Some folks call our fabulous housekeepers “fairies” as they flit in and out without anyone knowing, cleaning up messes and tidying up our guests homes. But, we have another set of magical creatures at the ranch. The Ranch hand “elves”. These guys come this time of year, and don’t always flit in quite as discreetly as the housekeeping fairies, but still leave magical surprises behind. In October, you may have seen a picture of the elves delivering the sleigh to the Great room. This week they were delivering a Santa hat to our favorite moose, as well as a few other fun chores while the scaffolding was laid out. Dusting beams, replacing light bulbs, all in a days work for a ranch hand elf leading into the holidays. Carson, Gov and Rob make for great elves….now they just need little hats and funny boots.
As we get closer to opening day of our winter season, when folks come in for a Colorado holiday vacation or just fun in the snow with their family and other loved ones, more and more elves will be delivering surprises. Christmas trees, garland, lights and more festive fun.
We hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday. If you follow us regularly, you may have noticed we went silent for a while there. I had all intentions of writing some updates while I was away, but seemed to get too distracted going for walks in the redwoods in Northern California with my family. Banana slugs, redwood cones, huge fall leaves were all part of our fun. Thankfully, Nathan and Rucker were willing to stay behind and hold down the fort at the ranch. Although the phones and emails can follow us wherever we go, the horses don’t take a vacation, so someone has to stay behind. Steve and Kelli hosted them for Thanksgiving dinner, so they still got to enjoy some time with good friends and yummy food.
Next week we start orientation for our new staff, and gear up for the season. We’ll keep you posted as we get ready to open for the winter vacation season. Please do your snow dances! It’s come and gone, but we’re ready for more now.
This past week has been one of comings and goings. The numbers at the ranch keep dwindling, as we get closer to Thanksgiving. Alaya and Cholly have headed East to visit family, Reid has hit the road for a while, and a whole slew of us are packing our bags in the coming days to head out and celebrate one of the few holidays we have during the off-season at our Colorado ranch.
Earlier in the week Ben, Charlie and I hopped in the trucks to go to a dude ranch meeting at Sylvan Dale Ranch, near Loveland, Colorado. It is always great to get together with other folks in the dude ranch business, and to share our joys and challenges as well as learn some new tricks. Many of these folks have become dear friends over the years, so it’s as much a dude ranch reunion as it is a learning setting. Although some of the topics may make you chuckle, some are a little less exciting….can we say Labor law and Liability in advertising are not speaker topics that one looks forward to, but know it is a must listen?
We returned to a winter wonderland scene, and found Steve and Kelli strapping on their skis yesterday for the first tour up Coulton Road. There isn’t quite enough snow for skiing in the meadows yet, but they had fun sliding for the first time this season. Keep doing your snow dances so it keeps coming!
They are busy making snow at the Steamboat Ski resort this week with winter settling into the valley.
We’re only a month away from opening up for our winter season. We kick off with a lot of families coming for their snow vacation, and then move into the adult only times in early January. Keep those times in mind for your romantic getaway, as Vista Verde is a great spot for not just honeymooners, but those honeymooning for their 30th time! And, know that even though we are full for Christmas and New Years vacations, if you are looking to bring your kids to the snow, we still have room for the President’s Day weekend and for those who have spring breaks earlier in March.
It is dumping snow and we’re at 9,400 feet. But that’s not stopping us from taking a little walk in the woods.
No worries. We’ve got snowshoes strapped to our boots, the right waterproof clothes and we’re still smiling from the amazing lunch we devoured after our trek up about two miles to the Pine Creek Cook House (http://www.pinecreekcookhouse.com/) in the middle of the White River National Forest about 11 miles outside of Aspen, Co. (http://www.aspenchamber.org/).
“Weekends this place is packed with kids,” said Christopher Keating, the general manager and executive chef and himself the dad of a 9-year-old son.
You can snowshoe as we did or cross-country ski (there are more than 30 km of groomed trails for all levels and a place to rent gear) or take a sleigh ride led by giant Clydesdale horses. Come for lunch or dinner, wearing a headlamp on the trail. In winter, kids can sled outside.
But the highlight — after the snowshoe in the wilderness — is the food — Pine Creek Smoked trout, wild game Momos (Nepalese dumplings), grilled hearts of romaine Caesar, grilled Quail salad, wild mushroom and spinach crepes, Colorado elk bratwurst, a smoked trout melt on sourdough and buffalo tenderloin.
All that locally sourced food might encourage the kids to try a small portion of something new. How about butternut squash ravioli or buffalo tenderloin?
Honestly, it was one of the best meals I’ve ever had in ski country — all the better because I had to “earn my lunch,” as my daughters would say, snowshoeing up to the beautiful restaurant with the giant picture windows.
Of course, you don’t need a gourmet meal to enjoy snowshoeing. It’s fun to take a sandwich and hot cider with you in your backpack; it’s fun just to get out and enjoy the back-country landscape away from the hustle and bustle of a snow sports resort. I try to take a day off from skiing each trip just for the experience.
In Stowe, Vt., at the Trapp Family Lodge (www.trappfamily.com) my guide was Kristina von Trapp Frame, granddaughter of Maria von Trapp, the young Austrian novitiate-turned governess-turned wife made famous by Julie Andrews in the 1965 film “The Sound of Music.” Maria’s youngest son and Kristina’s dad, Johannes von Trapp, opened the first cross-country ski center in North America here more than 40 years ago and these days, plenty of families on snowshoes and cross-country skis, take advantage of 100 km of groomed and back-country trails.
Not only is snowshoeing or cross-country skiing good exercise and a lot cheaper than downhill skiing, it’s a lot of fun with kids, says von Trapp Frame, who gets out with her kids often, listening for different birds (was that a woodpecker?), looking for animal tracks in the snow (squirrel or deer?) and stopping for a snack on a conveniently placed bench (M&Ms anyone?). The sport has grown so popular with snow-loving families that Tubbs Snowshoes now offers a huge assortment of snowshoes for kids (http://tubbssnowshoes.com/snowshoes?use=kids) and until Oct. 29 is inviting schools and nonprofits to enter an essay contest to encourage kids and teens to get outdoors in winter. Winners could win snowshoes for theirentire class.
Jim Kravitz, the chief naturalist at the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies (www.aspennature.org) and the father of two young sons, explains that, like naturalist-led hikes, snowshoe walks are a great way to help visitors — kids and adults — delve a little deeper into the winter environment — learning about mountain ecology, avalanches and wildlife in winter. ACES, in fact, offers snowshoe tours every day in winter at the top of Aspen Mountain, as well as Snowmass Mountain, that include snowshoe gear and instruction. (Visitwww.aspennature.org for more information.)
Snowshoe tours are offered at many snow sports resorts around the country from Maine to California, as well as at Yellowstone National Park, where we came face to face with a huge buffalo and snow-shoed right by Old Faithful. (Read what I wrote about our snowshoe in Yellowstone).
You can snowshoe at Grand Teton National Park too; Since Jackson Hole Mountain Resort (www.jacksonhole.com) is only one mile from Grand Teton National Park, their Mountain Sports School is a licensed concessionaire of the park and provides guided snowshoe tours at the base of the Tetons.
Snowshoe at dude ranches, too, like the C Lazy U Ranch (www.clazyu.com) or Vista Verde Ranch (www.vistaverde.com) in Colorado, while in New Hampshire, the Appalachian Mountain Club (www.outdoors.org) offers a variety of winter family adventures that include snowshoe tours led by experienced guides; you can even snowshoe to a back-country mountain hut for an overnight with adventurous teens.
Snowshoeing is also a great way to get the non-skiers in your group outside to play in the snow, whether at home in winter climes or at a snow resort. That’s what we did in Aspen when we took my sister-in-law who lives in Southern California out on her first-ever snowshoe. (The prospect of a gourmet lunch certainly helped entice her!) It’s not difficult, doesn’t require a lot of gear (you can rent snowshoes and even winter boots) and is fun whether you are six, 16 or 60. (You can make it as easy or as challenging as you like.)
In Aspen, we even learned a little history along the way. The 10th Mountain Division of the U.S. Army trained here outside Aspen before they went to Italy in World War II. There are still 30 back-country huts (http://www.huts.org/) in the national forest where you can spend the night.
Did I mention the bona-fide ghost town? In the mid-1800s there were some 2,000 people living and mining in the town of Ashcroft. Today, we snowshoe past about a half-dozen wooden buildings still standing from that era.
As the snow falls, we make our way along snow-covered Castle Creek, past quivering Aspens and giant Blue Spruce and Douglas Fir, all covered with fresh snow.
Thanks to all the exercise, we don’t feel the least bit guilty about the scrumptious desserts at lunch — brownie pie, bourbon pecan pie and apple crisp — topped with ice cream, of course.
It was one of those rare winter days that I didn’t want to end. None of us did. We were the last snowshoers back.
(For more Taking the Kids, visit www.takingthekids.com and also follow @TakingtheKids, where Eileen Ogintz welcomes your questions and comments. Look for Eileen’s newly published “Kid’s Guide to Orlando” and “Kid’s Guide to NYC,” available on www.amazon.comand in major bookstores.)
Thank you to AVITAL ANDREWS for being included in this article. Go Steamboat!
Steamboat’s ski-school staff is basically a roster of former Olympians: Billy Kidd, Deb Armstrong, Nelson Carmichael, and Caroline Lalive all work here, as do Aussie and Kiwi champions and six members of the PSIA-AASI national team.
Within the past couple of years, the four terrain parks got new trails and many of the 18 lifts were treated to major upgrades—the most recently built ones run on solar and wind power. They unload atop 165 trails, onto which 354 annual snow inches fall, creating 10 percent of powder days per season. Of the 3,668 vertical feet descending 2,965 skiable acres, just 14 percent of the terrain is designated for beginners; the rest is pretty evenly split between blues and blacks. For riders, a freestyle park-and-pipe clinic is helpful for bagging tricks.
Bear, a safety dog, helps make sure that things are copacetic, as does the ski patrol’s more than 100 members. The nearest hospital is less than a mile from the hill and a team of 12 doctors share on-call duty for the resort throughout the winter.
Total peak-season staffers number almost 1,700. Among them are ski valets who will, upon request, come to your hotel room to fit you into gear. Lodging options here include the big, middle-of-the-road Steamboat Grand; One Steamboat Place, a slopeside collection of private residences; and the rustic-chic Vista Verde Guest Ranch, a AAA 4-Diamond lodge that’s happy to coordinate experiences like backcountry skiing, snowshoeing, and dog sledding. There’s also a KOA open to RVs.
Off-hill recreational options are many and varied—in fact, this is the category in which Steamboat scores highest. There’s a tube park, an ice arena, natural hot springs, a bowling alley, a movie theater, helicopter tours, ice climbing, a bungee trampoline, and much more. If you’re just looking for a good meal, Café Diva is popular; for something to drink, head to Tugboat Saloon or Tap House. The new, heated promenade at Gondola Square has lovely water features to play in, courtesy of the daylighted Burgess Creek.
Environmentally, Steamboat is mostly good, but the proposed Pioneer Ridge expansion would impinge upon 162 open-space acres. However, the resort gets credit for working to improve nesting habitat for migratory birds, and for having a zero-waste initiative that’s on track toward its goal: Thanks to much recycling and composting, 80 percent of Steamboat’s trash got diverted from the landfill. Free shuttles and buses have, the resort estimates, negated 1.2 million driving miles last year alone.
From February 6 to 10, the 100th annual Winter Carnival happens on Main Street, featuring a parade on skis and a nighttime light show. In early January is MusicFest, and mid-April brings the Cardboard Classic and its races in zany homemade sleds.
CONTACT: (877) 783-2628, steamboat.com SEASON: Late November to mid-April TICKETS: General: $99 (reduced-price half-day tickets offered; discounts offered to military personnel), children $60, ages 65 and older: $67, ages 4 and younger: free
Fodor’s, the leading name in travel guides for over 75 years, today announced that Vista Verde Ranch has been recognized as a 2012 Fodor’s Choice selection. This distinction designates Vista Verde Ranch as a leader in its field for service, quality, and value in the 2012 year.
The editors and experts of Fodor’s have been selecting only the top fifteen percent of their listed properties and activities as Fodor’s Choice award recipients since 1988. Every year, Fodor’s writers experience, examine and evaluate thousands of hotels, restaurants and attractions in their travels across the globe. While every business included in a Fodor’s guide is deemed worth a traveler’s time, only those offering a truly remarkable experience are given the Fodor’s Choice designation.
For more than 75 years Fodor’s has presented travelers with the very top recommendations from hidden-away restaurants to can’t-miss museums, to make sure they’re making the most of their travels. The 2012 Fodor’s Choice recipients are the best of the best, providing a remarkable experience in their price range or category.
As a 2012 Fodor’s Choice property Vista Verde will receive special recognition in the next Fodor’s guidebook to this area and on www.Fodors.com.
About Fodor’s Travel
Fodor’s Travel, a division of Random House, Inc., is one of the world’s leading providers of travel information. Covering over 7,500 worldwide destinations, Fodor’s guidebooks and website, Fodors.com, have provided the most up-to-date, accurate information for travelers since 1936. Written by a vast team of global correspondents, Fodor’s provides travelers with engagingly written, locally reported, and absolutely indispensable travel guidance. Visit www.Fodors.com.
I hadn’t either until reading a recent article in the local paper but growing icicles is a part of the process that Brent Christiansen and his team use to build winter ice castles, and this winter they’re building one in Steamboat Springs!
As if the snow-covered mountains were not magical enough on their own, this new attraction will be a real treat for those coming through Steamboat this winter. A unique experience bound to be majestic, romantic, and a dang good photo op (next year’s holiday portrait, perhaps?) – after all, how often do you find yourself exploring an ice castle?! If you’re already planning a stay with us this winter, you may want to add a visit to the ice castle to your itinerary.
Check out this video of their Ice Castle in Silverthorne, CO last winter.
“The Ice Castle in Steamboat will include three tiers of frozen towers and tunnels creating an organic and ever-evolving labyrinth landscape complete with a castle throne perfect for capturing that stunning photo. The icy towers that make up the interior of the castle create a look similar to glaciers transporting guests to a winter fantasy land that is only limited by their imagination.”
We all get pretty spoiled throughout the year, having a kitchen full of Chefs who prepare us hot meals several times a day. Yes, we do all work hard, but the perks are pretty nice. However, there is a time of year, when we get a little reminder to not take those perks for granted. During November, and again for a month in the spring, the kitchen shuts down completely, and the chefs take off for a well-deserved break. For those of us sticking around still during the off-season, the ranch can feel either eerily quiet, or blissfully peaceful. That just depends on the personality. I have noticed over the years that the old farts like me (yes, you’re old when you’re over 35 at Vista Verde), tend to enjoy the peace and quiet. No distractions, getting things done on the to-do list, and just a great change of pace. The younger members of the crew miss the social interactions, the camaraderie and the pack of friends to enjoy in the evenings. But, the off-season at Vista Verde is very short-lived, and so whether one likes the quiet or not, it is a good change of pace for all of us.
Anyway, back to the whole hot meal waiting for you idea…..Chef David decided to have a little fun as he and Cholly we closing down the kitchen. Last week, during one of the final meals, this message showed up on the white board in the staff room. No, no, don’t worry about any of us. I’m sure we’ll all make it. But, we….are….just…so….hungry! Brown bag lunch, anyone?