February 2011

Associatedcontent.com – February 2011

The Five Most Romantic Ski Lodges in the West by Rebecca Bredholt

If your normal choice of venue for ski trips is sharing a vacation rental or condo, but you would like to try something more romantic this year, check out one of these lodges for a new wintry experience.

Compiling lists like these is not easy, though. Even getting men and women to agree on a romantic skiing vacation can be futile. Based on a combination of personal experience, research and user reviews, here’s my best recommendation for couples planning a snow covered escape.

Rustic Romance: When it comes to rustic equaling authentic, New Mexico’s Bavarian Lodge cannot be beat. Named one of Travel + Leisure magazine’s most romantic getaways in 2010, this Taos Valley venue features hand carved Swiss moldings and waitresses wearing lederhosen. Their King Ludwig Suite, named after the Bavarian king, has its own balcony with unobstructed views of Kachina Bowl. The best part is the marble covered bathroom with a large Jacuzzi soaking tub – perfect for relaxing after a day on the slopes. Some of the smaller rooms’ décor may border on Disney-esque, but the German food has many visitors coming back for more.

Modern Romance: Aspen already has a lot going for it. Not only is it in the top 10 most romantic cities on TripAdvisor, but it’s also home to The Little Nell, which most couples rank as the second most romantic spot. This five-star hotel offers the only ski in/ski out amenity in the area and is ranked on Condé Nast Traveler’s esteemed Gold List as one of the nation’s top ski resorts. But back to the romance, this 92 room resort makes every couple feel special by offering services like unpacking your luggage and sprinkling the room in rose petals while lighting scented candles. Va-va-voom! You can also get an in-room massage for two or enjoy the heated outdoor pool. If you do happen to venture out, some of the nation’s best slopes await!

Luxurious Romance: If you think surrounding yourself with a cadre of international guests in a $16.5 million dollar exclusive resort in the Grand Teton National Park is romantic, then look no further. Where else can you find a 35-meter pool in the mountains? Located a short, free shuttle drive to the Jackson Hole slopes is this once-in-a-lifetime resort. The panoramic views from 7,000 feet are pretty nice from any angle at this seven acre property – including the one from the private soaking tub in your room. Most of the suites are around 600 to 700 square feet, have woven cow hide chairs and a large window seat. The web site doesn’t mention any packages because at this level of luxury, if you ask for something, they will get it for you – including dog sledding and a sleigh ride to what might be the best dinner of your life. (I saw this massive structure being built when I was there in 2004. It really looks like a celebrity escape.)

Intimate Romance: What might be the best kept secret in Steamboat Springs, Colorado is now out of the bag! Vista Verde Ranch is a small, hidden all-inclusive resort with a gorgeous lobby and outstanding user reviews. The best part? An equestrian program even non-horse people would love. Seriously. They had me at horseback riding in the snow! (full moon and star lit sky optional.) “We have more honeymooners and romantic getaways booked this winter than ever before,” says Stephanie Wilson, who represents the Ranch. Maybe it’s their candle light dinners or the fact that you can have your own private hot tub, or it could be the personalized attention each of their 40 guest rooms receives. Either way, there are only positive things to say about Vista Verde Ranch.

Historic Romance: A child of Roosevelt’s New Deal policies during the Great Depression, Timberline Lodge is a piece of history perched 6,000 feet up in a remote region of Oregon’s Mount Hood. Their new deal for you includes Valentine’s dinner specials and a Wine Maker’s Dinner, a six-course culinary adventure with pairings. Timberline is the state’s only ski in/ski out resort, but before you go, ask about having champagne and truffles placed in your room an additional charge. Just keep in mind that users have noted how sound travels from room to room, but the views here are some of the most spectacular in the West.

Since romance is so personalized, if I’ve left off a resort you think should have been included, let me know.

Dude Ranch stories that make me laugh

When you spend a lot of time with people, there are always funny stories. People are just funny, whether it’s intentional or not. I always think we should write a book about the life and times of a dude ranch. But, I can’t usually remember them long enough. With that in mind, I made a few notes from this winter as events unfolded and funny things happened.

If you’re expecting some earth shattering expose of a well known guest, it’s not happening here. But here are some of the things that have made me laugh as I’ve walked through the dude ranch world this winter:

Note from a guest to the housekeepers: We couldn’t find the moose. Would you please not hide it so well tonight?

Compliment to the chef: Laura walked up to me after breakfast one morning and told me she needed to show me something to share with Chef Matt. What was it that she wanted to show me? She lifted up her shirt a little and pointed to her pant button, that wouldn’t close.

VFB- One of our long time loyal guests Danny blew out his knee just weeks before his scheduled time at the ranch. Being the die-hard that he is, he decided that he might as well recuperate at the ranch rather than sitting around his house. So they came anyway. During his stay, he needed a stool in his cabin so he could elevate his knee. Bill Backer, our quiet and behind the scenes jack of all trades whipped one up really quickly and brought it by. I got an email from Danny later telling me he just had one of the best experiences of his 10 plus years at the ranch: A VFB. What? He explained that meant a Visit From Bill. In fact, he said he thought he might try to break something so Bill would have to come back. First of all, it’s funny that at a dude ranch I’m getting an email from a guest in one of our cabins. But even better is that Danny gave us a new acronym and reminded all of us that even the elusive Bill can make a Vista Verde Ranch stay better. We need to get him out more!

Money back guarantees: Another first this winter..I had a potential guest who was interested in speaking with some folks who had been to the ranch before. So I put him in touch with a few families. Joe, one of the guests he spoke with sent me an email to let me know they had talked. At that time he also told me that he had given the potential guest a money back guarantee on his stay. He didn’t say the ranch would give him his money back, he said he would! Seriously!

So, there are some of my more funny moments from this winter at our dude ranch. There have been plenty more as I laugh out loud on a daily basis. Some of you make me laugh when you call and book and are so excited that you’re screaming (Kathleen and Christine, I’m talking about you) and most of you just make me laugh with your stories and antics while you’re here. It’s so fun to be around wonderful people every day here at Vista Verde. I hope you can come out and create some funny memories sometime too!

Roadtripsforcouples.com – February 2011

Visit a Guest Ranch on Valentine’s Day or Anytime!
February 10, 2011

Our guest post comes from Jody Dahl who grew up on a ranch and currently owns a Montana guest ranch. Feedback from guests and research on hundreds of ranches led her to create Top50Ranches– a resource for travelers worldwide featuring a select collection of ranches that have met established criteria.

Valentine’s Day – you couldn’t miss it if you tried (unless, of course, you’re a man)! It’s the only time of year when storefronts can get away with cramming in heart-shaped- everything in more shades of red and pink than should legally go in one space; when grown men with giant teddy bears casually slung under their arms make strolling down the sidewalk a major hazard.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m all about the cliche and, if I’m honest, pretty partial to a good bit of red/pink clashing as well. But, let’s face it, there’s a better way of saying those three little words than plastered on a giant chocolate heart. You guessed it: a dude ranch vacation. Ladies, it’s time to start dropping hints. Fellas, it’s time to start picking ‘em up!

There are, as always, plenty of dude ranch vacations to peruse on Top 50 Ranches, but some stand out as ideal for couples looking for a romantic western getaway

They say the way to a girl’s heart is through her stomach (very true in my case!) and with this in mind, The Ranch at Rock Creek should be on your shortlist of dude ranch vacations. Seasonal ingredients and ranch-raised meat are the key to the gourmet meals served up here. Add a candle and a cozy corner in The Granite Lodge, and what could be a more romantic setting? I can just see myself musing over the events of the day over a Bison Rib Roast caramelized beautifully and paired with red wine demi glace.

Satisfied that a ranch’s dining meets my stomach’s exacting standards, the next place I look when choosing a suitable dude ranch vacation is the ‘reviews’ page. After all, there’s nothing like an impartial opinion to give you a real insight into what to expect. I hit the jackpot when I come across Triple Creek Ranch – ranked #1 resort by Travel & Leisure! This dude ranch’s rustic, fireplace-equipped log cabins and gourmet dinners sound ideal for a romantic escape with more than a smattering of luxury. A sneaky glance at the dude ranch’s dining and I’m sold – chocolate treats and wine pairings over a candlelit dinner, plus the option of extravagant chocolate lover’s buffet will do quite nicely!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not totally obsessed with food, but you can’t deny there’s nothing quite like cooking with your partner. If you’re a foodie couple, take a look at Triple Creek’s cooking weekends. With classes such as wine pairing, dessert prep and basic technique, this is the ultimate culinary Valentine’s escape.

Now there’s nothing better than sharing a memorable, once-in-a-lifetime experience with your other half. As a bit of an adventure seeker, I’d jump at the chance to take a heli-tour over Glacier and Yellowstone, something offered by The Ranch at Rock Creek.

For me, a working ranch would always be my first choice over any other type of ranch vacation, simply because of its authentic nature – but stumbling across Tod Mountain Ranch, I feel I could be converted… This small and exclusive ranch, hidden in the Louis Creek Valley and surrounded by forested mountains, is a dude ranch with a difference. Privacy and relaxation are practically mandatory here – if you’re looking for the ultimate in luxury accommodations and a focus on riding, then this adult-oriented dude ranch is the vacation spot for you.

If you’ve got a family, you’ll know all about structure and schedule – great for getting the kids to bed, but not so much when you’re taking a dude ranch vacation without the little ones! Want to rediscover your spontaneous side? Then try a dude ranch like Free Rein, where you get the opportunity to do just that – have free reign! Head to British Columbia’s Free Rein in the summer time and bathe in secluded lakes, picnic by the shoreline or simply enjoy a snooze in the shade in peaceful, tranquil surroundings. And if you feel like hopping in the saddle, there’s ample opportunity to improve your riding skills in the arena or venture out on the trail.

Busy parents? Try a little role reversal and have someone answering to your beck and call 24/7 – head to Vista Verde, where there’s an almost-too-good-to-be-true 1:1 guest to staff ratio! Everything is catered to exactly what you want to do – from the arena riding to the fine dining. To really escape the demands of family life, visit in September – it’s adult-only month and a beautiful time of year to boot!

There’s no better person to crack open a bottle of the finest vino with than your partner, and wine buffs can taste some of California’s finest at Alisal Guest Ranch. Nestled in the beautiful Santa Ynez Valley and the renowned Santa Barbara County wine country, this working cattle and guest ranch was voted one of the Top 10 Guest Ranches in the US by Travel & Leisure, and Sunset Magazine named it one of the Top Guest Ranches in California. Couples shouldn’t be put off by this ranch’s high capacity for guests or family-friendly attitude – with 10,000 private acres of ranch to explore, there’s more than enough opportunity to ‘get away from it all’ with your loved one, not to mention taste some of the Sunshine State’s finest wines.

Wine lovers shouldn’t discount Los Potreros as well – this 6,000 acre, organic working cattle farm on Los Sierras Chicas (the oldest mountain range in South America) is located in an exceptional wine producing area. Personally, I’d be straight down to local La Caroyense winery for a wine tasting session, followed by a barbecue and wine drinking session back at the ranch – Los Potreros’ house wine taking centre stage, of course! Mental note to self: make room in suitcase for a take-home bottle.

Top 50 Ranches Couples Retreats will certainly make a romantic out of me! And you?

What is a Cattle Round-up?

With the snow piled so high right now, it’s funny to be thinking about summer. But, we’re getting so many phone calls and emails right now for summer that I am spending a fair amount of time thinking about the place covered in green grass, rather than white snow.

Many of you have contacted us about our fall cattle round-up. For those who don’t know about it, I thought I’d give a run down of what those weeks look like at Vista Verde.
Although our first adult-only week is August 28-September 4, the cattle round-up weeks begin September 4 and run through October 2. These are still Sunday-Sunday stays like our regular summer season, and most of our regular activities are still offered in our all-inclusive resort rates. But there is the added bonus of the cattle round-up option.

For those participating in the cattle round-up, we spend the first day or two in the arena in riding clinics. What does that mean? The trainers and wranglers will be getting you and your horse totally dialed in on how to work together as a team and how we want to work the cattle when we’re out on the trail. This will give you a definite edge in your riding ability, whether it’s your first time on a horse or you’ve been riding since you could walk. As we get into the week a little further, we’ll start heading out on the trail. This is not a City Slickers, camp out on the range kind of deal. Nope, we trailer the horses out to the 16,000 acres where the cattle are hiding. It really is like a game of hide and seek. Sometimes it’s more like playing hide and seek with my 5 year old…you almost have to pretend you don’t see them they are so easy to find. And some days it’s a lot of riding, riding, riding, over hills, through meadows around logs, and between bushes just to find nothing. If we find some, we gather them up and drive them to a holding area. If we don’t find them, we just enjoy the gorgeous Colorado fall weather and then come back to the ranch for dinner.
As a participant, it’s up to you as you how many days you want to go out on the gather. It’s hard riding and long days, so it’s fair game to take a day off and go fishing, go for a hike or just take a nap and relax by the pool. For those who want to ride, but don’t want to take part in the gather, we still do lead trail rides during that time, but not our regular clinics. It’s all part of your all-inclusive resort rates.

A fair warning…the riding during the cattle round-up is definitely the most intense riding we do all year. You are riding very independently, the terrain is rugged and varied and we are not on trails much of the time. For a novice rider who is game for an adventure, it’s just fine. But if you are a timid or nervous rider, let’s talk first. We are safety conscious and are out to make this a great experience for all, but it is the real deal out there on our fall cattle round-up. Hopefully you all get a chance to join us at some point. These 4 weeks at Vista Verde Ranch are really phenomenal!

Equitrekking.com – February 2011

Vacation Destinations to Horse Ride in the Snow
by Darley Newman – Equitrekking.com

Saddle up for Snow Riding at these Ranches

I’ve had the pleasure of horse riding through the snow in a few different areas, including on a film shoot for the Equitrekking Southern Quebec episode. We’ve certainly gotten a lot of snow this winter, so why not get out and enjoy it. Remember, horses have a slightly higher body temperature than we humans, making for a bit of a warmer ride.

The tricky thing with horse riding in the snow is the weather, as the conditions have to be right to take off on the trails, but luckily, many of the equestrian vacation destinations highlighted below have indoor arenas and other activities in case the weather takes a turn for the worse, including romantic horse drawn sleigh rides.

Here are some destinations to consider saddling up on horseback in the snow.

Bar W Ranch- Whitefish, Montana
What could be more romantic than a wintery sleigh ride at a Montana ranch! Bar W Ranch offers horse riding on snowy trails. They also have an indoor arena for those who want a brief outdoor excursion and more time training indoors to brush up on their Western riding skills. There are around 3000 acres to explore in the ranch vicinity and indoor barrels, team penning and pole bending. When you’re not in the saddle, you might want to explore the Western town of Whitefish, ski, skate, square dance, snowmobile or dog sled.

Les Randonnees Jacques Robidas- Eastern Townships, Quebec
Not too far from the Vermont border, saddle up with Quebec native Jacques Robidas or head off on a horse drawn sleigh. Jacques offers guests accommodations in one of his cozy cottages, steps away from the stables. L’Ardoise, the chef, prepares healthy meals, many of which are made with locally sourced products. It’s a homey atmosphere, not too far away from home for many in the Northeast.

The Hideout Lodge & Resort- Shell, Wyoming
Head to this working cattle ranch and look for wild horses in the snow in and around Shell Valley. With many miles of well-groomed trails and some true cowboys to take you out, you’re in for an exciting snow ride at this Western guest ranch. When not riding, the ranch offers snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, photography clinics and Yellowstone is right nearby. This ranch prides itself on giving guests a culinary experience. Besides gourmet meals, those with a sweet tooth can get their chocolate fix. One perk to this ranch vacation are homemade Centho-Chocolates, artisan made Belgian style chocolates, which the Hideout chefs have been specially trained to make. Add in some hot coco, and you’ve got one sweet ride!

Vista Verde Ranch- Steamboat Springs, Colorado
If you are a horse person and you live somewhere that gets lots of winter snow, like Steamboat Springs, Colorado, you’d want to keep your trails well groomed so you can ride outside or have a nice heated indoor arena… or both. Vista Verde Ranch keeps things going in the winter with snow riding, horse drawn sleigh rides pulled by a team of hefty Percherons, and an indoor arena, where you can watch ranch trainer Terry Wegener, National Reining Horse Association Money winner, starting horses and work on your own skills too. For foodies, Vista Verde also offers cooking classes, wine tasting and gourmet meals.

The Guide Ski and their Surprise- by Cliff

A couple of weeks ago, when our guest count was low and the rest of the staff were having a sledding party. The guides decided we would take a little adventure over to Burn Ridge Trail, located a few miles east of the ranch. We got our packs ready, jumped on the snowmobiles, and headed toward the trailhead. Kyle and Cami dropped off the three guides (Cliff, Teresa, and Beka) and we began our adventure. The day could not have started out better; the weather was beautiful, the sun was shining, and the powder was fresh. We were all very excited to ski this trail for the first time as we began our 6 mile journey.

Although we were anticipating a fun all day ski, we did not expect to see as many woodland creatures as we did. On the snowmobile ride to the trail head Kyle spotted a cow elk right off the ranch. Later on in the ski Teresa pointed out a cow moose. By far the most exciting wildlife encounter of the day was the reclusive mountain lion we came across deep in the Burn Ridge valley. Teresa was breaking trail, followed by Cliff then Beka. Five minutes beforehand Cliff and Teresa were talking about how we never see those elusive cats out here, but we know they are in the area. As they say… “Speak of the devil, and he’ll come knockin’ at your door.” And come knocking it did. Teresa first saw the cat, but we couldn’t tell if it was a bobcat or lynx because it was a bit far off. As we skied forward to get a better angle on the feline (while keeping a respectable distance) we were able to see that it was indeed a mountain lion. The three of us stood there unable to truly express how magnificent this cat was. As it calmly continued on its way into the forest the best word to describe our reclusive friend was “regal.” We watched for five minutes as the mountain lion crept away. Fortunately we were able to catch a few pictures of the cat as well as its tracks after it passed by.

After the excitement of the cougar viewing we continued down the valley until noon when we stopped in a clearing surrounded by aspens. As we sat by the fire Teresa skillfully built we enjoyed a lunch of sandwiches and coffee. The sun was still out, the fire was warm, and the coffee was delicious. We all decided we could indeed happily take a nap in the middle of our winter wonderland. However, there were many miles to go before we were back at the ranch to sleep.
Upon reaching the South Fork of the Elk River we had to ski across a snow covered log, the only way to reach the opposite side without skiing up the open river. We crossed without a problem and continued across our famous beaver ponds that make up part of our “Figure 8” ski. Our hard work was rewarded with a great downhill through the aspens and then a magnificent view of the ranch sitting at the base of Mt. Farewell. The last mile of our trip was a mellow trek across a meadow back to the ranch. As we sat in the Nordic Center we rested our weary legs and expressed gratitude for living in a place as incredible and majestic as this Steamboat Springs dude ranch. As Merle Haggard sang, “…if God doesn’t live in Colorado I’ll bet that’s where he spends most of his time.”