Ranch Info

tween program colorado family vacation

Creating a better family vacation

What makes a great family vacation? Well, in our mind it is when everyone in the family has fun and amazing memories are created together. At Vista Verde, we believe that part of the magic of the best family vacation is to have options for families to enjoy adventures together, but also to split up and pursue their own interests. With that in mind, we have always poured our energy into our kids programs. Over the years, the kids program turned into a kids program and a teen program. Now, starting in 2017 we will be adding a tween program.

We’ve recognized the desire of our guest kids for a little more personalized experience while they are at the ranch. Maybe you remember your middle school dance, where some of the young folks want to slow dance, others want to talk, and some want to go outside and play games. It is no different here at the ranch – kids all develop and grow in different ways and at different rates. Our newly added tween program will mean the kids, tweens, and teens will each have their own activities and adventures. The breakdown of the groups is based on a typical US school set up with the kids program geared for kids entering 1st-5th grades (6-10 years), the tweens will represent kids entering middle school grades (11-13 years), and the teen program will be for kids entering high school grades (14-18 years). Knowing that not all kids enter the same grade at the same age, we will adjust as needed each week based on the overall makeup of the kids here.

The kids and teen programs will stay mostly the same, as there are so many tried and true favorites, but with some new twists and turns just to spice things up. The tween program will take the best of both programs so we retain some childlike fun while still bringing in many of the cool adventures that the teens enjoy.

Also, we are excited to introduce Mandy Anzalone and Addie Simms as the new heads of the kids programs. Mandy worked at the ranch in the late-nineties as a wrangler, and is returning after spending the past 15 years in education and starting a family. She is excited to be back at the ranch and putting her background in education into play by helping oversee the kids programs. Addie is another educator who spends the school year working at the North Routt Charter School. Addie is an avid outdoorswoman which makes sense as she is married to one of our ace guides Ben S. These two are working diligently on updating the programs, fine tuning the details, and preparing for a wonderful summer season. We are excited about all they are bringing to the ranch with their professionalism, knowledge, and enthusiasm.

So grab your kids and pack your bags (ok, maybe just book your reservation) for an amazing family vacation at Vista Verde Ranch this summer.

Winter Photography Tips

Our ranch photographer Carla Jones offers a photography workshop each week to our guests. In the winter she gives our guests some really helpful tips about taking photos in the wintertime. For those of you who can’t get here for your own ranch vacation, here are Carla’s tips and tricks for you to use at home.

Also, if you are in Steamboat and want to work one-on-one with Carla, she does offer classes through the Steamboat Ski Resort.

Winter Photography Tips


Cold and frostbitten fingers may result from camera operation during severe winter weather. Avoid touching metal and exposure to wind with bare hands. Fisherman gloves with poly pro liners are great. Wear warm boots and a hat to keep you warm. Keep your camera and a spare battery near your body to keep them warm.

Do not let moisture into your camera body and avoid sudden radical changes of temperature. Keep lens and viewfinder free of ice fog and spray. Avoid breathing on camera, because the steam may condense on your lens and freeze will leave an icy coating. Use a protective filter like the Sky1A, which will also give the picture a bit of a warming cast.


Obtaining a proper exposure on snow scenes is often a tricky matter. Your light meter wants to make every scene a medium-gray tone and this can make the snow look gray. You want the snow to look white, not dull gray. Depending on how much of the scene is white, over-exposing will help in making the snow look white. Most cameras have a +/- button. This button is great for over-exposing. Check the histogram to make sure you haven’t gone too far over-exposing a created clipping. Remember, how much to over-expose depends on how much the scene is white with snow. Sunsets and alpenglow you will need to under exposure, going any where from – 1 to –2.


Seeing is most important. Don’t get bogged down with the technical side of the camera. Watch the weather and shoot on the edge of darkness (Morning or Dusk) The quality of light and seeing it is very important.

1. Side lighting will snap out shadows on sunny days and give a 3/D appearance. Enhance a winter scene by including a bit of color from a person’s clothing or a building. Red or yellow are great colors to use.
2. Back lighting of frosty trees and weeds brings out the sparkle of the snowflakes. Morning light is best before the sun melts the frost.
3. Diffused light—–Overcast snowy conditions can set a great mood. Softer light is great for photographing people. You won’t have harsh shadows on the persons face.
4. Magic light-The wow light. Late afternoon when a storm is clearing, the sun breaks through with dark sky behind your subject. Late afternoon can create a warmer tone to the pictures. It is also best for capturing the pink alpenglow on Mt Werner or the Zirkels.
Night scenes are special in the wintertime. Cabins with the lights on can be shot at dusk and where there is still a little light in the sky. Use a tripod to keep the camera steady.


When you find a scene you like take several shots. Work it with different angles (high and low), different lenses (wide angle and telephoto). Try different apertures F22 vs. F2.8 for depth of field or different sharpness. Look at where the light is hitting the subject. Adjust the White Balance if shooting indoors or outside. If a scene or subject catches your eye take the time to explore the composition. Be sensitive to the distracting foregrounds or backgrounds. Moving a foot one way or the other can make a difference. Keep it simple! The subject is very important. Make sure it is a good subject.

Rule of Thirds —–Divide the picture into thirds. Put subject in the intercepting lines
Leading Lines— fences-roads-streams and rivers
Patterns —-A color interrupts color patterns
Frames —-–window-trees

Landscapes (Long shots, medium, and close-ups) First shoot without the tripod to find the spot you like than set the camera on the tripod.
People (try to get a series of photos of someone doing something)
Special events (Ask what is going to happen, when and where. The more you know the better the chance you will get in a good position to get the best shots.)
Do research on area visiting. Look at online photos- get maps and study them.

family winter vacations

Insider tips for dressing your kids for a winter vacation

Gearing up your kids for a winter vacation can be daunting, but we’re sharing some insider tips from Steamboat parents, who know a thing or two about getting their kids out in the snow. You can also check out our Pinterest board that has more ideas for dressing your kids for winter.

Terri Goforth (mom of Caley, 8)- Hand and foot warmers are a must. Whether skiing or sledding or snowmobiling….these items are a definite must-have item for Caley. We actually put the foot warmers on the top of her toes so when putting on her boots, they don’t slip off or get bunched up.

Jessica Spear (mom of Shea, 8 and Sloan, 10)- On those days when motivation is low to go out in the snow, warm pajamas work great under snow suits, and it helps our family to have some sweet treats in our pockets to keep spirits high.

Wes Fountain (dad of Olivia, 8 and Jonah, 12)- Put the mittens on first, then the jacket, then grab a roll of duct tape and seal the jacket over the mittens. That will give you hours of fun without snow going down into their mittens or sleeves.

Kelly Bastone (mom of Simone, 5)- We’re fans of loooong gauntlets on gloves and high boots. A lot of snow boots are ankle models, you know. Snow invariably gets in the cuffs, because pants ride up, etc. Bogs are nice and high, and keep ankles covered even when pant cuffs ride up a bit. Long cuffs on mitts are great too, when we can find models that have them.

We’re also experimenting with the two-glove system that a lot of adults like. Kid wears a thin glove underneath a big, fluffy mitt. Kid can remove the mitt for something requiring dexterity, and put the mitt back on for warmth. It’s not a perfect solution, and not great for many hours in the snow because eventually the mitt gets damp, and doesn’t stay warm. But it does seem to keep her fingers warmer for an hour or two.

And I don’t think we ever go out without a tin of Dermatone. It’s a great emergency layer for cheeks and noses, and our kid definitely tolerates ointment better than a big bulky mask or scarf over her face, blocking her mouth/nose breathing.

Monica Niedermeier (mom of Tomas, 12)- Jackets with clips for mittens are a must, as are snow boots with a tall shaft. Get their snowpants a little long and make sure to look for ones that have a tight cuff or built in gator, so they stay on over the boots. No one likes snow in their boots!

These folks spend a lot of time with their kids out in the snow in the winter months, so these are tried and true suggestions! Give them a try and always feel free to call us with questions as you gear up for your winter vacation.

a romantic winter vacation

Romancing the Snow

It’s the antithesis of sitting on a beach with an umbrella drink in hand. But it turns out that not everyone wants that kind of vacation. We hear from couples all the time who want to have some adventure, experience new things together, meet other interesting people, yet still fit some romance into the equation. Wintertime at Vista Verde does just that. Imagine getting the blood flowing on a ski tour over a frozen lake or giggling like children as you tube down the hill before heading into your private cabin, building a crackling fire, and enjoying a glass of wine in the hot tub (fine print: we are not encouraging drinking and hot tubbing…that is totally your decision folks) while you watch the horses frolic in the snow. Mix that alone time with some great conversation over a fabulous dinner and a cozy down comforter waiting for you to curl up in bed at the end of the day. It’s not for everyone, but I’ll take that over the beach chair and umbrella drink any day. Here is what some folks have said on Tripadvisor following their honeymoons or just a romantic escape during our adult-only times.
Honeymoon review

Adult-only couple review

Honeymoon review

fall dude ranch vacations article

Packing for your ranch vacation

Packing for your Vista Verde vacation can be a challenge, especially given the airlines weight restrictions on bags. We try to help by having an in-depth packing list, and are more than happy to dole out advice over the phone or email. But there is no way to get around the fact that there are potentially a lot of costume changes when you come here and want to try it all!

There are a couple ways we can help though! Did you know that we are more than happy to receive a box of your gear that you ship ahead of time, and have it waiting for you in your cabin when you arrive? We’ll even ship it home for you at the end of your stay. And, if you’ve caught the VVR bug, and know you’re going to be coming back, we can even store some of those items that you’ll never wear at home. We’ll package up your boots and hats and put them in a marked container to wait for your return. No charge, just one way we try to help make this Western lifestyle a little more accessible for you!

Contact one of us at the Front Desk if you have questions, or want to make arrangements for storing your gear at the ranch next time you visit!

Chef de Cuisine

Hey Culinary Talents! Are you passionate about Food and Remarkable Service? Would you like a chance to express your Creativity and Grow as a Leader in the Hospitality Industry? Vista Verde Guest Ranch, a AAA 4-Diamond rated guest ranch located outside Clark, Colorado is seeking a Chef de Cuisine.

The ideal candidate will have 5 years fine dining experience, with 2 years as Sous Chef or Chef de Cuisine;

She or he will be responsible for overseeing the execution of all foods in collaboration with the executive chef including breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as all baking, staff meals, and special events. The candidate must be creative, energetic, compassionate, empathetic, even-tempered and enthusiastic about service, to the guests as well as the staff.

Building a cohesive BOH team, menu planning, training, educating, purchasing, maintaining food costs, observing health codes, and carefully maintaining a very clean and orderly kitchen are also required.

The candidate must be a good communicator with both BOH and FOH staff, executive chef, and general manager. She or he must be committed to forming relationships with local vendors and purveyors of fine foods. She or he must have a strong willingness to become part of a community that is focused on people and making connections.

Vista Verde Ranch is nearly 600 acres surrounded on three sides by a million more of the Routt National Forest and Zirkel Wilderness, providing plenty of outdoor adventure – summer or winter; a great fit for an active chef who loves the outdoors!

Vista Verde Guest Ranch is dedicated to providing the best guest ranch experience in the world. We offer a distinctly western, yet luxurious atmosphere where memorable relationships are created between guests and staff. We are also committed to a tobacco free/drug free environment where a healthy lifestyle and a responsible and professional demeanor on and off the clock are expected. We are proud and protective of our family-friendly reputation; if that is not for you, you are not for us.

Compensation will be based on experience and can include housing and health insurance.

Please contact Chef Chol McGlynn at 970-879-3858 for more information or fill out an application.

Head Wrangler Sam

What makes a saddle fit, and why does that matter?

Sam, our Head Wrangler, is a wealth of knowledge in an area that isn’t on most people’s radar: Saddle Fitting. Here, she shares some basic information about saddle fitting that gives a little insight into what goes on behind the scenes in the barn.

Have you ever been uncomfortable in a pair of shoes, or socks and shoes that don’t fit? Or for the avid hikers and campers, a heavy backpack that isn’t sitting in the right spot and makes you’re back sore? Well, that is exactly how a horse feels when their saddle or saddle pad doesn’t fit them well.

The past couple years I have immersed myself in research and learning more about this topic. Everyone has different opinions on it, but more and more veterinarians are getting educated on proper saddle fit, and they are doing more studies and analyses to get scientific evidence on how to make horses more comfortable while we ride them. There are even certified saddle fitters and ergonomists!

Saddles are made with a base structure, called a “tree”. This tree can be made out of wood (typically), and sometimes fiberglass. Its purpose is to evenly distribute the weight of the rider over the horses back (on the proper saddle support area) and it keeps the saddle up off of the spinal cord and spinal ligaments. However, the tree must properly fit the contour of the horse’s back, or it can create unwanted pressure points. The anatomy of the horse proves where the saddle should sit. The tree should not sit on top or too far forward, or the shoulder (scapula) cannot extend properly for full motion. This causes the horse to compensate in other areas, creating pain and pressure points, unexplained lameness, kissing spine, and irritable behavior. Moving down the back, if the gullet (space down the length of the saddle that keeps it off the spine) is too narrow or sits on the spine, the horse cannot properly lift its back, ribs and engage its hindquarters. Most likely he will compensate by hollowing his back and raising his head, and putting more weight on the front end (which none of us want as that makes for an uncomfortable ride as well as leads to injury in the front legs). At the end of the saddle support area, the tree cannot extend past the last rib. After the last rib are the lumbar (of the spine), and they have no support. Saddles that are too long can cause back soreness.

The tree and the gullet width are two very important parts. The whole construction is important of the saddle, for English and western both. Stirrup bars, girth placement are also important parts of saddle fitting. When fitting a saddle, even weight distribution should be felt along the underside of the saddle. Under a trained eye, you can take your hand and run it underneath the saddle and see if there are any points where there is a lot of pressure (remember this all should be done without a saddle pad). Most commonly, you’ll see what we call “bridging”, which is high amounts of pressure at the front and the back of the saddle, leaving little or no weight distribution in the middle (where most of it should be anyway). You’ll see this a lot with sway backed horses, or horses with high withers.

Why should this all matter to riders? It is important because it affects our horses behavior and long term physical health. Saddles that are not fitted properly can cause extreme pain, and with some horses you would never know until it is too late. If your horse has unexplained lameness, white spots on the withers, bad behavior, is “cinchy”, won’t stand still to be saddled and/or mounted, then saddle fit should be considered.

Saddle pads are a huge industry. You pay anywhere from $30 to $400+ for a saddle pad that may not even help the saddle fit. The saddle must fit without a pad, so you would want as thin a pad as possible to not interfere with the saddle fit. Sometimes (for sway backed horses for example), a thicker pad can help. But, if you have pressure points, a thicker pad (which most think will eliminate the pressure points), actually makes it worse. That is the most basic explanation for saddle pads – that is a whole other topic for the next time Steph bugs me to write a post for her!

At Vista Verde, we are spending a lot of time this Spring focusing on fitting the right saddles to each horse. It is a time consuming process, but a great learning experience for all involved. These horses take such good care of us, and it is our responsibility to take care of them and make them comfortable.

Interested in learning more? Here are some Facebook pages that are great resources:

Schleese Saddlery Service

Saddlefit 4 Life

Fit Right Saddle Solutions




fitness for your ranch vacation

Fitness for your ranch vacation

Devyn (a certified Pilates instructor among her other roles at the ranch) offers some tips for preparing for your ranch vacation.

Whether you visit the ranch in the winter, summer, or fall–it is a very active vacation. Of course, you don’t have to begin an intense training session before your stay, but getting into a strength routine is always beneficial. Doing a little strength training makes you more aware of your body, helps you get up from a wipe-out in the champagne powder, gain more control in your legs for horseback riding, and some more power for those tough hikes. My favorite kind of exercises are total body and body-weight exercises. They allow you to get a quick work out in anywhere!

Everyone should do planks. They are a fitness junkie’s classic exercise. Yes, they engage your abdominals, but they work the oblique and back muscles too. Gaining strength in the core will help you sit up straighter while riding and help dig into the abs for strength while bike riding (instead of straining the lower back) Try doing them for a minute at a time. Laying on your tummy, place your forearms flat on the floor, stack shoulders over elbows then squeeze your legs together, tuck your toes under to lift the knees off the floor then straighten the legs. Keep squeezing your legs together to engage the glutes and inner thighs. Think about scooping your abdominal muscles in and up to keep them engaged.

Lunges are an incredible, classic exercise as well. If you can do them with a resistance band or weights, that’s even better. Strength in the legs and inner thighs is most beneficial when communicating with your horse while riding. In back country skiing, I’ve found that engaging the glutes helps me to stand up straight and power from the rear instead of the hip flexors. To make lunges really effective, make the motion slow, slow, slow. Articulate through the full length of your leg muscles. Slowing it down fires up the slow twitch muscle fibers which are used for endurance. Keep the knee of the leg in front of you in line with the front ankle. Do not let the knee creep forward over the toes or strain behind your ankle. This protects your knee. Think about pressing the heel of the front leg into the ground to engage the glutes and straighten the leg. Play with doing the full range of motion for 1 minute, then holding (leg in a 90 degree angle) for 30 seconds, then pulsing it out (little up and down) for the last 30 seconds.

Add these exercises to your fitness routine, and you might find your time in the hot tub is more about watching the stars than relieving the aches and pain of sore muscles!

  • history of a colorado dude ranch
  • early dude ranch photo

Dude Ranch Life- a little history

The other day I stumbled across some great historical photos that I had saved in a file. They were from Elvin Tufly, who sent them to me after he visited the ranch a few years ago. His stories from that visit took me on an amazing journey back into the early days of Vista Verde Ranch. Back then, it wasn’t a luxury dude ranch, but a school of hard knocks hay and cattle ranch. The Tufly family lived at Vista Verde in the summers, and once it got too cold they would move their cattle down to Clark and live there for the winter months. In the spring, they would drive the cattle back up to the ranch to graze for a bit before driving them up to Willow Creek for the summer. The amazing, lush grass that fills up the valley and gives the ranch its name would grow all summer until it was time to cut it for hay. Come fall, the Tuflys would gather up their cow-calf pairs, separate out the calves, and drive them all the way to Steamboat to be loaded on the train for their ride to Kansas City. In the winter, Elvin’s mom would rally her girlfriends to ski up to the ranch to check in on the buildings. The gals would spend a night, shovel the roofs, and then ski back to Clark. Ok ladies, this definitely is a different twist on a girls’ weekend!

It’s pretty humbling to think about how different life was at the ranch in those days. No fully-staffed, all-inclusive vacation with bubbling hot tubs, housekeepers tidying up after you, chefs preparing amazing meals, and the horses saddled when you show up at the barn. It was a tough life, and we love to look back and imagine what it must have been like for these folks who called Vista Verde home for so many years. Thanks to Elvin for sharing these memories!

Some notes from Elvin about the above photos for you history buffs:

  1. After I enlarged the picture I was able to see the smaller boys in the picture better and discovered they are the Fetcher boys; the smallest would be Ned, who I believe was or still is running the Fetcher ranch. John Fetcher was the one behind the camera; after seeing the picture larger, I recall Orval and Dad were working in the corral and John drove up for some reason, and they had stopped to get a drink, as there always was a tin cup hanging on the pipe filling the water trough. The water came directly from the spring. I am the one in the goofy, extra large hat. The adults are, as we had determined previously L-R Orval Bedell Sr, Art Tufly (Daddyart), and Hollis Tufly.
  2. Art and Salome Tufly on the way home (grandparents). It would appear this was taken just above the old Poppin bridge. That bridge is gone, and a new one is there; it is the first bridge crossing the river after you turn off onto the Seedhouse road. The only thing left of the old bridge is a mound of dirt with a bench sitting facing the river.
  3. Art Tufly with a four-up team in front of the old house. It would appear there is a start of my parent’s house or possibly there was something there prior to the small log house, but that is where it stood.


Steamboat dude ranch round up

The Dude Ranches of Steamboat Springs

Steamboat Springs is a pretty wonderful place and has become a bit of a hub of Colorado dude ranches with three ranches belonging to the Colorado Dude and Guest Ranch Association within a 6 mile radius of each other. We all enjoy the camaraderie of being neighbors and friendly competitors. Dude ranching can be an isolating business, as there aren’t many people who can relate to the challenges and rewards. Reading a hotel industry magazine just doesn’t cut it. We’re not dealing with ADR’s and REIT’s. We’re dealing with people, emotions, animals, dirt, and a staff that is like family. So, we feel pretty privileged to have some other great ranches within a stone’s throw with whom we share the ride.

The Home Ranch is just 6 miles down the road, right off of the Elk River Road. A Relais and Chateaux property, they have a strong emphasis on their farm to table dining. With beautiful views of the Zirkel Wilderness area right from the Main Lodge, this ranch is top notch and classy. They have a similar guest count, great riding and fishing, and a variety of cabins and lodge rooms. As well, the Home Ranch is also open in the winter for cross country skiing vacations and other fun activities in the snow. This is the first ranch we refer guests to when we are full, as they are as close as you can get to being similar in the dude ranch world. As I always tell people, comparing ranches is like comparing apples to oranges, but they both taste good.

The Elk River Guest Ranch is only a mile or so down Seedhouse Road, right next to the Elk River. This ranch has had a number of owners in the past 10 years, and has gone a few different directions. But, a little over a year ago it was purchased by a Bex, a former staff member at another Colorado dude ranch who had a dream of owning her own dude ranch. She and her husband opened the Elk River Guest Ranch for traditional dude ranch vacations last summer, and are busily building up the business. It’s a smaller, more rustic ranch, but is loaded with charm and great riding access into the Routt National Forest.

And then there’s Vista Verde Ranch. Our ranch has been functioning as a dude ranch since the 1970’s, and we just keep fine tuning our offering. Through a couple amitious owners, the facilities have been drastically upgraded over the years, the staff filled with long term, dedicated people, and our committment to “betterness” keeps us moving forward all the time. We pride ourselves in our diverse offering of activities, hiring phenomenal people, luxurious accommodations and amenities, and a culinary program that walks the line between ranchy and fancy. Summer, fall, or winter you can find us looking forward to getting to know our guests and sharing this little slice of heaven with folks from all over the world.

We hope you make it to one of these Steamboat dude ranches sometime soon. We’ll take all the guests we can handle, but as long as you visit one of these ranches it’s a win for the industry.

back country ski touring vacation

What is Backcountry Skiing, and can I do it?

Many people know what cross country (XC) skiing looks like, but many of our new guests ask us “What is backcountry skiing?” Backcountry skiing is the most popular kind of skiing at the ranch and one of our hallmark winter activities.

First off, it’s important to understand that backcountry skiing is a broad term that means different things to different people. For some, this is an extreme sport that you might see in an epic ski movie. That is not what we’re doing here! Our version is probably better described as backcountry touring.

Imagine taking a hike through a pristine meadow covered with a blanket of untouched snow. You cross the meadow and head into the trees. The hush of the forest is disturbed only by the plop of snow puffs falling out of the trees. You see fox tracks and keep an eye out for a moose or elk sighting in the distance. Once out of the forest, you find yourself gliding across a lake that is covered in a thick layer of ice and frosted with fresh powder. As you head back home, your stomach starts to grumble for lunch. The hearty breakfast has worn off as you’ve been burning calories out in the woods, and it’s time to warm up by the fire. That is backcountry touring.

From a technical perspective, what this looks like is a heavy duty pair of cross-country boots and skis. Your heel is free, so the boot connects only at the toe. This allows the kick and glide motion that propels you through the snow. The skis are wider and heavier than a traditional cross-country ski, so you will float in the snow, which means less work for you to get through the powder. Some backcountry touring skis have metal edges, which makes it easier to grip the snow on a side-hill, or make a turn if you are playing around with going down hills in the backcountry.

At Vista Verde, our guides first teach our guests the basics of backcountry touring. We show our guests how to move forward as efficiently as possible, and teach how to get up and down small hills. Most importantly, we teach how to get up when you fall down. The great part of being out in fresh powder is it doesn’t hurt if you fall! But you need to know how to get back up in the fluffy stuff, as it can feel pretty bottomless after a big snow storm. Then, we head out to one of the areas where we like to ski. With millions of acres in the Routt National Forest, our terrain options are extensive. Most of the time our guided tours last 1 ½- 2 hours, but there are a few days a week that we pack up a lunch for the more adventurous skiers and head out all day. Those are double dessert days!

We’d love to introduce you to backcountry skiing, so come play with us this winter!

Christmas vacation at an all-inclusive resort in Colorado

How to have a stress-free Christmas Vacation

Some people just love Christmas, and some dread the holiday with all the expectations and pressures. Want to know how to have a relaxing yet festive holiday? Spend the week at Vista Verde Ranch and enjoy a Christmas vacation without the stress! One guest put it well to me recently when she said, “We give each other photographs instead of stuff for presents.” In other words, let the year be the year you make memories with those you love instead of giving gadgets.

What does Christmas week at Vista Verde look like?

  • Arrive at the Steamboat/Hayden airport where we’ll be waiting to pick you up in a ranch Suburban.
  • Settle into your luxury accommodation with a fridge stocked with drinks, snacks on the counter, and then light a crackling fire in your wood burning stove as the snow falls outside.
  • Sit back at dinner while our friendly and attentive staff treat you to an amazing culinary experience.
  • Soak in your hot tub with a view of the stars before snuggling up under your cozy comforter for a long winter’s rest.
  • Wake up refreshed and ready to get outside and play in the snow.
  • Following a hearty breakfast in the Lodge, head outside with a guide to try back country skiing or snow shoeing. Or, hop on a horse to ride in the snow or take a horsemanship clinic in the indoor arena. Or, giggle like a small child as you zip down the tubing hill before being pulled back up by a snowmobile. Or, join our talented chefs for a wine tasting or cooking class. Or, there’s a kid’s program, yoga, and the list goes on!
  • Sing carols around the roaring fire in the Great room at night.
  • Create home made decorations with your family to decorate the trees out in the yard.
  • Take a sleigh ride with jingling bells…..yes, this is the time to break out into that song.
  • Indulge in a bountiful feast on Christmas day with all the guests and staff to celebrate the joy of the Christmas spirit.
  • Relax with your loved ones in your cozy cabin to reflect on what Christmas means to you, and savor the quiet moments.
  • Head home at the end of the week refreshed, recharged, and full of memories.

Christmas week at Vista Verde runs Saturday, December 19-Saturday, December 26, 2015. Join us for an all-inclusive Christmas vacation and savor the Colorado winter wonderland at it’s best!


Riding lessons before or after your ranch vacation

So, maybe you just got back from your dude ranch vacation and realized you caught the bug? Or, maybe you’re gearing up for your upcoming getaway and want to get a little jump start on riding before you spend a week in the saddle. You’re not the first to have either of these ideas! If you have a ranch vacation in your future, riding ahead of time will help you be more comfortable on day one, as well as alleviate some of the soreness that is inevitable with using muscles you don’t normally use for hours on end, day after day. Our hut tubs help a lot, but riding before you arrive will help even more. But, it’s hard to know where to start, who to go to, and to know what you’re looking for. Here are some tips on finding the right place to take lessons and the right trainer who can help you improve your horsemanship skills.

Understand the different types of riding. Western, English, Reining, Cutting, Jumping, Hunter, Three Day, Trail, Dressage…..what are all these options?

Western and English are the most broad terms for riding styles. Western riding got its start on ranches as early as the late 1770’s. Much of the equipment was influenced by the early Spanish vaqueros and designed for comfort, function, and necessity. English is the more traditional European and Eastern style of riding with a more close contact saddle, and more contact with the horse at all times via leg pressure and rein pressure. Under those two disciplines there are more specific types of training and riding, so just because two people ride Western, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are doing the same thing with their horses. One might be performing cattle work and one might just be trail riding, or one might be barrel racing. And, with all of these different styles within a discipline, there are opportunities for competition at various levels. If you’re intrigued, check out this Wiki article showing all the different styles of horseback riding. There were several I had never even heard of before! At Vista Verde we teach Western riding with a working ranch horse focus in our training techniques. That gives us a horse that is handy on cows, willing and safe on the trail, and capable of doing whatever work is required around the ranch (although we’re still working on their dish washing skills!)

Find someone who teaches to your level. For most people without a lot of horse experience, you need someone who can teach you the basics, get your comfortable, and get you some mileage in the saddle. Many horse trainers are focused on high level competition. These type of trainers are still great at teaching, but will be more inclined to teach experienced riders and refine their skills for competition. We would recommend looking for someone who focuses on general horsemanship and beginner riders. That person is going to have more practice teaching to the novice rider, and will be better at communicating the hows and whys of horses and riding. You wouldn’t go to the astrophysicist for tutoring help in basic biology, so go to a horse trainer who’s main goal is to get people comfortable and competent on horse, and wants to foster a love of equines in all people. This trainer might not be at the flashiest stable, and might not have the flashiest horses, but they are going to give you the foundation you need to move up. If, at some point you want to move on to competitive riding, then maybe the more renowned riding stable will be a better fit. But, my experience is that often times, the less flashy trainers are the ones who really teach you how to ride, and just just prop you up on a fancy horse and let the horse do all the work. After all, you want to learn to ride and not just be a pretty passenger, right?

How often? Weekly lessons for a couple months would be a great start. If you find yourself or your child falling madly in love with riding, then it’s time to step it up to a couple days a week so you can progress more quickly. But, for starts, once a week is great as you’ll have a chance to get over being sore, process what you learned before your next lesson, and come to the following lesson ready to step up to the next level.

Ok, I’m ready. Now what? So, you know what you want, now how do you find it? Well, I wish we could say we have a great database of inspected and approved riding instructors. But, many of our guests have checked out some of the pros, and here are a couple recommendations from them. Not in your area? Check out the American Riding Instructors Association or the Certified Horsemanship Association for a list of instructors in your state.

One of our guests, Michele, recommends Gillian Muir for dressage (a subset of English) if you live in the South Florida area. Michele shared that she feels Gillian really teaches from the ground up, which means she focuses on the whole horsemanship experience, not just sitting on the horses back.

Elizabeth suggests Mikia Parker at the Arvada Indoor Equestrian Center for those living in the fine state of Colorado. According to Elizabeth she is smart, encouraging, an excellent communicator, and absolutely loves her horses.

For those in the Kansas area, Vicki recommends Vaught Family Natural Horsemanship. This family team offers lessons and clinics with a focus on natural horsemanship. Their goal is to provide a harmonious relationship between horse and rider. Sounds pretty good to me!

Lastly, if you live in Southern California, Lucy had high words of praise for Nicole Bankhead at River Valley Equestrian Center. She teaches English riding, and they have beautiful trails to explore nearby, but there is also has a polo field at the Center, so you can try out polo!

At Vista Verde, we pride ourselves in teaching people how to ride, not just tossing them on the back of a horse as a passenger. It’s exciting to see people learn about horses and horsemanship, improve their skills over the course of the week, and leave excited to ride more. Our horses appreciate that we teach guests to ride to, as it makes their lives more comfortable, and we keep our horses tuned up by training our guests to ride properly. It comes full circle as the horses become more responsive and more enjoyable to ride with the consistency from their riders. So, get out and ride! And, if you’re looking for an intensive horsemanship experience, don’t forget that we host special horsemanship clinics at least once a year.

Landing a dude ranch job- Interview with Beka

With so many guests asking us how we get these amazing people to work at Vista Verde season after season, I thought it would be fun to do an interview with Beka, who handles the day to day process of hiring our seasonal crews.

Q) Where do most of the staff come from?

A) We hire staff from all over the United States. However, we tend to hire people in clusters. One season we might hire a bunch from Georgia and the next a group from Texas, but it is always a sure thing that a lot will come from Indiana, with all our ties to that state.

Q) How do you interview them?

A) Generally we interview using Skype; it is less like an interview and more like a conversation you would have with someone over coffee. When chatting with prospective employees, we are looking for applicants who genuinely enjoy people and aim to live a healthy lifestyle physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Q) Do you recruit?

A) We post on a few college forums and seasonal work websites. However, our best recruiters are the staff and guests who have experienced Vista Verde firsthand.

Q) What is the weirdest interview experience you’ve ever had?

A) Nothing too crazy has happened yet. We have had some very memorable interviews where people have used props or costumes to express their personalities.

Q) Do you get nervous when they finally show up at the ranch?

A) I used to but not as much anymore, now that we do Skype interviews. There is something very telling about seeing people face to face. It makes you feel that you know them much better when you can see their expressions and reactions to your questions.

Q) When do you hire for each season?

A) Hiring happens pretty much year round. I email or talk on the phone with potential employees every day. We really amp up hiring for the winter in September and keep at it pretty much until staff arrive in early December. For the summer we begin doing interviews right after the New Year and aim to have everyone hired before the end of April.

Q) How could I qualify to work at the ranch?

A) The first step is wanting to be part of the culture. When considering employees, we are looking for applicants who sincerely love people, guest services, kids, the outdoors, and will fit in with the community. Some of our positions require specific skills and experience, but we tend to hire people who are teachable, passionate, and hardworking over those who have a great deal of experience. You can teach skills, but you cannot train people how to care for others, have good character, or work hard. They have to come with those qualities. Another big qualifier is timing; we have a training period before the opening of every season which we take very seriously. We aim to hire staff who are available from the beginning of the training period to the end of the season.

So, are you ready to work at a ranch? Or, do you know someone who would be a perfect fit? Put them in touch with Beka, and she’ll take it from there.


Winter riding at Vista Verde Guest Ranch in Colorado

A Colorado Christmas and Ringing in the New Year–dude ranch style

Have you ever dreamed of spending a white Christmas in Colorado? Watching the snow fall outside while a fire crackles in the fireplace, or singing carols on a horse drawn sleigh, or making snow angels in fresh powder with your kids? It’s not just something that you see in the movies. In fact, every December, Vista Verde Ranch provides this experience for families from all over the world.

What does a winter holiday look like at Vista Verde? Read on…

Winter at it’s best

When the snow falls at Vista Verde, all our guests have to do is enjoy it! And this is fun snow. No shoveling, no worrying about driving, just fun in the fluffy white powder. Skiing, tubing, sleigh rides, and more.

Christmas without the stress

No arguing over who cooks what or trying to entertain an overflowing house. Pack your bags, bring your Christmas spirit, and we’ll take it from there. Cooking, cleaning, and special events? We’ve got it covered. Your job is just to enjoy your family and relish in the important things that get lost in the holiday stress– quality time with your family, quiet moments of reflection, and shared memories that will last a lifetime. Special Christmas events include making homemade decorations as a family, caroling by the fire, and a huge Christmas Feast shared with all the guests and staff.

New Years for a family

Tired of the same old New Year’s Eve revelries? We’re guessing you’ve never square danced your way into the New Year? At Vista Verde, we fill the week with fun outdoor adventures, and then ring in the New Year with a Western celebration. Savor the flavors of a wine pairing dinner while the kids romp and make a mess at the barn party. Then, join up as a family to stomp your boots in an old fashion square dance, followed by a firework show outside the Great Room.

Kids and snow

They love it. All you have to do is bundle them up (we’ll help you figure out what you need to pack) and toss them out in a snowbank. It’s guaranteed fun for hours, until they get cold and are ready for some steaming hot chocolate in the warm lodge. The kids program that is so well recognized in the summer months kicks back in for the Christmas and New Year weeks (as well as President’s Day weekend on through late-March). You can try out adventures with your kids, or know that they will be having a ball in the kids program while you’re off on skis, snowshoes, or horses. They’ll ski, snowshoe, tube, ride horses, sleigh ride, did I mention tube?

The Christmas and New Year’s holidays require a week-long stay to be able to fit in all the adventures and celebrations that make it such a special time of year. For more information on dates and rates, visit our winter rates page or contact us for more details. We hope you’ll join us for some holiday fun!


What is a dude ranch?

By Steph

Say you’re from a big city, and have never been to a dude ranch or don’t even really grasp what it means to take a dude ranch vacation? Every once in a while, I find myself trying to explain to someone what it means to visit a dude ranch. Typically, they are surprised by what they hear.

You think it’s just about riding horses and living like a cowboy in the American West for a week? Oh boy, you have no idea.

A dude ranch vacation is about horses, soaking up a piece of the American West, and enjoying outdoor adventures in a beautiful setting. But, it’s really about a lot more than that.

It’s about people becoming better people. You read that right. Because people learn a lot about themselves through their experiences on horses. They see their patterns, their habits, their “stories”, their insecurities, and their strengths all come out in the interactions with these kind-hearted four-legged creatures. Through horses, people learn more about themselves, find confidence they didn’t know was there and resolve to make changes that are a long time coming. They often face what they don’t want to face, and come out on the other side better people. Doesn’t sound fun? Just talk to someone who has had a life-changing experience because of one afternoon in a horsemanship clinic. It’s pretty darn good. ( Warning: The same thing can happen on skis, on a bike, or in the river with a fishing pole in hand)

It’s about people connecting. Sure, vacations are a great chance to relax. But, dude ranch vacations do much more than that. You do relax. You also connect. You connect with your family or traveling partners. You connect with the staff. You connect with the other guests. Often times, guests find themselves finding a renewed sense of faith in the human experience. They are reminded that a deep conversation can do wonders for the heart. They are reminded that laughter is truly the best medicine. They are reminded that there are amazing 20-something people out there in the world who are going to be our future leaders. They are reminded that you can treat people well just because you care, and for no other ulterior motive. They are reminded that relationships matter.

It’s about getting dirty. I’ve blogged about this before, but I’m always amazed by how many guests ask why we’re all so happy here. There are lots of reasons, but I firmly believe that getting dirty, getting out in the woods, and getting a little sweaty while you’re at it promotes happiness. It doesn’t hurt to be surrounded by amazing people who share a similar passion and care about their community. But, it has a lot to do with dirt. So, a dude ranch vacation is about getting dirty, sweaty, into the woods, and in touch with the earth. We need to do that more as humans. Kids need to do it more. And here, you get to do just that. ALL.DAY.LONG.

It’s about values. The cowboy code of ethics is as follows:

1. Live each day with courage

2. Take pride in your work

3. Always finish what you start

4. Do what has to be done

5. Be tough, but fair

6. When you make a promise, keep it

7. Ride for the brand

8. Talk less and say more

9. Remember that some things aren’t for sale

10. Know where to draw the line.

When people go to a dude ranch, they see this played out right in front of them. That doesn’t happen out there in the real world all the time, so it’s a great reminder of living an honest life, and doing the right thing. No religion needed for this, just ethics.

But, you know what? It’s also about amazing adventures, loads of fun, being pampered lavishly (ok, maybe not at all ranches), eating fresh and amazing food, and being authentically cared for by others so you can let go of your stress, your worries, and your busy life at home. Doesn’t sound good to you? Maybe it’s not the right kind of vacation for you then. That’s ok, we know it’s not for everyone. But, you might just surprise yourself, and find out it’s what you’re really looking for with your time away from home.

Happy trails, until we meet at check-in.

How to pick the right dude ranch vacation

By Steph

With summer quickly approaching, many people are planning their dude ranch vacations now. Many are surprised to find out that they are behind the 8-ball as most dude ranches tend to fill up quickly and often by spring are very full. With the availability at dude ranches waning and the pressure on, here are some tips on how to pick the best dude ranch vacation:

1) Start early- so you’re only planning your trip in April this year. Don’t give up. There are still some good dude ranches with availability. Find one, grab it and enjoy. And then start planning your next trip so you can book it in the fall!

2) Start with what kind of ranch you want. There are many different kinds of ranches, and from the Dude Rancher’s Association blog, I pulled this breakdown:

    These are working cattle or sheep operations. Your horseback riding adventures will be determined by the ranch’s livestock and the work related to them. Be prepared to experience these activities first hand.
    Horseback riding is central to these ranches. The cowboy in you will experience Western riding and a variety of outdoor activities.
    Horseback riding is featured, and these ranches offer an array of diverse activities and onsite facilities. These are apt to be the larger ranches.”

I would add to this the question of do you want a more luxury experience or a more rustic experience, or something in the middle? Dude ranches ranges from the bare-boned experience you may remember from “City Slickers” to luxury dude ranches that offer fine linens and gourmet meals. Where do you fall in that spectrum? This choice will point you towards either more luxurious accommodations and meals that are like what you find at a fine restaurant or rustic and quaint log cabins and simple meals, or somewhere in between. Your answer to this question will also slide you one way or another along the price point spectrum.

3) What kind of activities do you want? Are you looking for a ride, ride, ride experience or do you want to try a little bit of everything? Some of the best dude ranches offer only riding and some of them offer a full range of activities.

4) Kids. Do you have ’em? Don’t like ’em? If no, then you may want to find a ranch that doesn’t cater to families. Or, many ranches offer times during their season when they are adult-only. At Vista Verde, we set aside September and October for adult-only ranch vacations.

5) Kids. Have ’em, like ’em? If yes, then you get to decide how you want to play out your family vacation. Do you want to spend all your time with them? Do you want to have some times when the kids are watched? Are you hoping to show up on Sunday and not see your kids until the following Sunday? Each dude ranch with a kids program sets up theirs up differently. Decide what feels right to you and then look for a ranch that meets that desire. At Vista Verde, we try to hit it in the middle with an active and engaging kids program, some dinners set aside for just the adults, but then also a lot of opportunities for families to be together and create memories. Also, pay attention to age minimums. Ranches are usually best suited for kids 6 and up, but some do have programs for the little ones.

7) How is the riding program? Do you just want to sit on a horse and enjoy the scenery or is this a learning vacation for you. The best dude ranches have a lot of learning to their riding programs, but maybe you don’t want that? Do they offer clinics or instruction? How big are the trail rides? How often do you ride? Again, taken from the Dude Rancher’s Association blog:

“Choose the riding environment that appeals to you; open meadows, prairies, mountain trails or southwestern desert. The location of the ranch determines the terrain.

Then, choose the type of riding you’d like; working livestock, cattle drives, pack trips, team penning and arena games or daily trail rides.”

8) Size- Do you want to be in a very intimate setting with only a dozen other people, or do you want a larger feel? Smaller ranches (20 guests) are indeed more intimate. Larger ranches (80-100 guests) are less personal but there are a lot of people to meet and enjoy. And the mid-size ranches (~40-50 guests) kind of hit it in the middle. Still personal, but a variety of people to meet and get to know during the course of your stay. Because you will. Dude ranches are not the place for an anonymous vacation, but you very well will develop relationships that last for years and years. And dude ranch guests are usually really interesting, adventurous and fun people.

9) Reviews- Check Tripadvisor reviews of dude ranches. Ask your friends if they’ve ever been to one. You’ll get pointed to the best dude ranch vacation through those avenues.

10) Last, but most important. Trust your gut. I just heard a story on the radio (yep, I do still listen to the radio when I drive) about how a group of people who are given some basic facts about world events do a better job predicting what will happen than an expert who has access to all the classified information. It reminded me how I tell potential guests to just trust their gut when choosing. Yes, it can be overwhelming to choose a dude ranch vacation. But, once you’ve narrowed it down to your top 5, just trust your gut on your pick. The truth is, you’ll probably have a great time at any of the ranches on that list.

Now pack your bags and enjoy! If you want more info on what to do if you chose Vista Verde and then found out we are full, check out this post on planning your dude ranch vacation.

VVR Yearling “Rocketman” –Beginning stages of training for performance and trail.

By Annie

Please note that this is an informational blog post, not an instruction piece intended as a how-to in training a horse.

Every safe trail riding horse needs to be “bomb proof.” But what does that actually mean? The goal of Vista Verde’s dude ranch breeding and training program is to breed high quality performance horses that are not only phenomenal in reining and cow work but also enjoyable on a trail ride. Teaching our horses to be safe and well mannered starts with teaching them to expect the unexpected. A great horse helps makes a great vacation, after all!

Preparation is key when teaching youngsters. There are several methods we use in starting our young yearlings and 2 year olds to begin to learn how to be handled, saddled and eventually ridden. One of the tools we like to use when introducing young horses to be ridden for the first time is an old sack or grain bag tied to a 50-foot rope. This is a method of desensitizing young horses to their first time carrying something behind their eyes, where eventually a person will end up sitting in the saddle. Other key preparation training has already taken place to set this young horse up for being able to handle this stage.

When starting a horse to carry this noisy little bag, we make sure that our flag training, ground cues to go forward, stop, reverse and turn are already solid in the colt. We have already worked over this horse’s back from the fence, so he has been able to see things going on behind his vision and has shown progress in switching eyes, as objects (flag, pad, saddle, arm, leg, chaps etc) start on one side and end up across his back on the other.

A little skeptical

A little skeptical

Step 1: Let Him Be Curious

It is important to play off a horse’s natural curiosity and desire to play! Allowing them to be curious builds confidence to check things out and inspect new things rather than shying away from them. We want to develop their “thinking mind” instead of having them getting worried and letting their protective prey instincts take charge. Allowing the colts to follow anything out in front of and below their eyes is the best way to introduce anything new. It is a non-confrontational way to help them to inspect and accept. Being able to pick up and play with the object means the colt is ready and more comfortable with the bag. We will walk around dragging the bag behind us but out in front of the colt so he can clearly see it.



And now curiosity wins

And now curiosity wins


Here you can see the bag showing up on the other side, as I made the toss I purposefully grazed his hocks so he could feel the energy in the rope and bag and yet still remained calm (note the loop in the blue rope to the colts halter)

Here you can see the bag showing up on the other side. As I made the toss, I purposefully grazed his hocks so he could feel the energy in the rope and bag and yet still remain calm (note the loop in the blue rope to the colt’s halter)

Step 2: Tossing around field of vision

Being able to toss the noisy bag in all areas and not have the movement startle the horse is the goal. This teaches them to accept commotion: people, wildlife, and activity going on unexpectedly around them. It also helps them become used to things happening behind them without those actions being cues to move or go forward. Riders taking off gear, jackets, hats etc is often a cause of discomfort for horses, and their reactions are sometimes seen as unexpected by riders. Once they are comfortable here, it lets us know that it’s now time to start touching the colt with the bag and rope.






Seemingly not bothered by the bag around him and touching him, I have thrown it across the top of the saddle now for him to see movement move upward, everything to this point has been horizontal and downward motion. Upward motion is important because soon I would like to get up on his back!

Seemingly not bothered by the bag around him and touching him, I have thrown it across the top of the saddle now for him to see movement move upward, everything to this point has been horizontal and downward motion. Upward motion is important because soon I would like to get up on his back!

Step 3: Touch all over

Most importantly, all horses should be desensitized to having things running between their legs (dogs, children, ropes) because at some point in their lives it is bound to happen. In the images you can see how I will purposefully swing the bag beneath the colt’s belly then drag it towards me and the colt from the opposite side. Again, this engages their “thinking brain” and teaches them not to react. This builds confidence between the horse and human as well. At this stage they start to check in more often and almost seem to ask a question like, “Is this something you want me to do something about?” Then you know you’re teaching the lessons that will build an excellent student to learn some pretty important things someday.





By hanging the bag all over the back and neck of the colts helps prepare him to being able to accept possibly a person across his back and neck.

Hanging the bag all over the back and neck of the colt helps prepare him to accept a person across his back and neck someday.

Step 4: Bag goes for a ride!

There are times when a sudden movement from a horse will send a rider off balance. If the worst case happens and a rider were to fall off, it’s important that the horse be prepared to have things be where they aren’t expected. This can help prevent a bad accident from getting worse. Obviously this is serious business. If a horse has been taught from the beginning to expect the unexpected, the odds are better that the horse will quiet and wait for help and check in, instead of letting their natural instincts of flight take over.

So we work this noisy bag all over the colts, ask them to walk, trot and lope with it. Let it drag around behind them, let it bounce annoyingly at their sides while they are moving out. Their response at that time will tell us just how bothered they are feeling. Sometimes they will scoot at the sudden recognition that something is there and they cant seem to get free from it, but with proper preparation beforehand, it is sometimes just a little scoot and then they even out. This will tell us what their response might be like for the first time it’s one of us up there instead of the bag going for a ride!

Rocketman is showing himself to be a helpful partner because some day I might ask him to help out at a branding pen dragging calves or maybe help clear some trail at VVR and he is now prepared to drag a log off the trail for me! What a good boy!

Rocketman is showing himself to be a helpful partner. Some day I might ask him to help out at a branding pen dragging calves or maybe help clear some trail at VVR, and he is now prepared to drag a log off the trail for me! What a good boy!




Valentine Vacation in Colorado

By Steph

hot tub feet smallImagine waking up in a warm bed at Vista Verde Ranch on Valentine’s Day morning. Your sweetheart is next to you, bundled up under a cozy comforter, still snoozing. You look outside and see snow lightly falling on the trees. What to do today?

An early morning dip in the hot tub as you watch the horses start moving around for the day. Following a hearty breakfast in bed you are heading out on a snow shoe tour with one of the ski guides. Or, maybe you decided to work on your horsemanship skills with one of the wranglers in the indoor arena? Don’t forget, you also have a sleigh ride for two planned in the afternoon after some quality time wooing your honey on the sledding hill. Nothing speaks romance like screaming down the sledding hill, hand in hand.

Of course, the highlight of the day is the ever popular Aphrodisiac dinner prepared by Cholly, John and the chef crew. Creative cuisine paired with wonderful wines, and then later in the evening…..that’s completely up to you.

Intrigued? Learn more about our winter vacation packages and plan your romantic Valentine’s Day getaway now.

Colorado All-Inclusive Resorts

By Steph

Out of curiosity (that’s the marketing geek in me coming out) I did a search this morning for “Colorado all-inclusive resorts”. I was pretty surprised at what I found, and in some ways more surprised by what I didn’t find.

Top of the list were a bunch of paid ads. Some of them were for Colorado dude ranches, some were for website that bunch vacation destinations together, and some were for places like Sandals. The one that made me laugh the most was the one for an all-inclusive resort in Mexico.

In digging a little deeper, I found that when I visited the websites that list a bunch of places, those listings were exclusively dude ranches. The only non-dude ranch listing that I could find was for a Club Med in Crested Butte.

The other lists that came up were articles that have been written about some of the best all-inclusive resorts, but most of them were not in Colorado. I am biased towards the Travel + Leisure article titled “America’s Best All-Inclusive Resorts“, as we did get a nice mention in that story. But, it’s still not a Colorado only listing.

So, the moral of the story? Besides fun sleuthing around, I think someone needs to write an article on the best all-inclusive resorts in Colorado. I am a firm believer that all-inclusive resorts are a big draw for people who want to simplify their vacation planning. So, it would be great to provide a platform for folks to find places in Colorado. I guess dude ranches are truly the original all-inclusive vacation, but I’d love to find out more about other types of resorts that exist in this beautiful state!

Planning your family dude ranch vacation

So, you’ve decided that you want to take a family dude ranch vacation. Now what? The search for the best dude ranches can be daunting. How do you know which one will really be good? How do you know which one is right for you? Then, you find one and love it. Vista Verde is your pick. (Of course, we think this is a steller pick). But, when you call the ranch with your credit card in hand, ready to make your deposit, you find out they are full. Gasp, oh no!

Pardon the comedic tone, but although we love our success and the fact that the ranch fills up quicker and quicker each year for our family dude ranch times, it’s doesn’t feel good to tell someone who is excited to take the plunge that they can’t do it this year. Maybe we should feel proud about that, and sure, we do a little. But, honestly, we all agree that is such a bummer to have to turn an excited potential guest away.

Since we typically try to offer some other suggestions for finding another spot for their family dude ranch vacation, we thought we’d share those tips with everyone.

The first thing to know is that there really isn’t a “best dude ranch”. There just isn’t. There is a best dude ranch for you, but that may not be the same as the best one for your neighbor. The beauty of dude ranches is that they are all unique and special. Each one fits different people, and appeals to guests for different reasons. But, here are a couple we think highly of, and recommend often.

If you like the Steamboat Springs area, then you should check out the Home Ranch. It’s similar in the capacity of the ranch and it’s a very nice place with a great culinary aspect.

For a smaller ranch (in terms of capacity) you should check out Smith Fork Ranch. Their food is great, and so is the guided fly fishing program.

C Lazy U is another nice ranch. It’s much larger, but that is a good thing if you’re planning a last minute vacation for your family, as they are more likely to have space for you.

The last one is Lost Valley Ranch. It’s got a great family feel, and a strong riding program.

Now, keep in mind that these are just the ranches we typically recommend. There are a bunch of other amazing Colorado dude ranches listed at www.coloradoranch.com. Any of them are perfect spots for a family dude ranch vacation. Many are a bit more rustic than Vista Verde, but still in beautiful locations and run by great people.

Hopefully we’ll have a spot for you at Vista Verde, but just in case, we still want you to have a great vacation, and hope that you feel that the ranch where you end up is the best dude ranch for you!

The rewards of Guest Ranching

As much as we all love what we do here in the world of guest ranching, there are times when we need a reminder of how we are contributing to make this world a better place. I just had one of those reminders today.
I talk and email with people every day about coming out to the ranch. Some already know they want to come and just need to make the reservation. Some have done extensive research on the best Colorado dude ranches and ask a million well-educated questions. Some are just sniffing the whole idea out. I try to give them a realistic view on the ranch and hopefully convince them it’s the right place for them if it’s a match. But I’ve never been very good at the hard sell. It’s just not my style. However, this fall I had a situation that I stepped up to with a hard sell. I had a family who was interested in coming for a winter stay, but were pretty hesitant about the price. I recognize that our prices are high, but also fully understand the value in what we offer guests. And I also see what it costs for us to do what we’re doing here. It’s tough because I believe that once guests are here, they see the value, but it’s sometimes hard to get that across beforehand. Anyway, I digress. Something about this family just seemed like a great fit for the ranch. I could tell that this was the place for them, and that they would really enjoy being at Vista Verde. So I made it my mission to convince them that it was worth every penny. I went hard sell and did everything I could to make them see that it would be worth their money. And it worked! They came! Little did I know, but as their story unfolded and we got to know them, there were so many more reasons that this trip was really important to them. We loved them and they were beaming the whole time. So, how does this tie into the title of this post? Because I just got a thank you note from mom. To quote part of her note, “Because of you my family had the best family vacation that we have every had. Vista Verde was everything you said it was plus much more, many, much, many more. Thank you for a lifetime of wonderful memories and we can’t wait to see y’all again” Wow. That was a priceless reminder of what we are doing here on a larger scale. Ok, so that’s my touchy feely post for the month. Thank you Christy. And if you’re the next person who calls and isn’t sure about this place, watch out. I may have to bring out the hard sell.

Dude Ranch gifts

On a regular basis, we have experiences at our all inclusive ranch resort that are unbelievable.  Here’s an example.  None of us went into the dude ranch business to make money.  We’re all here because we love taking care of people, playing in the outdoors and living this life.  Having said all that, we are still running a business, and there are real transactions that take place.  Each day this winter, we have checked out guests as they wrap up their winter getaway, and they pay for their time at the ranch.  After having paid for their ranch vacation, you would think guests would see it as a fair transaction.  But, this is when the surprise happens.  

Suddenly, we start receiving gifts of all types.  Maybe it's a card or an email saying thank you.   Or, it might be one of those amazing dude ranch reviews on Tripadvisor.  Or, a Facebook post saying thanks for their romantic honeymoon vacation.  Then, we get photos sent to us- amazing photos from their many adventures.  Sometimes, it’s even a gift, some sort of goody, or a phone call saying they miss the ranch.  As the recipient, there are not enough thanks for all those kinds of gifts.  Not only do we get to play with fun people in the outdoors, share stories, learn about their worlds and enjoy them at their happiest time.  We get paid for it, and then we get thanked too.  

The past couple weeks, I have been overwhelmed with emails filled with photos and words of thanks.  Cards have shown up on my desk.  I’ve picked up presents at the post office for staff, and found little goodies left for the crew in the staff room.  The Facebook posts and the Tripadvisor reviews are enough to make my heart beam with pride.  How lucky are we to be able to call this place home, and get thanked for doing what we love every day?  So lucky, it’s unbelievable.

A real winter wonderland

Although the summer season still have a couple weeks left, I’m finding myself thinking more and more about the winter these days. It may have something to do with the increasing emails and phone calls I’m receiving about Christmas at the ranch or winter vacations at Vista Verde.

Winter is the real challenge for us at Vista Verde. It’s the unknown season, the misunderstood season. A dude ranch in winter? Yes, absolutely, and you really just have to try it to get it. In fact, I was just talking with our friends and loyal guests Kim and Mark about that yesterday and how they were very skeptical before their first winter stay and fell in love once they did it. They then turned around and talked some other great friends and guests Dan and Sandy into trying it too. When the two couples were here at the same time last week, they were laughing about how true it was that they had no idea how much they would love it before trying the winter experience at Vista Verde.

It’s a lot to ask someone to shell out a chunk of change for a vacation that they are skeptical about. I understand that completely. Vacation time is precious and so are the funds that pay for those times. I’m pretty confident that I could offer a money back guarantee on a winter ranch vacation at Vista Verde. So, if you’re on the fence, give me a call.

We just want you to try it, or to have your friends try it. It’s romantic- think bubbling hot tub with the snow falling around you or sitting by the roaring fire in your private cabin or in the new Great Room. It’s adventurous- almost every former downhill skier who formerly poo-pooed cross country skiing changes their mind after one backcountry ski with Steve or his guides into the wilderness. It’s doable- the climate is surprisingly friendly to getting outside and enjoying the outdoors. And our guides have the best gear and the best instruction for making the activities something that everyone can do. It’s just plain unique.

Enough ranting about why I think this is the best winter vacation. I know I’m biased. But I’ve done this long enough and watched enough people fall in love that I feel like it’s an educated bias! Bring on the snow.

Colorado Ski Lodge

Colorado winter vacationIt’s funny to be thinking about skiing in Colorado when I just took a ride out yesterday through the lush aspen forest around the ranch.  But, it seems that a lot of folks are thinking about fun in the snow already.  We are getting calls and emails from all over the world- folks researching winter vacation ideas. 

As we rejoice in the beauty of summer, I find myself having to dig deep to describe the ranch when it is covered in snow.  But, as I dig into that memory bank, magical images fill my head.  Snow covering the fences around the ranch, bare aspens csating dramatic shadows on the snow, muffled hoof beats from the horses frolicking, and squeals of joy as folks sled, ski and play around the ranch.

Yesterday, we had a visit from friends of ours who have only been to Vista Verde Ranch in the winter.  They were amazed to see all that is hidden below the snow.  I enjoyed reminiscing with Don about the carolling on the sleigh at Christmas, and all the fun we have in the snow with guests. 

Romantic winter getawaySo, what is it like to stay at our Colorado Ski Lodge?  Peaceful, serene, breathtaking and personal.  We hope you feel like you’ve stayed with friends after you leave, because that is how we look at it.  We’ll play with you in the snow- skiing, snow shoeing, sledding, riding, going on the sleigh, and more.  We’ll kick up our feet and share some laughs and songs.  We’ll treat you to an amazing dining experience.  And then we’ll send you off to retire to your cozy and luxurious cabin….maybe you can even fit in a soak in the hot tub on your deck before heading to bed.  Whether it be a romantic mountain getaway, a family snow vacation or just a retreat from the world all by yourself, we’ll do our best to make it magical and memorable. 

Off I go to head out into the sun and green grass.  But now I have visions of snowflakes in my head.  We hope to see you when the snow flies!