My family and I recently enjoyed an amazing few days away just outside of Steamboat Springs in Colorado at the Vista Verde Guest Ranch, and while there I discovered why a dude ranch vacation is the ultimate family vacation. You too can experience life like a cowboy this summer by taking a family vacation at a working, dude or luxury ranch, so you can disconnect, reconnect and connect with nature.
Here are my top reasons why a dude ranch family vacation is a must and what type could be best for yours.
Weekend Life….Vista Verde Ranch, Steamboat Springs, Colorado
Over the next few days we throw ourselves into ranch activities. Cross-country skiing on groomed trails, tobogganing (I start off nervously – wearing my yaktrax for extra grip – and by the end am taking a flying leap before hurtling down the slope, face covered in snow and laughing wildly), a horsemanship clinic, backcountry skiing, and a snowy horse ride. My favorite? Backcountry skiing. Before we head out into the wilderness, Steve and Kelli, our wonderful guides, kit us out with skis, boots and poles and ask about our expectations, experience, likes and dislikes. I sense that skiing in a remote forest in deep, untracked powder is as much about the spiritual as the physical. With Steve’s words of wisdom spurring us on “Nobody grooms as good as mother nature” and “We are human beings, not human doings”, we set off with Steve andKelli’s adorable lab, Rosie, leading the way. As Rosie bounds ahead of us – four legs are better than two skis it seems - her black face sprinkled with snow, we are soon deep in a pine forest where the only sounds are the swoosh of our skis (and the rustle of my pants!) and Steve and Kelli’s enthusiastic encouragement. It is magical. And although I fall, feel frustrated(mostly trying to master uphill!) and am exhausted by the end, we both agree that it is the highlight of our stay at Vista Verde Ranch.
Living in Colorado makes it easy to spend a lot of time outdoors; you can often find my family on the slopes, by the soccer field or camping by a lively stream. Being “outdoorsy” is just our way of life. However, I never realized that doing the things I love outside and having a “luxury” vacation could intersect… boy, was I in for a glorious surprise! Read more…..
What’s Hot- Winter at Vista Verde Ranch That’s What
Published on February 18, 2014 by Terri
Winter is HOT at Vista Verde Ranch! Whether you are planning a romantic proposal, honeymoon, or the perfect anytime getaway you will find yourself knee deep in love with it all at this Luxury Colorado Dude Ranch. Read more…..
Snowshoeing and cross-country (XC) skiing are some of the most romantic forms of recreation and Valentine’s Day is coming. So get away with your loved one(s) to a winter wonderland of memories for some outdoor recreation and pampering that you deserve.
The XCSkiResorts.com Top 10 features favorite romantic resorts across North America.
Read more to see Vista Verde’s inclusion in the story.
For many couples, February 14th is a special day set aside to rekindle the spark of romance that flames a relationship. Whether a new couple, or long time soul mates, a romantic get away at a dude ranch can without a doubt be a memorable experience whereby you ignite not only campfire flames, but a passion for the life you share together.
There are several things to consider when selecting which dude ranch would be your perfect, romantic winter destination. With an abundance of options for accommodation styles, activity levels and particular interests you may have as a couple, you will need to do some research when planning. Read more….
When was the last time you made a snow angel? When was the last time you took some time to have fun in the snow, not just shovel it or grumble about it ?
Don’t do snow sports? No problem. There are as many ways to have fun in the snow off the slopes as on. We’ve compiled an entire list at Taking the Kids. Here are some ideas.
Ride, ‘Em Cowboy
The winter is particularly special time of the year to experience everything a dude ranch has to offer. And they’re located in some of the most spectacular areas of the country, from Colorado to Wyoming to the Southwest. Think snow-covered sleigh rides, tubing, hot chocolate (and wine) by the fire. Check out Vista Verde Ranch in Steamboat Springs, Colo.
Finding the perfect, most romantic, all inclusive honeymoon resort doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to rush out and get a passport in order to honeymoon abroad. In fact, there are many beautiful honeymoon resorts located right here in the United States. Below is a list of our top ten picks for the best, all inclusive honeymoon resorts in the USA. Read on….
Glide Your Way to Romance – Getaways for XC Skiers or Snowshoers!
Romance at Vista Verde Ranch
By Roger Lohr
It has been said that cross country skiing and snowshoeing are some of the most romantic forms of recreation and Valentine’s Day is coming. So get away with your loved one to a winter wonderland of memories for some outdoor recreation and pampering that you deserve. The XCSkiResorts.com Top 10 features favorite romantic XC ski resorts across North America (in alphabetical order). Read on….
Top Dude Ranches for Corporate Retreats & Team Building
January 11, 2014
Dude ranches are a great setting for corporate retreats, meetings and team building, whether you’re a small business, group of executives or larger corporation. Different ranches focus on varied activities to help colleagues excel as leaders and gel as workmates, ranging from the equestrian–– team penning, horseback riding, horse communication sessions and cattle drives–– to non-horsey outdoor adventures–– ropes courses, fishing, yoga, and survival skills. Read more at Equitrekking.com.
Four Great Vacations for Winter Horseback Riding in the Snow
December 6, 2013
It’s a dream for many… bounding through the snow on a horseback. While some ranches close during the winter, others are open for winter activities and guests can enjoy horseback riding through the snow. We’ve picked out four ranches in Montana and Colorado where you can horseback ride this winter.
Many dude ranches and guest ranches that offer horseback riding also offer other winter snow activities, including cross country skiing, ice skating, horse drawn sleigh rides and have downhill skiing nearby. Check out the below photos and get inspired to get outdoors in the crisp winter air for a horse ride.
The Resort at Paws Up is located just east of Missoula, Montana on a sprawling 37,000-acre working cattle ranch. This is a great destination for horseback riding in the snow for travelers who want to combine the great outdoors with gourmet food and luxury. This luxury guest ranch resort is complete with two restaurants, one of which was recently named “one of the 100 best wine restaurants” by Wine Enthusiast Magazine. Other winter fun activities include dog sledding, snowmobiling, cross-country skiing and nearby downhill skiing and snowboarding. #2 Bar W Guest Ranch in Montana
Bar W Guest Ranch is a year-round ranch located in the resort area of Whitefish, home to the Whitefish Mountain Ski Resort. Guests can saddle up to ride horses in the snow and also enjoy sleigh ride dinners, snow shoeing, ice skating, cross country skiing, snowmobiling, dog sledding and ice fishing. The ranch also square dances for those still looking to move after being outside all day and a hot tub for those who would rather soak after a day on the trails.
The Home Ranch in Clark, Colorado is a good fit for riders looking to combine winter riding with a luxury ranch vacation. This Relais & Chateaux dude ranch offers fine cuisine by executive chef Clyde Nelson and individual cabins decorated with antiques, plush down comforters, and wood-burning stoves. The ranch also runs daily shuttles to the slopes at Steamboat Ski Area for ski enthusiasts– packed lunch included– and offers backcountry skiing in the nearby Medicine Bow – Routt National Forest. #4 Vista Verde Ranch in Colorado
Another Colorado option for those who want to be pampered, as well as play in the great outdoors is Vista Verde Ranch. This luxury ranch vacation destination in Steamboat Springs offers horseback riding for the whole family. Other winter activities include cross country skiing, snowshoeing, sleigh rides, wine tasting and cooking classes, yoga, snow biking and sledding. For those who want to focus on horseback riding, but also want time indoors, Vista Verde Ranch has a full-size heated Indoor riding arena. Learn more about more great ranches for winter vacations in the Equitrekking Vacation Guide, an online guidebook focused on dude ranches, guest ranches and horseback riding vacations.
Choose your own adventure at these snowy U.S. ski destinations
By Jody Schmal | November 7, 2013
Vista Verde Ranch, located outside Steamboat Springs, is offering several specials this winter. The Winter Carnival package Feb. 5-8 includes a three night stay at the ranch and one night stay at the Steamboat Sheraton, plus meals, beer and wine, activities, guides, equipment, instruction, pick up from the Steamboat airport and transport to the Sheraton.
As ski season kicks into high gear this month, powder fanatics will be snapping on their skis and boards and checking their pack lists.
Whether you’re looking for a first-time family vacation, a romantic getaway or a thriving après-ski scene, here are the latest happenings at some of the most Houstonian-savvy spots in the United States this season:
WHAT’S NEW: In family-friendly Snowmass, there are 230-plus new acres of ski-able terrain, along with the recently completed Elk Camp Lodge, a LEED-certified $13 million on-mountain restaurant and coffee shop.
Meanwhile, Aspen’s Highlands Mountain has 20 acres of new gladed terrain, and also is appealing to families with its Perfect Holiday package deal, where kids age 12 and under can ski, stay and eat free (with purchase of an adult lift ticket) over the Christmas holiday, Dec. 20-25. Must be booked by Nov. 15.
For the fancier sort, two of Aspen’s most beloved and iconic high-end hotels – the Little Nell and Hotel Jerome – have fresh upgrades. The ski-in/ski-out Little Nell has new VIP suites designed by Holly Hunt, and the resort’s Element 47 fine-dining restaurant opens this month on the base of Aspen Mountain.
The 93-room Jerome, with its historic J-Bar and rustic-chic décor, is offering several packages, such as the Peak Performance Ski Retreat (available Jan. 5-March 31, from $685 per night). With a three-night minimum stay, it includes ski equipment rental from Gorsuch, daily lift tickets for two and breakfast. Order up the private bath service from the Jerome’s new Auberge spa: a therapist visits your room to draw you a bath (with your choice of salts or argan oil) and leaves behind a fruit plate and wine.
WHAT’S NEW: It’s an exciting year for Breck. The resort is adding more than 543 acres to its famous landscape with Peak 6, one of the most notable Colorado ski area expansions in years.
Peak 6 includes 400 acres of lift-served terrain and 143 acres of hike-to terrain, representing a 23 percent increase in the resort’s skiable acreage. With that comes two new lifts, three new bowls – including the first above-treeline intermediate bowl – and 10 new cut trails.
To check out the fresh terrain in high style, book a condo at the luxe ski-in/ski-out One Ski Hill Place at the base of Peak 8, steps from the BreckConnect Gondola, which easily transports you to Peak 7, fairly easily to Peak 6, and into the charming town of Breckenridge. Added bonus of staying here: an on-site bowling alley.
WHAT’S NEW: Families and high-alpine fans will love Copper this season. For starters, Camp Woodward, a nearly 20,000-square-foot ski, snowboard bike and skateboard park recently underwent a $500,000 renovation. All synthetic snow surfaces have been replaced with surfaces designed for wheels, and there’s a new beginner foam pit with 2- and 4-foot jumps, a pump track designed for the development of park skills and new programming to bridge the gap and yield results on snow. Fun for kids and adults, you may even rub elbows with a would-be Olympian in training through mid-December, prior to the U.S. Freeskiing Grand Prix taking place at Cooper Dec. 16-21.
On the mountain, high-alpine enthusiasts will be happy to know there’s a new direct lift to the stellar skiing and riding in Spaulding Bowl, Upper Enchanted Forest and Copper Bowl.
There’s also a new on-mountain audio intelligence app call Sherpa, which tells you what you’re near, where to go and what to do when you get there. It’s locals-only, insider information, available for the first time to everyone on the mountain. Sherpa taps into the knowledge of lifelong employees, ski patrol and local experts and makes that wisdom available to anyone with a smartphone.
WHAT’S NEW: To improve the on-mountain trails for skiers and snowboarders, Crested Butte Mountain Resort has removed trees for tree skiing aficionados, between the current trails of Double Top and Black Eagle.
There also are three new kid-specific trails in the Painter Boy area, along with interactive play and learning activities and areas. During the holidays, families of four can get four nights’ lodging at the Grand Lodge and three nights skiing in Crested Butte for $999 if they book the Grandest Christmas Package.
Another resort option is the Nordic Inn, Gunnison County’s longest operating lodge, which is enjoying a total interior and exterior renovation. Steps from the Mount Crested Butte ski-area base, local owners bought property last year and have updated all 28 guest rooms, common spaces and the on-property mountain chalet in a Colorado-classic-meets-contemporary style. Stay four nights and get the fifth one free if you book before Nov. 20. High-roller with a large crew? Check out Scarp Ridge Lodge, a two-year-old, seven-bedroom property in downtown Crested Butte that comes with a personal chef and expert guides.
After dark, hit the newly redone historic saloon and gaming hall Kochevar’s, or grab a slice and some wings at the relocated but still hip Secret Stash, housed in an old county store building downtown.
WHAT’S NEW: With new nonstop flights on United Express this winter, it’s never been easier for Houstonians to visit Jackson Hole. Especially since upscale resorts in the area offering so many enticing reasons to stay.
The Four Seasons Resort and Residences has a new Michael Mina restaurant called the Handle Bar, beckoning with pub grub – think Wagyu burgers – and a selection of local beers, artisan cocktails and whiskey. There’s also the resort’s Haute Route Ski Experience deal ($1,399 per night for double occupancy, valid Jan. 30-Feb. 4): a five-night, four-day package that includes ski instruction – from experts who have inside knowledge on the best tracks and hidden stashes for novice to advanced skiers at Jackson Hole Mountain resort – along with plenty of other perks such as breakfast, a special wild game cooking session and cocktails at Handle Bar.
In Teton Village, Teton Mountain Lodge & Spa is known for its slope-side location and 12,000-square-foot, three-story Solitude Spa with indoor and outdoor swimming pools and an oversize rooftop hot tub. Well, the resort has a new restaurant, Spur Restaurant & Bar, with locavore-savvy executive chef Kevin Humphreys serving up home-style cuisine such as Snake River Farms pork tenderloin. Plus, ladies might be interested in taking advantage of the fit-for-all-levels Elevate Women’s Ski Camp Jan. 13-17, which includes four days of instruction from professional skiers Crystal Wright (Freeski World Tour Champion) and Jess McMillan, après ski meals and Pilates classes to stretch and strengthen worn ski legs.
WHAT’S NEW: In addition to updating its snow-making capabilities and working on a $1 million night skiing project, December marks the debut of the multimillion-dollar Four Points Lodge, arguably Steamboat’s most significant on-mountain improvement in a decade.
Located in the Storm Peak/Four Points area of the mountain, the 13,000-square-foot, two-level structure includes a 200-seat dining room, a casual lunchroom with healthy options downstairs, a 35-seat bar, an outdoor barbecue grill, flat screen televisions and retail space. At 9,700 feet up, expect stunning panoramic views of the Yampa Valley, too. Go on a Friday or Saturday night and take a climate-controlled Snowcat Taxi up the mountain for a Northern Italian dinner.
Meanwhile, the ski-in/ski-out Sheraton Steamboat Resort and Villas unveils its roughly $9 million remodel this month, including the completion of 56 new luxury suites. Another nice lodging option is Vista Verde Ranch, which is offering its Winter Carnival package ($2,755 for two) Feb. 5-8. It includes three nights at ranch in a fancy cabin plus one night at the Sheraton, along with meals, booze, guides, equipment, activities and transfers.
And mark your calendars for the ever-popular 40th annual cowboy downhill event in Steamboat Jan. 20, during which – you guessed it – rodeo cowboys race down the mountain.
WHAT’S NEW: In addition to United nonstop flights from Houston to Eagle Airport, accessing Vail’s 5,289 acres of skiable terrain is even easier now with the introduction of two new chairlifts. There’s the new six-passenger lift replacing Vail’s highly-utilized and recognizable Mountaintop Express Lift (No. 4), thus increasing capacity and reducing lines. There also is the high-speed Gondola One with heated cabins and free WiFi for a comfortable and quick seven-and-a-half-minute trek up the mountain.
High-end properties also are debuting new looks and amenities. The Ritz-Carlton Residences (both ownership and rentals) is rolling out its new Lionshead Collection of designer abodes by Colorado designers such as Eddy Doumas. In nearby Beaver Creek, the Ritz-Carlton Bachelor Gulch recently completed a $15 million remodel. Book a room for four nights in the posh Club Level through Dec. 31 and receive the fifth night free.
Also in Beaver Creek, the 17,000-square-foot, on-mountain restaurant named Talons has joined the scene. An upscale cafeteria setting with a barn-recalling facade, it has 500 indoor seats on two levels and 250 outdoor seats, with dishes such as a Colorado lamb burger, homemade soups, carved meats and thin pizza. Anticipate an indoor/ outdoor bar and an outdoor smokehouse, as well.
WHAT’S NEW: Winter Park’s talked-about, 48-passenger “Cirque Sled” is a snowcat ride that will provide adventurous skiers and snowboarders easier access to the Vasquez Cirque, where 1,332 acres of off-piste terrain awaits. Passes cost just $10 and are valid for unlimited rides all season long. Open last year, the Coca-Cola Tubing Hill is also getting buzz, with its four banked lanes, as is the hot-chocolate-serving Hill House cafe nearby.
Though many opt to simply commute from Denver (67 miles away) or from another resort, the Zephyr Mountain Lodge comprises 230 one- to three-bedroom condos a mere 110 feet from the Zephyr Express Lift. In addition to hot tubs and fireplaces, it’s close to a number of dining options. Deals through April 20 include 15-percent off one-night stays, and 3rd night free packages.
Each Gems Card – only 5,000 are available – is good for one use per resort, per season, and they expire at the end of April. Card holders also have access to special flash deals, or promotions offered by each spot throughout the season.
For more information and to purchase, visit coloradoski.com/gems.
The cow all the guests at the Vista Verde Ranch had named “Diabolical” had his vicious-looking eyes piercing into mine as he made an instant pirouette, but my anticipation was way ahead of him! Even before his athletic move, I had jerked my horse Gunnar’s head in the right direction and slapped him with the reins to cut off the bad cow. That turned him back toward one of the best cowboys in the West … Terry Wegener, where he would have no escape!
Terry and I had cut this bad boy out of a herd of Texas cows to teach him a lesson and make him behave. We ran him to the middle of a corral about the size of a football field with Terry and his prize horse, Gun Shy Gangster (better known as Gunny) on one side and me and Gunnar on the other. In order to wear the cow down, we cut him off at every angle to keep him between us until his tongue was hanging out. In retrospect, I labeled our efforts … Cow Soccer!
No doubt riding and learning about horses and cows is one of the main reasons that people visit dude ranches in Colorado, but Vista Verde Ranch offers so much more. They truly make an extra effort to let you experience everything that they offer, but will go out of their way to see that all of your other requests are satisfied. Much of the staff is comprised of seasonal young people from all over the country who are checked thoroughly … including a personal visit from General Manager, Ben Martin. Therefore, the youngsters and the permanent staff all have a zest for life, love to engage with guests in conversation or ranch experiences, and have the best attitudes I have ever seen in all my days of traveling the world!
Though I have ridden horses off and on since my childhood, I learned more about them during my week at Vista Verde than I could have imagined. Just being around Terry Wegener is an education in the mannerisms and psychology of horses. He and his wife are also involved in the training and riding of the Denver Broncos horse Thunder at the football games.
The horse program at Vista Verde Ranch is top of the line when compared to any other in the West … partly because of the very large heated indoor riding area. This venue allows Terry and other trainers like Annie Bolognino from Montana and Nicky Throgmartin from Indiana to work with the younger horses and give special Horsemanship Clinics for guests regardless of the weather.
The Mare Barn also gives the breeding stock a quiet place away from the central ranch to deliver and raise the foals. Though Terry is in charge of the breeding and horse sales, Annie and Nicky primarily work with the younger horses and share this experience with guests of the ranch. Because Vista Verde Ranch is located in the National Forest and has access to the wild and beautiful Mt. Zirkel Wilderness Area, horseback riding and hiking trails are numerous, adventuresome and breathtaking! You can even ride your horse to a hidden sanctuary among colorful Aspen trees to partake in Wild Yoga with expert instructor Kelli King.
I found the fly fishing and guides at the ranch to be knowledgeable, personable and quite talented in the numerous waters available to anglers visiting Vista Verde. The possibilities range from small creeks to rivers to still water lakes and from very simple fishing to extremely difficult. Rainbow, Cutthroat, Brook and Brown Trout are always possible catches as well as Mountain Whitefish and Grayling.
A true hero from the US Army’s Special Forces, Brandon Martin, is the Director of the Fly Fishing Program and a pleasure to be with anytime. His expert fly fishing partner in the program is Bubba Veteto from Colorado who loves to hang out with the chefs in the kitchen when he’s not guiding guests.
It would take a book to relate all there is to see and enjoy at Vista Verde Ranch near the famous ski resort village of Steamboat Springs, CO. One of the most important things to know is that any visit to this ranch is All-Inclusive … and they live by that even to the point of free pick up and delivery to the airport that is nearly an hours drive from the ranch.
The Lodge and Cabin rooms are authentic log structures with all the comforts seen in other fine resorts with one exception … no TVs in the rooms. The diverse cuisine created by top chefs can range from simple barbecue to intricate gourmet meals with many different wines. Summer activities include numerous horse-related opportunities, barn dancing, fly or spin fishing, mountain biking, hiking, yoga, cooking classes, wine tasting classes, rock climbing, rafting, local shopping tours, and photography just to name a few.
There’s probably not a bad time of year to visit Vista Verde Ranch, but I feel that I hit it at the most opportune moment for the best photography in the early fall. At the beginning of the week, the weather was like summer with midday temperatures reaching into the high 60s and falling to the 40s at night. Soon the mercury began to fall, and all the bright gold Aspen trees changed in two days. During the last part of the week, we were blessed with a blanket of more than a foot of powdery snow. It was the perfect time to experience the gorgeous metamorphosis that occurs annually in the mountains and valleys of Northwestern Colorado.
In my opinion and that of other guests, this is the best, most diverse, and client friendly working ranch in the Western USA. However, it is very busy throughout the year, so reservations in advance are necessary for couples or families. For more information or bookings, go to the Vista Verde website (www.vistaverde.com) or call them toll-free at: 800-526-7433.
Just one week in the early fall was a revelation to me of this part of Colorado and gave me a taste of summer, fall and winter on a ranch. Now, my dream is to return one day to experience the winter ski season when the ranch is all decked out for a Cowboy Christmas.
Looking to do something different to ring in the New Year? Get out of the city and experience the Western, the exotic and the fun traditions at ranches and horseback riding destinations that offer celebrations on New Year’s Eve.
From Mexico to Colorado and Israel to Arizona, we’ve compiled some interesting and enticing getaways for a memorable New Year’s celebration. These dude ranch and riding vacation owners have organized special experiences for New Year’s Eve, so you can enjoy the cultural traditions of each area and go horseback riding, too.
Riding at Mt. Tabor in Israel with Sirin Riders, who is offering a special trip over New Year’s.
Vista Verde Ranch, a luxury guest ranch in Clark, has a grand New Year’s celebration. It starts with a wine pairing dinner for the adults, during which the kids and teens go down to the indoor arena for a mini-carnival type party, including pizza, games and more. Then the families meet up after dinner for a Cowboy New Years. Ranch staff clear out the furniture in the great room, decorate the place like it’s going out of style and then host a barn dance with the families and staff. The ranch has fun activities going on over on the sidelines in between dancing and socializing.
In fine rancher style, early to bed and early to rise, Vista Verde Ranch rings in the New Year with the folks on the East Coast (so it’s only 10pm Colorado time) with the one and only Vista Verde Boot Drop and firework show. Ending the night a bit early makes it doable for the kids and allows everyone to get some rest as they hit it hard with the outdoor adventures the very next morning. This year the ranch will hold the Vista Verde Ranch Arena Bowl on New Year’s Day. Guests have been told to don grubby clothes for a game of touch football and some good times in the indoor arena. There are only two cabins remaining for New Years at the ranch!
Add some Mexican flair to your New Year’s Eve at this boutique Mexico guest ranch, which has only one room left. At Rancho Las Cascadas, guests enjoy a traditional Mexican New Year, including fireworks, a family dinner, sparkling wine, music, ringing bells and more. You’ll experience unique traditions at this festive New Year ranch celebration. For example, lentils are spread around the door as a symbol of abundance, meant to drive anything bad from the previous year out of the home. The ranch also offers unlimited horseback riding–– not nose to tail–– on Mexico’s open range on 500,000 acres and through beautiful countryside.
At this Granby, Colorado guest ranch, which has been operating since 1919, guests ring in the New Year at a traditional western-swing dance or during a torch-lit ice skating or a moonlight cross-country ski tour. The midnight countdown includes a live band. The ranch also offers a variety of outdoor activities to enjoy the snow. C Lazy U has shuttles that will take you to Granby Ranch Ski Resort and Winter Park Ski Resorts. You can sled down the C Lazy U Luge or play hockey on the frozen pond. There is horseback riding in the morning and afternoon, and in the heated indoor arena, as well as a hot tub for soaking after time on the trails.
#4 New Year’s Travel Pick––Elkhorn Ranch, Arizona
Celebrating New Year’s Eve at Elkhorn Ranch, fifty miles southwest of Tucson in the Sonoran Desert, is a family affair. Kids are welcomed to the ranch’s special New Year’s Eve party, where the piñata is always a hit for the little ones. The ranch also has a midday feast on New Years Day. Guests can play outdoors in the Arizona sun, horseback riding in the picturesque Baboquivari Mountains and the open Sonoran desert country of the Altar Valley.
Sundance Trail Guest Ranch in North Central Colorado offers a quirky December 31st New Year’s Eve Murder Mystery Party. During the “all evening” affair, which starts with appetizers before dinner, guests untangle each others’ half-truths, evasions and hijinks. The murder mystery game is solved prior to midnight and includes Champagne toast as 2014 commences. The New Year’s extravaganza also includes a morning brunch and morning or early afternoon horseback ride.
Sirin Riders, which offers all-inclusive equestrian vacations on Quarter horses and Appaloosas in Israel, has a 9 day, 8 night horseback riding vacation departing December 28th, 2013. The Tour Israel horseback riding vacation starts at the north of Israel in Galilee and ends in the Judea Desert. It includes a special excursion to swim in the Dead Sea at the end of the ride. Guests stay in country lodges, get one night camping in the desert and one night in a hotel in Tel Aviv, making for a diverse New Years holiday vacation.
10 Great Dude Ranches for Advanced Horseback Riding, Lopes & Gallops
September 30, 2013
Dude ranches are synonymous with horseback riding, but many experienced horseback riders want to know about ranches where they don’t have to ride “nose-to-tail” and can perhaps lope (canter) and even gallop. Whether you’re an English rider, dressage enthusiast or cutting horse queen, there are a variety of dude ranches where you can find challenging horseback riding on quality horses.
Check out the below 10 great dude ranches for advanced horseback riding. Have a place you’ve been you’d recommend, please let us know your suggestions!
This boutique central Mexican ranch, located on a mountain plateau, has flat fields and quiet unpaved roads that are excellent for gallops for confident riders. Read a traveler’s review of riding here.
This New Mexico guest ranch does not require you to stay in a line “nose to tail” and does offer trotting and loping for capable riders where the terrain allows. They also offer games on horseback at all gaits and can accommodate all ages and levels of riding skills.
This Colorado guest ranch has over 100 head of horses and horseback riding is their primary activity. Advanced riders have many opportunities to explore and blaze trails while handling their horses from leisurely walks to smooth lopes and gallops.
This ranch is unique in that it’s located in Georgia, but also in that it allows unguided riding for qualified guests, meaning you can take a horse out on your own. Small guided groups are always available. You’ll be encouraged to groom and help tack the horses for a true hands-on and bonding experience. Riders may trot and canter either guided or unguided while here– conditions permitting, of course.
This horse lovers’ luxury dude ranch offers adventurous trail rides in small groups that accommodate all riding levels. There are plenty of opportunities for more advanced trails and faster horse riding. They also have a beautiful outdoor arena and for winter, a full-sized and heated indoor riding arena. Ranch Trainer Terry Wegener, a NRHA Money winner, has a background in reining and ranch versatility horse training, competition and judging. Horsemanship clinics include basic horsemanship and more focused cattle work clinics. For a more intensive riding experience, join the fall cattle round-up, which takes riders into the National Forest.
The outdoor riding arena at Vista Verde Ranch in Colorado.
6. The Hideout Lodge & Ranch in Shell, Wyoming
This Wyoming working cattle ranch is great for experienced riders who want a bigger working ranch experience amid a small number of guests and no “nose to tail” riding. Advanced riders will experience high end horses and instruction with experienced wranglers, charro’s, cowboys and cowgirls. Guests may be able to lope during the intermediate and advanced rides, where the terrain allows.
7. Tanque Verde Ranch in Tucson, Arizona
Guests who pass the lope test can ride fast when the desert trails allow at Tanque Verde Guest Ranch, which has some challenging desert terrain. Watch out for those cacti! The special Harmony with Horses program works with riders to develop extensive horsemanship skills and better self understanding through horses.
In addition to the exciting and challenging ranch sorting and team penning in the arenas, guests are challenged during a rodeo with barrel racing, pole bending, stake race, and the keyhole race. While you’ll frequently be climbing on mountain trails at a slower pace, the meadows and pastures allow for more aggressive, faster ride with loping through more open country.
Experienced riders may enjoy loping/ cantering through the desert on adventurous fast rides at this longtime Arizona dude ranch. Rides range from fast to slow and include options for all day rides, mountain terrain and, back at the ranch, team penning.
10. Hideout Ranch in Rodeo, New Mexico
This is a true riding ranch. Guests ride over a million acres over three mountain ranges. Each trail is unique in both scenery and challenge, with some trails climbing to eight and nine thousand feet elevation. There are areas on many of our trails where the urge to lope is too strong to resist – particularly the Parade Grounds at Rucker. Guests are welcome to join ranch owners and wranglers when they work cattle, which presents an entirely new skill set. Since riding is the focus, Hideout Ranch offer lessons both in the Round Pen and out on the trail. Longtime horse owners often visit this ranch and they too learn something new.
From a pre-dawn hot tub on a sheltered deck I could hear the squeak of horses’ hooves in the snowy pasture next to my cozy log cabin. Gentle nickering and snorts were their way of welcoming me to this winter wonderland’s hushed corner, and above us a meteor streaked across the twinkling sky. It was the beginning of my first day on an operating dude ranch in northern Colorado.
Vista Verde Ranch was founded in the 1930s and remains home to more than 70 horses that are used by guests, ranch hands and breeders. After my morning soak, I joined some of the staff and other guests for breakfast in the main lodge, a massive timber-frame structure that houses a fireplace big enough to stand in, to learn what my day would entail.
When I had arrived at the ranch the previous evening in search of some much-needed solitude for a long weekend, I walked into what is known here as Happy Half. For a half-hour prior to the evening meal wine and gourmet appetizers are served to guests who mingle and chat with well-informed staff members about what activities they would like to try the following day.
I had mentioned an interest in taking a trail ride, and the ranch’s general manager suggested I might first enjoy a riding lesson with one of the veteran wranglers. I was reluctant, having been on horses sporadically throughout my life. I’d hoped instead for the thrill of a snowy trail ride, but his sun-browned and smile-creased face coaxed me into accepting.
Thus my first day began with a horsemanship clinic that I had expected would be mostly review. I was delighted to find that I learned more in those two hours than I’d ever known about horses. I was soon walking and jogging on my mount with more focus and dexterity than I’d ever experienced. The time flew, and then it was time to climb onto a horse-drawn sled with another wrangler to deliver hay to the horses that had greeted the day with me.
They were eager for their meal, and a few bold steeds chomped into hay bales to pull them right off the sled. Others were more patient and waited for us to pause and toss their dinner to them. We rocked and bumped slowly around the pasture and back to the barn when our load was gone.
Lunch at the ranch was a social affair for guests and some of the resident dude string and students who come to this remote area for summer or winter jobs. There I met the Ohio Group, a cross-country ski club who have made this ranch their annual gathering place. These mostly retired athletes energetically explained the difference between skate, classic and telemark skiing, all of which are available at Vista Verde, so I was ready when my afternoon activity began — backcountry and telemark skiing.
My patient guide, Brandon, took his time to fit me into proper bindings and snow gators over snug boots at the ranch’s well-stocked Nordic center. We drove down the road and across the Elk River, where he pointed out Mount Zirkel, a visible landmark at the Continental Divide, and Hahn’s Peak, another nearby mountain.
The ranch sits between these peaks in the Routt National Forest, and its guides trek with guests daily into the 3 million acres of wilderness on snowshoes and skis.
My adventure began with simple moves to learn how backcountry skis function with their grippy bottoms and wide footprints, and in time I was telemarking down pine-filled slopes between frozen cascading beaver ponds covered with fluffy snow that made a soft landing for my not-so-skilled tumbles. We proclaimed ourselves on a moose hunt and successfully found evidence of their recent presence in the area. I couldn’t wait to share my stories with the Ohio Group.
When the head ski guide overheard my enthusiasm at Happy Half, he commented about backcountry skiing, “Mother Nature does the grooming, and the same Mother Nature never shows up twice.”
Despite my backcountry delight, I couldn’t be so close to Steamboat Springs without taking time to downhill, too. So after a second morning of equine snuffles and whinnies heard from the therapeutic hot tub I headed into town with a supply-seeking ranch hand. There I rented skis, picked up a lift ticket and soared into a quintessential Colorado bluebird sky on the Thunderhead Express.
From that point I picked up trails and lifts that took me all over the mountain. Lunch at the Four Points Hut included steamy chowder that warmed me to my chilly toes. A gregarious ski-school class of students from Florida, Alabama, Illinois and Australia invited me to join their group in their search of a bear den and a previously spotted porcupine napping in a pine tree. Not wanting to miss such an opportunity, I joined them on the run that was aptly named, “Why Not?”
Back at the ranch that evening, a pre-dinner steamy soak was necessary therapy for muscles that had been too long away from the kind of exercise they were experiencing this weekend. I only had one more day to enjoy my solitude at the ranch, but I was first in line at Happy Half to sign up for more activities that would take me out into the vast wilderness surrounding me.
“This is the kind of place that makes you redefine space,” I overheard one guest say.
In addition to the Ohio Group, I met a newlywed couple and a seasoned wrangler from a neighboring ranch who taught me horse lingo with his equally qualified and delightful wife. I soon sounded almost like a local when I chatted about highline feeding, pack strings, snaffle bits and panniers. Dinner with these newfound comrades-in-snow — grilled steelhead trout with beluga lentils, wild mushrooms, charred scallions and white wine beurre blank — topped off another day in snowy paradise with lip-smacking style.
When I walked into the lodge on my last full ranch day, I found my name on the activities whiteboard next to the much-longed-for trail ride. I also was signed up for a short sleigh ride that included a warm lap blanket and steamy cocoa, a brief spin around the ranch on a fat-tired snow bike and one last backcountry/telemark moose hunt in the woods with Brandon.
It was hard to leave the peaceful ranch where none of the eight cabins has cellular, television or Internet access, and the only way to contact the outside world is through Wi-Fi provided in the lodge. I had been regenerated by the sweat and serenity I found at Vista Verde.
Brandon had said to lean into my discomfort to find my growth when he taught me to telemark. I might have fallen more often than I leaned during my stay, but I left the ranch with a good bit of growth, too.
WHEN YOU GO
Getting there: Multiple airlines serve Yampa Valley Regional Airport in Hayden, Co., a 45-minute drive from Vista Verde Ranch, or you can fly into Denver and rent a car or take a shuttle for the 3.5-hour drive across the Continental Divide.
Where to stay: Vista Verde Ranch offers winter activities primarily for adults but has two weeks of winter family time that include exciting activities for children. Their summer activities are all family-friendly: www.vistaverde.com
Where to downhill: Steamboat Springs at www.steamboat.com
Where to rent: Equipment is provided for ranch activities, but to find downhill equipment for a day on the slopes, go to Steamboat Pro Shop: www.steamboat.com.
When Stern Bloom Media partners David Bloom and Michael Stern take a break from the year-round heat of Miami, they pack up their ski gear and go west—this time, to Vista Verde near Steamboat Springs.
When the words “snow”, “mountains” and “Colorado” came out of Michael’s mouth, I thought, cool, you want to go skiing? But, when more words came, words like, horses, stables, and dude ranch—a flood of not-so-enticing images flashed through my mind: leathery-skinned cowboys, smelly horses, cold baked beans and freezing our butts off by the campfire in the middle of winter. No thanks!
He argued that this would be an adventure, an opportunity most people would never have. Plus, he added, what if you could enjoy the best of both worlds? What if we go downhill skiing for a few days and then spend a few more days at the dude ranch? He then directed me to some online reviews about this dude ranch (which turned-out not to be a dude ranch at all, but rather a luxury ranch resort) known as Vista Verde, near Steamboat Springs, Colorado.
I spent the next 10 minutes reading the reviews, 100 percent of which were positive. Endorsements such as Trip Advisor’s Certificate of Excellence, a Fodor’s Choice designation and the AAA Four Diamond Resort award only fueled my enthusiasm and intrigued me further. Vista Verde is an all-inclusive, year-round destination that caters to families, singles, couples, groups and clubs. I went from intrigued to excited in no time, so we switched gears and launched into the planning phase of our trip.
We decided to fly directly into Steamboat Springs’ Hayden Yampa Valley Airport (this proved to be a sound decision, because the alternative was to fly into Denver and drive four-plus hours to the property). We would then go straight into Steamboat Springs for a few days of downhill skiing, then head over to Vista Verde for another three days of serious outdoor adventures before returning home (there’s a limit to how much independence our loving wives allow us to enjoy at any given time). Once our bags were packed, we headed to Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, where we boarded a Southwest flight to Denver International; from there, we flew into Hayden Yampa Valley Airport, which is about 30 minutes away from Steamboat Springs. As promised, the good people of Vista Verde picked us up from the airport and drove us to our hotel in Steamboat Springs. (We stayed at the Steamboat Grand, which was right across the street from the ski lift. For more information visit steamboatgrand.com.)
After two fantastic days of skiing at Steamboat Springs, we were collected by the friendly people at Vista Verde in their SUV and driven to the ranch about 45 minutes away, pretty much in the middle of nowhere. But, what Michael and I came to learn very quickly is that this is exactly the point: to get away from the stresses of everyday life. A certain metamorphosis began the moment we crossed the threshold. For one, it’s a spectacle of natural beauty. Nestled at the base of the mountain, it encompasses over 560 acres in Clark County. And, because Vista Verde is a working ranch, there were beautiful horses everywhere. This place is so far removed from the big city that we were literally forced to unplug. Between limited cell phone and Internet access, and being connected to Mother Nature in such a pure way, it compelled us to relax and connect with the world in the way that it was probably originally intended by the higher powers.
We made it to the main house, where we were greeted warmly by our first names as if we were family, and that’s also how we were treated by everyone—not just staff, but also our fellow guests—throughout our stay. Our greeter took us on a tour of the ranch, which was somewhat of a surreal experience in that we didn’t see a single person on the duration of the tour even though the ranch can host up to 40 guests at any given time. Where was everybody? What had we signed up for? Well, something that called up memories of sleep-away camp as a kid, where the idea is to keep guests busy with planned activities throughout the day. Of course, all the guests were busy participating in one of Vista Verde’s many activities which range from horseback riding, cross-country skiing, yoga, photography, dog sledding, snowshoeing, backcountry skiing, sleigh rides, sledding and much more.
After our tour, we checked into our cabin, we expected a lot of wood and basic amenities. Well, there was a lot of wood, but the amenities were anything but basic. This place was nicer than most luxury hotel rooms. Inside were top-of-the-line appliances, high-quality furniture, a fridge stocked with beer, wine and snacks; we also had our own private hot tub overlooking the horse pasture. It felt like home, but nicer. The staff makes you feel so comfortable, it’s easy to forget where you are, and personal touches are everywhere—when you get a Vista Verde logo branded into your pancakes, you know they are all about exceeding the guests’ expectations. Speaking of food, the private chef cooks everything from scratch, and just as you expect and hope for on such a sojourn—but not necessarily from an all-inclusive experience—the offerings were all topnotch. It’s authentic western hospitality combined with the lodging industry’s highest standards at its finest—and oh yes, you get to go skiing. For more information about Vista Verde Guest Ranch, as well as its summer activities, visit vistaverde.com.
Geographically diverse, the U.S. offers an overwhelming range of destinations when it comes to planning family getaways. From Wild West ranches to laid back beaches to urban escapes, this list will help you hone in on a place for every interest. It also takes the adult factor into account. You may be a parent, but this is your vacation too, which means you want more than just water slides and bingo nights. What’s wrong with a great wine list, spa treatments and golf for mom and dad, along with circus activities, scavenger hunts and fire truck rides for the kids? Understanding the needs of adults and children, these properties are not only for staying together, but for playing together — and apart — while on holiday.
You gotta love a place that boasts its own Kid Wranglers. No, these babysitters in boots don’t round ‘em up and rope ‘em in. Instead, they teach horseback riding basics and fill tiny bellies with nutritious food while mom and dad enjoy a wine tasting class or dinner by candlelight. From the welcoming day hayride to the marshmallow roast on the last night, Vista Verde’s all-inclusive getaways are filled with traditional ranch activities and a few unusual extras, such as gold panning and fire truck rides — complete with sirens blaring — into town for hand-cranked ice cream. The ranch has separate programs for younger children and teens, so the older kids can play it cool while mountain biking or embarking on an overnight campout. And if you’d like to come in the winter, kids will find just as much to do, with skiing, snowshoe outings and igloo building. Just outside Steamboat Springs, this all-inclusive working ranch offers lodge accommodations, private cabins, multi-course dining events, hands-on cooking classes and adventure for all ages.
For parents with one eye on their kids and the other on their wallets, all-inclusive resorts are the ultimate antidote to the nickel and diming that’s become so prevalent in the hotel industry. By paying one price for your accommodations, meals, and a raft of activities, you can have fun with no worries that your bill will careen off the tracks like a runaway train.
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to travel to Mexico or the Caribbean to find a terrific all-inclusive resort. Here are eight fabulous and family-friendly picks where you can go all in this summer without leaving the continental USA.
Tyler Place Family Resort: Highgate Springs, VT
This 165-acre, family-run Vermont resort on the shores of Lake Champlain was among the first to pioneer all-inclusive pricing in the early 1930s and has been winning fans and creating awesome summer family vacation memories for three generations. Its children’s program is, hands down, the best we’ve ever encountered, with nine age-staggered groups from babies through teens. Other highlights include a gorgeous lakeside setting, slew of family activities, delectable farm-to-table meals, and just the right amount of adults-only time. (Pre-dinner cocktail hour? Champagne cruises? Yes, please.) Top it all off with a charming summer-camp vibe, and voilà—you’ve got the gold standard in family vacations. The resort’s remarkable 90 percent return rate is proof that the Tylers are still getting it right after all these years. Good to know: Early- and late-season rates can be up to half of what you’ll pay in the peak of summer.
Club Med Sandpiper Bay: Port St. Lucie, FL
The world’s most famous all-inclusive brand has just a single property on U.S. soil. Still fresh from the $28-million makeover it received in 2011, Club Med’s property on Florida’s Treasure Coast has a full-service nursery and a standout kids’ program that comprises a tennis academy as well as–holy flying trapeze!—a circus school. Water babies will love kayaking, sailing, and stand-up paddleboarding on the St. Lucie River. Good to know: Fear not the published rates. Sales of up to 45 percent pop up so frequently that you needn’t ever pay full price.
Dude and guest ranches almost always offer all-inclusive pricing, and this one in Steamboat Springs is one of the most luxurious and family-friendly around. Rates include lodging in private cabins or lodge rooms, all meals and beverages, and a generous roster of activities that includes horseback riding, biking, fly-fishing, rock climbing, river rafting, kayaking, and just-for-fun rodeos in the evening. There’s even a free shuttle service to and from Steamboat Springs.Good to know: Kids need to be 6 or older for horseback riding and some other key experiences.
UCSB Family Vacation Center: Santa Barbara, CA
This beachside family camp on the University of California Santa Barbara campus garners raves for its staff of enthusiastic counselors and the wide variety of activities for kids and adults. Families get a taste of collegiate life in multi-bedroom student suites, and children can participate in one of three programs: baby and toddler care from one month to 2 years; kids’ camp for ages 3-11; or teen activities for ages 12-18. Rates cover lodging, meals, and a roster of activities that includes hiking, mountain biking, tennis, and simply kicking back by the pool, while some premium adult activities—including wine tastings, sea kayaking, horseback riding, and surf lessons—are available at an additional cost. Good to know: Families can book a one-week stay or a four-day “mini week.”
Ninety miles north of New York City, this 251-room Victorian castle in the Shawangunk Mountains appears to soar into the clouds. Upon arrival you’ll discover that Mohonk Mountain House commands its own little world complete with a pristine lake, 85 miles of hiking trails, a nine-hole golf course, tennis courts, stables, and a grand lawn where guests can watch movies al fresco. The award-winning children’s program allows kids ages 4 to 12 to decide what activity they’ll do each day; the dozens of options include guided nature walks, animal tracking, and fossil hunts. Rates include accommodations, meals, afternoon tea and cookies, and most resort activities. Good to know: Kids 12 and under stay and eat free if you visit midweek July 7-31, 2013.
Skytop Lodge: Skytop, PA
This grand mountain resort has been welcoming families high into Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains since 1928. To make your stay all-inclusive, book the Family Fun Package including accommodations in either the main lodge or a storybook cottage, all meals, plus a huge choice of ways to play in the resort’s 5,500 forested acres, including ziplining, kayaking, archery, tennis, boating, biking, rock climbing, and hiking. There’s also an excellent supervised children’s program, and golfers get a bonus that’s virtually unheard of: unlimited greens fees. Good to know: Men must wear jackets in the Windsor dining room; ties are optional.
The most luxurious and intimate all-inclusive on our list, this beautiful lodge is located on a private island off Georgia’s coast and can only reached by boat. Built in 1917 as a private hunting lodge, the hideaway can accommodate just 32 guests and offers a VIP experience that includes gourmet meals and top-notch service. Even so, the lodge’s most exceptional feature is its setting inside a 10,000-acre wildlife sanctuary, which families can explore through naturalist-led hikes, reptile safaris, kayak tours, fishing trips, and evening owl prowls. Rates include meals, snacks, beverages, all activities, and boat transfers to and from the island. Good to know: Kids of all ages are welcome all summer; children must be 8 or older to visit October to May.
Fair Hills Resort: Detroit Lakes, MN
If you like your summer getaways affordable, old school, and unpretentious, this crowd-pleaser on Minnesota‘s Pelican Lake attracts plenty of like-minded families who return year after year. You stay in rustic lake cabins, get called to meals by a bell, and wile away the long summer days with kayaking, scavenger hunts, swimming, pony rides, fishing, tennis, golf, and sailing. The American Plan includes accommodations, meals, and a full roster of activities that includes water sports. Good to know: Kids 5 and under stay free.
This isn’t my first rodeo. Well, actually it is. Maybe that’s why I’m having so much fun living out my cowgirl fantasy on our family’s dude ranch vacation!
Prime rib, Caesar salad, shrimp and a dessert table? Whatever happened to franks-n-beans? Apparently, they’re long gone, like much of what I expected to find at a dude ranch. Thankfully, some of the iconic images are still here. There’s a lot of horseback riding, as well as an occasional old-fashioned chuckwagon cookout, complete with a country-western crooner and cowboy doing incredible rope tricks. But you’ll also get to indulge in spa treatments, a luxurious pool, wine tastings and cooking lessons.
Most importantly for our family, Tucson’s Tanque Verde Ranchhas plenty to keep every age group happy. Tweens meet up at the basketball court, while teens have their own dining table in the restaurant. Since the ranch is all-inclusive, our kids were pretty much free to get their meals whenever they felt like it, and the terrific kids club took my 4-year-old on pony rides in the corral, allowing me to horseback ride and mountain bike with my 12- and 14-year-old sons.
We ended up enjoying the mountain biking as much as the horseback riding. Tanque Verde sets you up with top-of-the-line mountain bikes, helmets, gloves and a friendly guide who takes you through trails in the surrounding Saguaro National Park. At the end of the day everyone’s exhausted, which, of course, has plenty of benefits for mom and dad.
When we were done horsin’ around, we’d head over to the pool, with its waterfall and postcard-perfect view of the surrounding mountains. The cute cowboy saloon right next to this sophisticated swimming hole has a pool table or you could just pick up your drink and lounge by the water.
Not all dude ranches are as luxurious or kid-friendly. Some ranches have incredible kids’ programs, making vacation feel like summer camp. Want to really immerse yourself in the great outdoors? Consider Montana’s Nine Quarter Circle Ranch in the northwest corner of Yellowstone National Park.
When you’re visiting matters as well. We wanted a warm spring break escape-Arizona was an obvious choice. But you can visit ranches in the winter-Vista Verde Ranch and The Home Ranch, both near Steamboat Springs, Colo., allow you to spend time skiing while also making yourself at home on the ranch.
The Dude Ranchers’ Association, representing more than 100 of the best dude ranches in the United States and Canada, will steer you in the right direction. Its website, duderanch.org, allows you to search ranches by size, location and activities.
Chicago-area families looking for a sunny adventure will not be disappointed at Tanque Verde Ranch. Besides the horseback riding and mountain biking, daily guided hikes allow you to comfortably explore the desert landscape of Saguaro National Park, so exotically different from our own. As you plan your family’s next vacation, consider saddling up at a dude ranch.
After one visit to Vista Verde you’ll be hooked on this premier Colorado guest ranch. This luxurious, all-inclusive resort is a haven for those who love the outdoors, especially in the wintertime. From tantalizing cuisine to an educated and accommodating in-house staff, Vista Verde offers a wealth of activities to keep maestros and novices equally engaged. Go during snow season and you’ll find a magnificent setting guaranteed to stimulate the senses. Snow-covered rooftops and fields that are groomed daily are part of the stunning landscape. Guests can partake in snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, back-country skiing or perhaps enjoy an exhilarating snowmobile ride. Ardent skiers often choose to slalom downhill in nearby Steamboat Springs; the Vista Verde staff will pack your lunch and happily drive you there. If you are not yet an aficionado with a pair of skis, the able-bodied staff will help you become one. Lessons are part of the all-inclusive rate and in a short while you’ll be enjoying the breathtaking scenery as you glide along with confidence.
Cowgirls, if you love to ride or even if you’ve never saddled up, Vista Verde is an ideal setting to delight in a horseback ride.
At the end of the winter season, the ranch offers clinics that will teach even an anxious rider how to handle a horse. Guests can spend quality time in an indoor facility with experienced staff who work to teach you the basics, so that you’re in the know and feeling safe before you ever step out to ride. In 2013, clinic dates are March 17-21. The four-night stay is $1,600 per person and other ranch activities are not offered at this time, allowing riders to focus on their riding style during this horsemanship retreat.
The icing on the cake at Vista Verde is the spectacular cuisine. Food and wine are an art form; from Kobe beef to lobster, the food is delectably prepared. Guests’ preferences are noted and remembered; you’ll find your favorites awaiting you when you choose to visit again. Enjoy some excellent wines with your meals and be sure to enroll in a wine tasting class; Chef Matt chooses some exquisite vintages. Later, relax in first-class accommodations, many equipped with hot tubs. It’s an extraordinary and energetic escape that has guests returning again and again to savor the experience. www.vistaverde.com
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.)