colorado dude ranch Tag

Mountain biking through the Rockies at Vista Verde Guest Ranch near Steamboat Springs

Chef’s Corner: Kelli Balls

This recipe is named after Kelli, our fearless mountain biking and hiking guide. She loves these little snacks and doesn’t ever head out on the trail without them. Before you go out to conquer your next adventure, be sure to take the time to make these little power-packed energy balls. They’re delicious and provide the perfect boost of energy after a long day on the trail!


2 cups oats

½ cup wheat germ

1 cup wheat bran

¾-1 cup peanut butter

1 cup dried fruit (chopped dates or currants are great options)

1-1 ½ cups honey (go on the low side if you want them less sweet, high side if you want more sweet)

1-2 cups chocolate chips (same as above, base your measurement on your preference for sweetness)

1. Combine oats, germ, bran, fruit and peanut butter in mixing bowl
2. Start adding honey in stages until you reach proper consistency, tacky but not too sticky
3. Add chocolate
4. Scoop with small scoop and roll in oat powder
5. Freeze

Gourmet peanut butter cookies prepared by the chefs at Vista Verde luxury Guest Ranch.

Chef’s Corner: Peanut Butter Cookies

Peanut butter cookies (gluten free): (makes about 45 cookies)



3 pounds peanut butter

2 pounds, 10 ounces granulated sugar

6 eggs



  1. Cream together the sugar and peanut butter until smooth.
  2. Add the eggs and combine until incorporated, do not over-mix.
  3. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Using an ice cream scoop of about 2 ounces, drop the cookie dough onto a baking sheet. Create cross marks with a fork dipped in granulated sugar. Bake on middle rack for five minutes, rotate baking sheet front to back and bake an additional five minutes.

Mud Season

When it’s not quite still winter, and not quite yet summer here in Steamboat Springs, we don’t refer to it as Spring but call it by another name. Mud Season.

Most years, it’s just an affectionate term that we all use as we slop through the melting snow and ensuing mud underneath, trying to be diligent about wiping off our boots before coming inside. Because most years the sun is shining, the birds are singing and you can almost feel the grass pushing with all it’s might to explode up out of it’s dormancy. You just know summer, and our dude ranch season, is about to begin.

However, this year, it doesn’t seem to be such a laughing matter. The birds are still singing, those little optimists. But the sun has hardly been shining. Rain, snow, sleet and various other forms of precipitation keep lingering. And it’s becoming all that anyone talks about these days.

Yesterday, I had to drive over for my final board meeting (we take the summer off as everyone is too busy to meet) of the Colorado Dude Ranch Association. What is normally a picturesque drive, with majestic mountains peaks still covered in snow, but green meadows busting with young grass and baby calves was replaces by a slow slog through a blizzard in four wheel drive.

Those poor little calves out there don’t know any different. But, as soon as spring finally decides to join us, and stay, the valleys are going to explode with vegetation and those little birds are going to have something to sing about for sure. Heck, you might just hear me singing at that point!

"Pick Me" poem

"Pick Me"

I haven’t been, but I so want to be,
in Colorado on a vacation spree!

To Colorado, Although I haven’t been there,
it looks to have all the flare.

Vista Verde is the name, and it is rare,
to find such a ranch with all it’s flare.

There are so many things to do,
like riding horses or gazing at the view.

There will be plenty of beautiful snow,
and the warmness of fires that are aglow.

This isn’t the beach, there is no hot sun,
or greasy sunscreen we know is no fun!

Take the time to enjoy crackers and tea,
in the comfort of complete luxury.

There is a chance it can be all yours,
away from work and all the chores!

Oh what dancing there would be,
if the lovely staff decided on me!

So if you win, enjoy this special place,
which is certain to put a smile on your face.

For little kids, older kids, and grown ups too,
This is, no doubt, the perfect place for you!

Name: Lisa Owens
City: Chesnee
State: South Carolina

Dude Ranch Conventions?

I tend to break to news to people that I am attending a dude ranch convention with a little bit of a chuckle. It’s not that it’s a joke- we really have these 2 times a year! But it’s watching people’s reaction that makes me laugh. A what? Like, a bunch of dude ranchers sitting around talking about horses? Well, um, yes, that’s kind of what it is. But we also talk about marketing, labor laws, operational issues, insurance and other scintillating topics related to running a dude ranch operation. And we have some fun too. I have been heavily involved in the Colorado Dude Ranch Association, sitting on the board for the past 7 years or so. It’s an amazing group of people with whom I get to share a passion for dude ranching in Colorado. I’ve been looking forward to this meeting because after years of heading up the marketing committee and then serving as President of the Association, I am stepping down. There is still one more year on my term, but I just get to attend board meetings as Past President and carry very little responsibility. Time to spend more time focusing on Vista Verde Ranch instead of all the Colorado dude ranches!

Even better, I had to drive over Rabbit Ears Pass to get to the meeting on Sunday. With snow swirling all around, I left a little early and stopped and skied for the first time of the season on the pass. For me, getting out and playing in the snow is what it takes for me to fully embrace winter. Snow is great when you get to have fun in it! And I’m hoping that we wrap up early enough today that I can do the same as I head back to Steamboat. It’s turning into winter wonderland here. I know many of you enjoyed that gorgeous picture from the Vista Verde pond that I put on Facebook the other day, so here are a few more.

I’ll take a lap on the ski trail today for all of you dreaming of winter!

winter wonderland dream honeymoon would be a blessing

I would be able to enjoy a honeymoon with my husband that we still are waiting to take since our September 4, 2009 wedding.God has blessed us with a 3 year old boy and a 6 month old girl that keep us on our toes and go with mommy everywhere while daddy drills at work. We received money for a honeymoon in lieu of gifts but my husband lost his job during the recession in 2009 and we were forced to spend our honeymoon money to provide and put our honeymoon on hold … we sold our house & moved into an apartment and my husband also sold his brand new truck and has been driving a car ever since. It would be a dream come true to win some alone time to spend together as we rarely our without our blessings. My husbands birthday is Jan. 19th and I would love to spend a few evenings relaxing, skiing, riding ,wining,& dining with my hard working love @ your breathtaking Vista Verde resort. Thank you and God bless.

Name: Emilee Ann Lee
City: Yukon
State: Oklahoma

Touring Colorado

I have had the pleasure of serving on the board of the Colorado Dude and Guest Ranch Association for the past 7 years. One of the parts of that job that is really fun is inspecting other ranches. Each member ranch is inspected every 3 years and then any ranches that want to join get a fairly in-depth inspection.

I’ve done one member ranch inspection already this summer and took Bill along with me as he had never been to any other ranches. It was fun to have him along for that visit and we enjoyed sharing our thoughts on that Colorado ranch on our drive home. This week I had to go visit two ranches who are applying for membership in the Colorado Dude and Guest Ranch Association. It was a whirlwind tour through several counties to get to these two ranches and spend some time getting to know them. The biggest treat for me was I got to spend the night at one of them and enjoyed a nice dinner with their guests and manager. It reminded me how fun it is to be a guest! I love the Steamboat area and our landscape here, but it is refreshing to be reminded of the diversity in Colorado. I went from the most extreme mountain passes with craggy rocks and snowcapped peaks to the farmland of Colorado, home of fresh peaches and cherries, then back over another pass with a lush forest and multiple lakes off of every turn in the road, then into the rocky, dry high desert with sagebrush and amazing rock formations, and finally back home to beautiful Steamboat Springs and my favorite ranch, Vista Verde. Hey, there’s a reason I’m still here after all these years. It was great to catch up with our guests again this morning and find out what adventures they’ve had the past couple days. There’s never a dull moment and it sounds like there have been memories made for everyone, and still more to come!

Listen… it’s that sweet silence

Can you hear it?
It is the sweet silence of the mountains.

That is the first thing we will hear waking up in our cabin at Vista Verde. Oh, then there’s the occasional neigh of a horse and that gentle pitter patter of snowflakes hitting the porch roof. It is the first of our three days back at beautiful Vista Verde. We had to come back. What better way to celebrate our 15 year Anniversary. We had to taste the Chef’s delicious meals and laugh with Stephanie in the lodge. We really needed to sit down at another gourmet breakfast and have the rosy faces of Steve & Kelli come in to find out what everyone wants to do that day… oh the decisions! I think we will start with our favorite -a horseback ride together through the quiet trails and in the afternoon definitely time to warm up some skis. We were so excited and anxious our first visit as neither one of us had skied before- but with such great instructors showing us how, we didn’t even fall once and cannot wait to finally try again. As a Floridian, it was sheer joy to also attempt my first sled ride. That certainly needs to be in our plans for the perfect visit. I am sure I will laugh again many times going down that sled hill along with my gratitude to the snowmobile ready to bring me back to the top again. Yes, that will be the start of day 2 followed by some indoor arena horse riding. Certainly we want to plan in feeding the horses on the hayride- so much fun with the other guests! Perhaps a wine tasting that evening and a sing along in the lodge. Day three, well that will be the brand new effort where we will finally try some local dog sledding and definitely put in for the night snowshoe walk. That was an incredible highlight last time too! Of course each evening we will soothe into our cabin hot tub on the porch and listen for those coyotes in the distance. Yes, this is the way our ideal trip would be, sheer relaxation and happiness. Notice I didn’t mention being online for even a second this time while on vacation. That is one of the fantastic treats of vacationing at this ranch-logging off and never looking back. Facebook and the blogs will have to wait till we get home to hear all about our glorious anniversary and how Vista Verde was be THE perfect place to return to the snow together to toast to our love.

Yes, that mountain silence is certainly calling out to us… don’t you hear it calling out to you too? Listen….

Name: Cathy Billoni
Company: Atlantic Dental
City: Tampa
State: Florida

Introducing Poncho and Lefty

The past year has been a bit of a challenge for the ranch and our draft horse teams. Sadly, we lost Zig during the summer of 2009. Zig was part of our Percheron team, and his buddy Zag was left with an empty harness next to him after Zig passed. With draft horse teams, it can be hard to pair up horses who haven’t grown up together and learned to pull together. We gave it a shot with another draft horse named Whopper, but he and Zag weren’t a good match. So we bought a young team named Ben and Jerry, hoping they could work into being our rising stars. Well, the stars didn’t rise quite the way we wanted, and they didn’t have quite the right mindset for what we wanted in a team. We did successfully pair up young Ben with Zag this past winter, and it was a great learning experience for Ben to learn from an old-timer like Zag. But, as Zag is aging and having a harder time with the hard work of pulling the feed sleigh every day, we realized that we needed to find a pair that could step into the role right away and being in our starting line-up. So, with that, we introduce Poncho and Lefty. These guys come from a nearby rancher who didn’t need a team anymore, much like Zig and Zag when we first got them. They’ve done it all and we’re excited to start working with them to see how they do for Vista Verde. The team just got here last week, so they are still settling in and are a little nervous, as many horses tend to be when placed into a new setting. We’ll let them get comfortable with their setting and then hitch them up and see how it goes. Right now, they are living up at the barn with the ponies- Shamrock and Morris, who are not exactly intimidating pasture partners as you can see in this picture.
We are looking forward to introducing all the kids coming to our Colorado dude ranch this summer to Poncho and Lefty for the hay wagon ride we take out each Sunday evening. By the way, any guesses on who goes on the left side when hitched up?

Back home to Colorado

I grew up with horses in the foothills of Denver. I learned to ski when I was a freshman in college at University of Colorado. One of my fondest memories is a week at Steamboat Springs. If I win this trip it will be a vacation of exploring everything that is new, and enjoying my memories of many trips to Steamboat. Skiing? Hanging with the horses? I would take my husband, celebrate his 2/16 birthday and Valentines Day, we would play in the snow we rarely see in Oregon. And, we would relax and appreciate the much needed time together. I miss my Colorado Mountains!

Name: Patricia Price Nelson
Company: Forward Stride Therapeutic Riding
City: Lake Oswego
State: Oregon

Off Season Adventures

Although we don’t have any guests around right now, the ranch is nothing but quiet these days. The off-season is a time for knocking out projects on the to-do list, cleaning up from the winter, gearing up for the summer, and taking a little time off too.

This year, the off-season at our Colorado ranch began with a Wilderness First Aid training for many of our staff. It was an intense 4 days of training, but well worth it. You hate to think about the worst case scenarios, but it’s important to do that so if it ever happens we are prepared. With that done, we can focus on the best case scenarios and how to make the summer full of those! Before the winter season leaves our memory for too long we will have our End of Season meeting to talk through what worked and what needs tweaking. It’s that never ending quest for “betterness” (a Vista Verde made-up word) that keeps us all fired up and looking ahead. In addition to that meeting, Dace and I spent a couple days earlier this week in Denver at the Colorado Dude Ranch Association’s spring meeting. It’s always fun to get around other ranchers, share ideas and learn new tips and tricks. We had a cool experience this time of having one of our former guests come as a speaker on Labor Law. Not the most exciting topic, but Matt gave a lot of the ranchers much to think about and some really good tips for making sure we’re doing things the right way. It was also a pretty intense meeting for me as I am serving as President of the Association this year, so I had to be on my game and lead the group.

So between meetings, trainings, getting the Nordic center turned over into the Adventure Center, doing inventory in Fancy’s Merchantile, starting to work with some of the younger ranch horses who need tune-ups and keeping up with the recent snowfall (we thought it was spring?), it’s not exactly quiet around Vista Verde these days!

Romance at Vista Verde Ranch


I just got some great photos from a wedding of former staff members, and it got me thinking.  There are so many couples who met at Vista Verde as staff, who have now turned into wonderful marriages.  What is it about this place?  Between romantic honeymoon vacations, surprise engagement getaways and couples rekindling the flame over long winter weekend stays, Vista Verde does seem to have something going on in the romantic destination department.  But, it doesn't stop with the guests coming to our luxury guest ranch.  In fact, there is a pretty big track record of this place being a meeting spot for young folks who work at the ranch, who find a spark here, and then go on to get married down the road.

To start off, we should all send a huge congratulations to Stacy and Daniel Knapp, whose wedding this past weekend was beautiful.  The two of them worked at our Colorado dude ranch a while back. What was fun to hear about is that there were several other Vista Verde alumni included in their wedding.  Jess, Kimmie, Cliff and Lindsey were all in attendance, and a very special part of the event.  We wish all the best to the Knapp's in their marriage, and hope the Vista Verde magic continues to make it a wonderful relationship.

So, be careful if you choose to come to Vista Verde.  If you weren't looking for a romantic resort getaway, you might just end up with one.  If you work at the ranch, you just might end up with a spouse down the road.  If you come to the ranch as a guest, there is a good chance you will find the spark rekindled with your loved one.  And, if your boyfriend brings you on a trip here… out for those romantic rides up to the Cliffs.  You might find something sparkly on your finger by the time you get back to the ranch.