking the Kids and get an additional $50 off. The B&B rates work the same for the kids — first two people at rack rate, additional guests 1/2 off.)

There is room for just 45 guests; today there are just about 20 of us. There’s a new main log lodge with a huge fireplace that seems to invite you to stretch out on the big couches, as well as a new indoor arena — to help teach riding (there are 90 horses here). “It has gotten used 10 times more than we expected,” said Peggy Throgmartin, who, along with her husband, has owned the ranch for the last four years.

“This is my husband’s dream since he was seven,” said Peggy, adding that it took till they were in their 50s to make it happen — here at Vista Verde Ranch. Throgmartin, scion of an Indiana family business now in its fourth generation, and his wife searched all over the West for the right place to serve as a gathering place for their own three grown children. “We are a very close family and we wanted a place where the family would want to come. That was a big factor,” she said. “As soon as we drove up the driveway, we knew this was the place.”

The three young teens we’re traveling with were a bit more skeptical at first wondering if they’d be bored without downhill snow sports. I’m traveling with my cousins Carl and Dana Weinberg and their two kids, as well as another friend and her teenage son. We opted to try the ranch for a couple of days in the middle of a 10-day ski trip.

Maddie King, 11, whose parents oversee the activities, is convinced a kid would be crazy not to love the place. “It is a ball to get out in nature and have snow all over you,” she says. There’s nothing better either than having a snowcat pull you back up the hill you’ve just sledded down. Sledding, Maddie declares, is her favorite thing to do on the ranch.

True to her word, our teens perk up immediately. Because the ranch is all-inclusive, there are drinks and snacks in the cabin fridge — and the kids have their pick of activities, not to mention cookies. I love that for a few days, the only decisions we have to make is whether we want to ski or snowshoe or whether we want fish or lamb for dinner. (Or whether the kids want to eat with us or with the other kids.)

We spend the morning in the backcountry touring on skis, through the trees in the deep snow on National Forest land that surrounds the ranch. We end up at an ice cave built by local school children. So quiet! So beautiful!

“Nothing better than being outside on a day like this,” says our enthusiastic guide, Jeff Ballantyne, who spends summers fighting fires with the U.S. Forest Service. He gestures to the fresh snow, the quivering Aspens, the sun trying unsuccessfully to peak through the clouds as the snow continues to fall. There are 30 guest ranches in Colorado but Vista Verde is just one of a handful that is open in winter and summer. (For more information on ranches, visit www.duderanch.org).

One afternoon, we go out horseback riding — good thing we were dressed warmly. We take a tour of the ranch, past the original cabin built by homesteaders early on in the 20th century. It’s snowing gently; the air is cold and fresh. We’re limited to a narrow trail that the ranch staff has blown out for the horses, but I don’t mind the lazy pace. We mosey along happily.

The place forces you to get unplugged — there is Wi-Fi, but cell service is spotty. We go deep in the backcountry to snowshoe or ski where we won’t see another soul. Another plus: This is a safe place where kids can have some freedom and try new things — with or without their parents by their side.

The atmosphere is conducive to making new friends too, whether you’re nine or 49. All of the kids ate dinner together and then watched a movie while the adults shared a large table and an impressive meal that included tamales, guinea hen with rice pilaf, Napoleons filled with peanut butter pastry cream and an assortment of sorbets.

The good news: We’ll work off the calories snowshoeing tomorrow. The other good news: The teens are smiling.

For more on Eileen’s winter Colorado adventure, read her trip diary at www.takingthekids.com and also follow “taking the kids” on www.twitter.com, where Eileen Ogintz welcomes your questions and comments.

Ramblings from around the Ranch

Exciting things are happening here this week. The cement was poured for the patio of the pool on Tuesday (at right), the cabinets are going into Big Agnes and Little Agnes, the carpet was laid in Sand and Saddle and the list goes on and on. Besides all the hustle and bustle of the construction we are all busy getting geared up for the winter season. Steve and Kelli are up in the Adventure Center today getting the skis and snowshoes out from summer storage. Terry and Reid are working on getting all the foals registered with the American Quarter Horse Association, so a little office time for them in between working horses. Ben and Nathan are shuttling our fleet of Ranch Suburbans in and out from Steamboat for servicing. And I kept Bill busy this morning picking out bedding ensembles for some updates in the cabins. He wasn’t thrilled to spend his time doing that, but the guy has great taste!

We all though the snow we got last week was the start of winter, but beautiful weather came back this week and we are once again enjoying sunshine and blue skies. Soon enough we’ll be covered with snow, so we’ll take this fall weather for a little longer. As long as we’re fully blanketed by mid-December for opening day of our winter guest ranch season, all of us are happy!