Winter Guest Ranches- Wild Blue Yonder
By Gigi Ragland | January 1, 2011
Escape the crowds packed into the mountain towns and ski hills at one of our select guest ranches in the Rockies. The horses may be boarded up for the season, but the snow adds a whole new dimension to the adventures available. Think backcountry or cross-country skiing, snowshoeing or even sledding through the near empty wilderness followed by savory meals served next to a roaring fire.
VISTA VERDE RANCH
31100 Seedhouse Rd, 970-879-3858
Buried deep inside the Routt National Forest, the Vista Verde morphs into a cross-country ski area each winter with 30 kilometers of groomed tracks, but it’s better known for backcountry skiing at “Hole in the Wall” a local’s favorite. Three square meals a day keep you fueled both day and night; moonlit cross-country skiing, snowshoeing or horseback rides are on the docket.
Feel like staying inside? At executive chef Matt Campbell’s weekly cooking class, guests enjoy one-on-one instruction preparing dishes such as salmon or lamb for the evening’s meal. Chef Campbell also hosts a weekly wine tasting for guests.
C LAZY U RANCH
3640 Hwy 125, 970-887-3344
Since opening in 1919, this legendary ranch and its five-star service has attracted generations of guests. And when the Colorado River valley’s blanketed with snow, the C Lazy U breaks out a buffet of winter activities to take advantage of its 8,200-acre spread of mountains, meadows and commanding views of the Continental Divide. There’s snow-cat skiing, pond skating, backcountry and cross-country skiing, tubing, sledding and snowshoeing.
Guests cozy up in their own cabins, but meet in the main lodge where chef John Adams creates and hones his “Colorado meets the Mediterranean” plates. A flavorful example: an appetizer of duck confit and Colorado goat cheese crostini.
LONE MOUNTAIN RANCH
Big Sky, Montana
750 Lone Mountain Ranch Rd, 406-995-4644
The 90 kilometers of cross-country ski trails that snake over and around the foothills of 11,166-foot Lone Peak have earned Lone Mountain the distinction of being called the best Nordic ski resort in the country. And that doesn’t even take into account the available backcountry ski touring available in nearby Yellowstone National Park.
The ranch’s success does owe much to the terrain, but its loyal guests also swear by chef Ian Troxler’s menu. Troxler believes in going straight to the source to get the best local products available. As a result, guests enjoy organic cheeses, naturally raised beef steaks, bison tenderloin, elk sausage, smoked rainbow trout, farm-raised pheasant and all manner of organic garden vegetables.
The epitome of a Lone Ranch meal is the North Fork Sleigh Ride Dinner where draft horses pull diners up to a log cabin lit by kerosene lamps and a dinner of prime rib cooked over a wood-fired stove awaits.
54880 County Rd 129, 970-879-1780
Every winter, this Relais & Chateaux luxury dude ranch turns into a cross-country ski resort with 25 kilometers of groomed tracks spread over its 500 acres in the Elk River Valley. If that’s too tame, the ranch provides guided backcountry trips into the Routt National Forest next door.
Mountain splendor aside, what really sets Home Ranch apart are its 3- to 5-course gourmet meals ranging from filet mignon to lobster tails paired with fine wines designed by executive chef Clyde Nelson. Locals in nearby Steamboat Springs refer to Home Ranch as one of the finest “restaurants” in the area, one open only to guests.