March 2011

Spring, where are you? And other dude ranch ramblings

As many of you know, we closed down a little over a week ago. It was a great winter season, and now we are all excited about spring and looking forward to summer. However, there is one minor problem. Spring doesn’t seem to be anywhere in sight. We keep getting snow! Steve and Kelli already packed up all the skis and brought out the bikes. But I’m thinking I should dig out my skis and go out today for a little jaunt around the ranch in the powder.

Getting all the bikes out got Steve excited about biking, so he packed up and headed down to Moab with Beka, Cliff and Lewis. That would be Chef Lewis. Yep, he’s become quite the outdoor adventurer. He’s been back country skiing all winter, and I had the pleasure of having him join me on a snowshoe trip just before we closed. I love that the staff get chances to get out and play on our dude ranch, not just work here.

Speaking of staff, we did say goodbye to some great members of our team at the close of the winter resort season. As always, some of the seasonal staff were moving on to other opportunities and we wish them all the best in their next ventures. We love having such talented, interesting individuals join us each season, and recognize that with their qualities, they can only stop here for a while on their way to greatness. Hopefully we can help them become better people in their time at the ranch. And as dude ranch guests, you get to enjoy their wonderful contributions. One particularly sad goodbye was to Sallie, who has lead our dining room team for the past 3 seasons. She was ready to be back in the South, closer to her family. We will all miss Sallie greatly, and appreciate all she brought to Vista Verde in her time at the ranch.
Just before Sallie left, I lured her into modeling for a shot I needed for our new brochure. This isn’t the one we used, but I thought you all would get a kick out of it. We needed a shot of a couple relaxing at the ranch to help show the romantic winter vacation aspect of our ranch stays. Sallie and the aforementioned Lewis were my victims as I was trying to find a good looking “couple” to model. No, don’t read too much into their adoring gazes….it was just work folks. But if a girl ever asks me if Lewis is a good listener, I can show her this photo and say, yes, he can sure act like he’s listening!

Off to shovel….and dream of spring.

Meetings, meetings, meetings….at a dude ranch?

Yep, we’re immersed in meetings here at Vista Verde Ranch this week. Dace, Ben and I spent Sunday, Monday and Tuesday in Denver at the Colorado Dude and Guest Ranch Association Spring meetings. We drove back through a huge snowstorm that hit Steamboat Springs on Tuesday afternoon, and went right into meetings here at our dude ranch on starting Wednesday. It’s partly end of season wrap up as we closed last Sunday, part strategy and planning and part planning for summer. After today’s meetings, I think we’ll all need to get out and ride a horse or go for a ski outside in the fresh air. None of us are complaining to sit in our beautiful Great Room and devote some time to all of this, but most of us are used to moving around a lot outside, so we’ll be blowing off some energy this weekend!
We did take a little break to take a group picture with our Mardi Gras beads that Tiffany and Andrew brought us last week. Don’t we all look very thoughtful and focused? Maybe not your typical description of the management team at a luxury dude ranch!

Thanks to everyone who made this past winter season at Vista Verde so wonderful. We’re busy looking at what worked and what didn’t, tweaking things to be better and starting to get organized and ready for a busy summer season. We hope to play with you soon! – March 2011

Horseback Riding Vacations
5 reasons to consider a family dude ranch vacation this summer

Last summer I finally lived out my dream of taking a dude ranch vacation. At 8 and 10, my kids were finally old enough to pull on boots and saddle up for seven consecutive days. I launched an exhaustive search for the perfect place and finally decided on Vista Verde Ranch in Steamboat Springs, Colorado.

Both the ranch and the experience exceeded my expectations in every way. If you and your kids love horses, beautiful scenery, and the outdoors, a luxury guest ranch makes an unforgettable family vacation. Here are five reasons to consider one for your next trip:

1. You get to play dress up for a week

I don’t know about you, but my suburban life affords me relatively few opportunities to get completely decked out in Western wear without looking like a complete jackass.

On dude ranches, it’s the people without the hats and boots that feel like idiots. A baseball hat? I don’t think so. You’ll even see chaps and really big belt buckles every now and then (more on the staff than the guests, but still).

By the end of the week I was pretty much swaggering around and talking like John Wayne. I wish I were kidding.

2. You’re spoiled for choice

It’s not just horses either. Vista Verde offered fly fishing, mountain biking, river rafting, kayaking, hiking, and hot air ballooning too. There were cooking classes, yoga classes, photography clinics, wine tastings, songs around the campfire, and even a barn dance. In the winter, they offer cross country skiing, snowmobiling, dog sledding, and snowshoeing too.

There was even the option of just relaxing in our cabin, soaking in our Jacuzzi, or sitting in an Adirondack chair near the pond with a book. We didn’t do too much of that (we were afraid we’d miss something fun), but theoretically it was possible.

3. No cooking! No cleaning!

Because of the kind of travel I usually do, I haven’t had very much experience with all-inclusive vacations. The only two that come to mind are a cruise to the Bahamas and a long ago semi-debauched week at Club Med. When we travel, we usually rent condos and apartments. From a chore standpoint, it’s a lot like being at home.

Our cabin at Vista Verde had every luxury we could have needed (no phone or TV though), including a little fridge and coffee maker, but it didn’t have a kitchen. It didn’t have a washer and dryer either. We didn’t need them since the food was plentiful and superb and the ranch offered same-day laundry service.

The week I spent on the ranch was the longest I’ve ever gone without cooking and cleaning since I moved out of my own parents’ house. Can you spell v-a-c-a-t-i-o-n?

4. Free range kids

Most people I know of my generation roamed the neighborhood with packs of feral children every day after school until it got dark. We called this “childhood”. Our own kids? Not so much. They take violin, Spanish, and chess.

Dude ranches offer a comparatively safe place to let children off leash a little (after a quick chat about not jumping in the pond or sneaking up on dozing horses, that is). Our kids were able to mostly come and go as they pleased.

At Vista Verde, there are kids-only activities every day that include things like panning for gold, ziplining, riding a fire truck to town for ice cream, and riding horses to the mares’ barn to see the newborn foals. There are also lots of dogs and cats on the ranch to play with. I have to imagine it’s the same at dude ranches everywhere.

Teens have their own cool counselors (called wranglers) and even more freedom. Though not too much, if you know what I mean.

5. Cattle drives and rodeos? Yeehaw!

The activities that really made our dude ranch vacation special were the ones we couldn’t do anywhere else. For my husband and me, it was the all-day cattle drive. There aren’t many vacations that teach you how to herd cattle and then actually let you do it. Seven hours was a long time to be in the saddle, but they were seven child-free hours so they flew by.

For the kids, the highlight was the end-of-the-week kids’ rodeo. The kid wranglers divided everyone into two teams (red and blue, with matching war paint) and every kid got to show off their stuff in relay events like barrel racing and pole bending. It was beyond cute and made us want to come back every year for the rest of our lives. If only.

Closing Day and a Fundraiser

Wow, the clock is counting down to closing day, and I can’t believe it’s that time already. Guests tell us that their stays fly by, but the seasons seem to fly by even when you live here year-round. What’s that saying about time flying when you’re having fun? Hmmm…

Saturday night brings and end to our Colorado winter resort season. On Sunday, the last guests check out from the ranch and then we open the doors to locals for a community day and fundraiser for the North Routt Pre-School. We’ll have the trails groomed, the sledding hill open and a big, fabulous lunch served in our Lodge.

For anyone interested in coming out for the fundraiser, or making a donation to the North Routt Pre-School, give Morgan a call at 303-589-2172. – March 2011

Travel For Families That Don’t Get Along
March 14, 2011 – by Lisa Rogak

“This is a family vacation and you’re gonna have a good time whether you like it or not!”

I don’t recall if this line was from National Lampoon’s Vacation or from an ex-husband’s childhood memories, but it does seem to capture the forced happiness that is part and parcel of many families who vacation together.

So I dug up a few travel packages and offers from resorts and destinations that cater to this distinct group, at least some of the time. Here’s what came up:

*Stephanie Wilson of Vista Verde, a luxury guest ranch in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, believes it has the perfect vacation for the disagreeing family. “Not every family shares the exact same interests, and with the addition of our full-size, heated indoor riding arena, winter riding has taken off so there is just one more option for those who want to try different activities,” she says. “One can spa, another ski, another can go wine tasting, and another can ride.” Then they can all reconnect over meals in the Lodge…or not.

*Annette Walton tells of Redland House, a vacation rental home in North Devon, England that is ideal for families that dont get along. “The house has 11 bedrooms and can sleep up to 22,” she says. “There’s a dining room where everyone can congregate in the evening, but be sure to get the caterers in so there are no arguments as to who is cooking! We have a large garden to the front, side and rear so there’s plenty of space to hide if you want. There are also nearby beaches for little kids and surfers.” Families can also go quad biking, kayaking, do the high ropes, visit gardens, tea shops, and theme parks.

*Phil Marino runs Mouse Counselors, a travel agency that specializes in travel to Disney Destinations. “We deal with this issue quite often,” he says. “With the family reunions and large gatherings that many families plan at Disney World Resort, some involve delicate family dynamics.

“Many people think of Disney World of just having rides and character meals, but there are plenty of activities suited to any type of vacationer,” he adds. Some include: spa treatments, parasailing, horseback riding, Segway tours, golf, fishing excursions, Cirque de Soleil, dinner shows, the Richard Petty Driving Experience, and much more.”

*Eileen P. Gunn, who’s launching an upcoming family-travel website called FamiliesGo!, has gone on several triple-generation vacations herself, and though she doesn’t consider herself to be a cruise person, she prefers cruises for families that don’t necessarily like to spend most of their vacation together. “There’s absolutely something for everyone,” she says.

“I got up every morning, did yoga, and got a foot and scalp massage at the spa while my husband went to an art auction and cooking demonstration. Then we went to a beer tasting together. My father-in-law went to martini tastings and won the ship’s poker tournament and my mother in law mostly laid around the pool. And we all took turns watching my daughter at the kiddie pool, which she loved. We could make our own way to breakfast but also run into each other there. We ate dinner together a few nights and on our own a few nights. Even if we were together we didn’t necessarily need to eat at the same time. We could take turns drifting from the pool to the buffet.”

You did what?

Last week my daughter spent an afternoon playing with some kids who were visiting our luxury guest ranch with their family (names withheld to protect their entrepreneurial identities). That night, and for days after, she kept talking about wanting to have a lemonade stand and sell drinks to the guests. I just blew it off as random six year old talk until a cup showed up on my desk, filled with $1’s and a note saying “for the staff”. I asked Hannah if she knew what it was, and she said, “Yes, sure, it was from the kids last week selling drinks to the guests”. What? I’m sorry, did I hear that right?

Apparently, these creative kids (again, still keeping those names private, but Erica, I may have to recruit them for marketing projects going forward) decided to set up a drink stand during our happy half hour and sell slushies (aka Snowdas) to the guests. They got snow from outside the Lodge, and had a selection of flavors for guests to choose. And wouldn’t you know it, they raked in the cash. I even hear that they were using the statement, “It’s a fundraiser for the staff” as their clincher to seal the deal. Yep, you heard that right.

So, thank you to you en genius kids. Not only did we love having you here last week, but now we have $46 extra dollars to help everyone with their gas money getting home after we close for the season! I am still laughing every time I think about it. And my daughter is convinced now that we should be selling slushies to the guests all the time. Oh boy…..

The Dangers of Dude Ranching

Kelsey, one of our stupendous servers who have rocked the ranch this winter, found out this week that life can be dangerous at a dude ranch in Colorado. Here she recounts her tale:

Winter time at Vista Verde means lots of wonderful outdoor activities for the staff to participate in during their time off. From skiing and sledding, to nighttime snowshoeing, there is always something to do in the great outdoors. But this winter, our evenings have been spent dancing. Country swing dancing has been a very new and exciting experience for me. I’ve always wanted to learn how to do cool spins, dips and the 2-step, but my lack of rhythm and balance have usually prevented me from lasting more than three minutes on the dance floor. But I have had a breakthrough here at the ranch! I can actually follow the steps and spin without getting dizzy most of the time, especially when dancing with Nathan, who is very good and patient.

The other night Sarah, Nathan and I decided to practice some of the aerials and spins we have been working on for the last few weeks in the kid’s hut. We felt confident with the old material so decided to try some new aerials and flips. After Sarah and Nathan perfected the can opener, we decided to finish with a new back-flip move. This involved standing back to back, linking arms, and the girl crunching her knees as the guy pulls her over his head. The first attempt was satisfactory so we decided to try it again. This time, I knew I needed to loosen my arms a little sooner so that we could stand up straight at the end. Unfortunately, I let go a little too early and I landed off balance. My feet instantly slipped out from under me and I landed on the right side of my face and shoulder.

I now understand the cartoon portrayal of stars flying around someone’s head-I must have seen 10 shooting stars by the time Sarah and Nathan got me back on my feet. After making sure I was ok, they led me to a mirror so I could see my face. A very large bump on my right eyebrow left me looking somewhat like Quasimodo. I started laughing so hard! I couldn’t imagine what it was going to look like the next day and was embarrassed thinking about how I was going to serve the guests in the dining room without them thinking I had been in a fight. In the morning, I bravely tried to cover it with my bangs but of course they never stayed in place and everyone ended up noticing anyways. I came up with a couple different stories to try to make it sound like I had this injury due to a heroic action. One such story involved saving Nicky from the horses in the pasture when the feeding sled broke down. Another story involved doing a double back-flip while back country skiing. But alas, none of the stories were as entertaining as the truth- I fell while dancing. I don’t think I will be asked to lead any dance lessons here at the ranch anytime soon.

So if you thought there aren’t any adventures at our luxury dude ranch, you were wrong! But when you come out, how about no black eyes!

Banana Crunch Muffins

As I was searching around for a healthy treat to send into school for a kiddo’s birthday, Chef Matt handed me this recipe. Our winter guest ranch guests enjoy these fresh from the over, sitting in front of the fireplace. Our summer guest ranch guests find these out on the breakfast ride most of the time. Enjoy!

Banana crunch muffins
Makes: 2 dozen
10 oz. – All Purpose Flour (roughly 2 cups)
1 tbsp. -baking powder
½ tsp. – salt
1- Egg
1 cup – sugar
2 oz. – butter melted
1 ¼ cups – sour cream
1 ½ cups – chopped bananas
¼ cup- granola
¼ – cup- toasted pecan pieces
1/8 cup- coarse sugar
1. Arrange 2 dozen muffin papers in a muffin tin and spray with baking spray
2. Mix together the melted butter, 1 tsp. – vanilla, sour cream, and eggs until homogeneous in a stand mixer. Add in the sugar mixing until all ingredients are blended
3. Sift together the dry ingredients, and add into the mix on low speed, then add in the bananas, granola, and pecans.
4. Scoop into greased muffin papers, sprinkle with coarse sugar and bake at 350 F until golden brown. Makes about 2 dozen

Depending on the size of the muffin tins and the oven muffins may take a little longer than it does for us so there really is not a specific time. How many you get will vary slightly also. I use a 2 0z. Cookie scoop for the size tins we have here at the dude ranch. I start out setting the timer for about 7 minutes, checking with a tooth pick when the tops brown up, and then baking longer if necessary.

If you want to tweak the recipe and make it your own you can use different kinds of extract, fruit or nut. Sometimes I will do the same recipe with fresh apricots and pistachios. The possibilities are endless.