This week at the Ranch

Dude Ranch Life: Sitting around the pool eating bon bons

There is a joke between me and some fellow dude ranchers about how everyone thinks in the off-season we sit around the pool and eat bon bons.  Ok, first of all, that would be a little cold right now.  But what do we do when the ranch is closed?

If you would ask Bill, it’s all about removing, tightening, replacing, and repairing.  Those cabins need a lot of love, and let’s just say his favorite day isn’t hairball day.

Up at the barn, the past week was spent focusing on growth.  Although we spend a lot of time in clinics during the season, that’s when we’re sharing our knowledge with the guests.  The off-season is a time for us to learn more, try out new things, and expand our teaching toolbox.  We packed in 3 different clinics with 3 different horse trainers last week, and I must say it felt a little like drinking out of a fire hydrant.  But, it was a blast getting together and learning from these talented trainers and playing with some of our horses.  We even got a first ride on Wingo during one of the sessions!

Speaking of growth, in between booking reservations and answering questions Devyn has immersed herself in an intense yoga teacher training this fall to layer onto her previous training.  She’s been at the studio in Steamboat almost every day, and doing a ton of work to growing as a teacher.

And that’s not the only learning that’s happening.  Right now Ben is at a Wilderness First Responder course getting his credentials updated and Ted attended a similar course the previous weekend.

To help get the word out about our winter vacation packages Catherine, Isaac, and I went to the Mountain Time Expo in Dallas a few weeks ago, and got to meet a ton of folks from the Dallas area who are interested in outdoor adventure vacations.  With direct flights to Steamboat from Dallas during the winter months it’s an easy trip to get to Vista Verde.

As I write this, Zach is interviewing another staff candidate.  Between interviews, calling references, and making the hires, he’s a busy guy filling up our winter season with some great folks in addition to those returning in December.

The laundry machines don’t get much of a break during the off-season, and Hannah is making sure they keep going as she wraps up the deep clean of all the cabins and rooms.

Chol seemed pretty happy to spend a chunk of his time a few weeks ago trying out new wines with a revolving door of wine reps coming to visit him.  Now the boxes of wine are showing up, so you’ll all get to enjoy the rewards of his extensive research….sigh, what a tough job.

There is just so much that happens behind the scenes and during the off-season it’s all behind the scenes!  In between this work, many folks are finding some time to visit family and enjoy a little R&R.  We pour our hearts into providing our guests with an amazing vacation experience, so it’s nice for us to enjoy being on the other side of the equation as a visitor elsewhere.

Pretty soon the staff will arrive for orientation and then we’ll be getting ready for our guests to arrive for their winter vacations.  We’re on the #CountdowntoWinter!

 

Dude Ranch Life: Keeping Cozy All Winter

When the temperatures drop to single digits, and the snow is piled high, guests often ask us why our horses don’t wear blankets. It’s hard to believe, but actually it’s healthier for our horses to go au naturale. Horses have a natural rhythm that follows the seasons and allows them to live comfortably in winter weather. As the daylight hours get shorter in the fall, they start growing their winter coats. These coats are designed to spring up when it gets cold, which makes their coat work like the down coat you put on before you head out into the snow.

In addition to their warm coats, part of what helps horses keep warm is a simple calculation of calories in vs calories out. During the colder months, the average horse needs about 25% higher energy intake. Each day as we feed the horses in the winter, we consider the temperatures and the forecast for that night’s low temperature. Doing some simple math that takes into account our horses’ average weights, their overall condition, and the number in the herd, we know how much hay to put out for our furry friends, so they can keep eating to stay warm. Horses will actually produce heat as they eat, so we feed them enough so they can keep eating all night long.

All said, we pay close attention to our horses all winter long to make sure they stay happy, healthy, and comfortable. Staying committed to letting them live a more natural lifestyle helps reduce their stress and well as illness. The best part is to watch the horses follow the cycle of the weather out in their wintery pasture. When there is a big storm with snow and wind, they will all bunch up next to each other, turn their tails to the wind, and keep each other warm. On a super cold morning, they tend to stay very still. As the sun comes up and starts creating some heat on their backs, they tend to get a little frisky. And, when the afternoon sun is at its peak, it’s naptime, and you’ll often see half the herd sprawled out looking almost dead as they soak up the rays.

If you’d like to learn more, check out this article from Horse Illustrated Magazine and also one from TheHorse.com.

So, bring your coziest jacket when you come visit this winter, but rest assured knowing our horses are cozy and happy.

New Programs for Winter Vacation Guests

Every year we look for ways to freshen up our programs and add value for our guests. This year we have two activities we’re excited to add to our winter program. Following in the footsteps of the ever-popular Wild Yoga in the summer, where we ride horses out to an aspen grove for an all-levels yoga class, we are adding Snoga. Never fear, we are not going to try to make you all try to practice yoga out in the snow in freezing temps! Instead, Devyn will guide guests on snowshoes for a short hike in the snow out to the Homestead cabin, where a cozy fire and yoga mats will be ready to go for an all-levels yoga class. Following the class and a cup of tea, we’ll all bundle back up for the snowshoe hike home.

If you’re looking to get outside, but don’t want to exert much energy, give Ice Fishing a try this winter. Instead of closing the fly shop for the winter, Isaac has geared it up with all the equipment needed to head out onto a frozen lake for ice fishing with our guests. It’s a great way to see some beautiful winter scenery, and after a short walk on the ice out to a heated shelter, you can either drill your own fishing hole, or watch the pro do it. Then grab one of the comfortable chairs, pour yourself a hot cup of cocoa or coffee, and watch the fish come up to your line through an underwater camera.

Dude Ranch Life- Saying Goodbye

The end of every season is a time of transition for our staff. Our seasonal crew members who will be returning the next season either head off to visit family or go explore the world. Other seasonal staff members move on to their next venture. And then we have the natural flow of ranch leaders who take their careers to the next stage. This fall we say goodbye to some amazing people, while we look forward to meeting the new crew in December. With a staff of 70, it’s hard to single out anyone, but those who have been with us for a while or have played critical roles come to mind. Natalie, Kylie, and Courtney have all worn many hats at the ranch over the past several seasons and always made the job fun. Natalie will be meeting up with Ben Yoder Henley in Minnesota, Courtney is heading back to school, and Kylie has booked herself a one-way ticket to New Zealand! Maggie has been Devyn’s right-hand in the office, and she was responsible for bringing Mat to the ranch as well. They head off to Florida where Maggie just accepted the career job she’s been working towards, and Mat will put his teaching degree to work. Emily ran the dining room with humor and a commitment to excellence, and she’s heading back to Texas where it doesn’t snow for 6 months at a time. Liz has helped care for the horses so well and is now taking what she learned at the ranch and will expand on that by being a vet tech in Steamboat. Roxy worked at the ranch 20 years ago, and when she was looking to make a major life change, she came back to the ranch to help her get that started. She provided so much more than just running housekeeping like the pro she is, and we’re keeping our fingers crossed that she’ll return to VVR after a stint in Uganda with the Peace Corps. Lastly, KP has made the tough decision to pursue his cowboy dreams and will be moving down the road to a cattle operation to be a cowman. We will sure miss his musical talent and amazing horsemanship skills. There are always so many goodbyes at the end of each season, but it’s our business model to get exceptional people to come to the ranch to learn to become better leaders so they can go off into the world and pay it forward. That is what makes the goodbyes happy ones instead of sad ones. We wish these folks, and the many others who have made VVR their home this year, all the best and look forward to hearing how they are becoming strong leaders in the world!

The transition of the Seasons

As we see the end of our summer season our thoughts turn towards winter.  We have had some light snow on the higher peaks, which is a gorgeous contrast to the colorful aspens that have been filling up our valley the past several weeks.  We’re at the tail end of the foliage season, but there is still some gorgeous color out there on the mountain sides.

This week is a week of celebration.  We have four honeymoon couples, two couples celebrating anniversaries, a couple birthday celebrations and a graduation celebration as well.  Ironic as I just came back from a marketing workshop in Denver last week where they mentioned that one of the top travel trends is celebration trips.  Guess that’s true!  What an honor to have so many people choosing Vista Verde as their place to celebrate these momentous life events!

With the changing of the seasons, we’re gearing up more and more for winter.  Planning the schedules for our winter vacation guests, and mapping out orientation for our winter staff.  We have some fun ideas planned for the winter that we’ll share in our next enewsletter, as well as the favorites that make coming to the ranch in the winter such a special experience.

As the aspens leaves let go and the snow begins to fall, we bundle up, light fires in the fireplace more frequently, and get ready for winter wonderland adventures!

Awards and Nominations

This has been a summer of awards and nominations. We recently learned that we were included in the Wine Spectator Restaurant Awards for 2018. This award recognizes the comprehensive cellar wine list that Chef Chol has put together over the past several years, and it is a huge recognition. We were also nominated in the Best Family Resort category from the USA Reader’s Choice awards. This award includes daily voting until August 6, so if you get a chance we’d appreciate your vote!

Dude Ranch Staff- What are they up to now?

I recently heard something about one of our former staff that made me wonder about what amazing things our alum are up to these days.  After putting out the feelers, I’ve heard from a bunch of them and thought it would be fun to share what ventures they have going on with all of you.

Taylor Porter invites you to stop at Seedstack Brewery if you are coming through Denver on your way to the ranch to enjoy a pint of Czech or German brew.

Looking for something sweet in Austin, TX?  Erin Stanley manages a bakery and product evolution at Amy’s Ice Creams.

Need a laugh?  If you go through Indianapolis, IN, make a night at ComedySportz, but first check to make sure Ben Rockey will be on the roster!

For those of you with your own horse, Sam Papalimu has her own business now for saddle fit evaluations and sells a line of adjustable western saddles.  Happy horse, happy ride.

Passing through Holland, MI and need a snack.  Stop by Albert K’s Lakeside Cafe and say hi to Jackie Rowland.

Planning a retreat for your colleagues?  Check out WinShape Teams, where Rusty Chadwick is Assistant Director.

Maybe you’re planning a fishing trip up in Montana?  Then you need to call David Bower and schedule a guided trip through Bighorn Angler in Fort Smith and get out on the Bighorn River.

Redecorating?  Natalie Muir has her own interior design company in Utah called Vanderbilt Interiors.

Matt Moore was a wrangler back in the late-90’s, and continued his involvement with horses by becoming a very talented and successful farrier in Ohio.

Before you head to the comedy show in Indianapolis, go get your hair done at Bobby Cooper Salon and ask for Anna Mowery.

If you need a true athlete who understands aches and pains, then give massage therapist Amber Henline a visit at Performance Theraputics in Cedar Rapids, IA.

When you need a vet you can trust in Oregon, look up Crystalin Murray Christensen in McMinnville.

While not working his day job or chasing around his kids, Scot Keck has managed to find time to set up a boutique shop making really interesting items out of salvaged wood.  Check out his wares on Instagram.

Hungry while in Florida?  Definitely make the trip to Osprey Tacos in St. Augustine to say hi to Chef JT and Erica, and see how little Althea is growing up!

Finally, she created beautiful note cards while at the ranch, so no surprise that Beth Bundy has made that her profession.

So much of the mission of the ranch is to pay it forward by giving our young staff the skills they need to go out into the world and be successful leaders in whatever path they choose.  It’s fun to see what these folks are up to, and look forward to hearing stories of connections made following this post!

Dude Ranch Life: A thank you for thank you’s

As I was opening the mail recently, there were two nicely handwritten envelopes, which stand out among the bills as I’m sure you all can imagine.  Upon opening them, I was floored that there were two thank you notes from guests who were here during our last week of the winter season.  How many times have you written a thank you note to a vacation destination?  I know I have never done that!

Actually, this happens here more often than you would imagine.  It’s pretty humbling, and always a highlight of our day to get a note from guests who enjoyed their stay at the ranch.  These two notes were from guests who were both here during our final week of the winter season.  One was a family with older children who we enjoyed getting to know as much as we enjoyed watching them share special moments together–fleeting as the kids head to college next year.  The other note was from a couple who were here on their honeymoon.  Both very important events to commemorate with a special vacation, and we were thrilled to be their destination of choice!

So, this is a thank you to all of you who send thank you’s to us!  You have no idea how much that means to all of us, and how unexpected it is for us to receive these notes.  We work hard to make everyone’s experience at Vista Verde really special, and when we get a note, or someone writes a review on Tripadvisor or other sites to help promote the ranch, it means all our hard work made a difference for our guests.

We are lucky to have wonderful guests spend time with us when they choose VVR for their ranch vacation!  We look forward to seeing old friends and meeting new ones this summer.

Dude Ranch Life: Off-Season Shenanigans

It’s that time of year when the ranch is pretty empty, and much of our crew is off exploring the world, visiting family, and taking some time to recharge.  It’s always fun to take a look at where folks have scattered to while we are closed down, waiting for the snow to melt and the mud to dry out.

You know that Johnny Cash song, “I’ve Been Everywhere?”  Start humming that song in your head, and here we go:

Ethan is visiting family and checking out colleges in Boston, MA, Chol just got back from Boise, ID where he was a celebrity chef at a field to table fundraising dinner for Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, Shannon, Hailey, and Rachel are backpacking around Slovenia, Italy, and England, Miller is in South and North Carolina visiting family and spending most of his time, guess what?  Fishing!  Mackenzie and Natalie are hiking and touring through Iceland and Norway, Maritza and Melody took a huge road trip all around the USA on their way back to PA, Morgan and his family are road-tripping and he’ll be seeing Missouri, Iowa, and then a stop in Florida for some time at Disneyworld, Cat is floating around on a houseboat between UT and AZ on Lake Powell, BYH is Salsa dancing and hanging with his grandma and family in Minneapolis, MN, Hannah is on a sailboat on the Chesapeake Bay, and Terence is figuring out what he is going to do with his life in Philadelphia, PA.  As for those of us with a little shorter vacation window Charlie is hanging out sipping coffee and reading the paper, and watching the snow melt, Zach has been fitting in as much fishing as possible, Devyn has some long weekends planed for staycations, Ben and Addie are baby-mooning in CA, Mary is meeting her family for some Disney time, and Ben is trying to get his house finished so they can finally move in before summertime.  Phew, and that’s just some of our staff!

You all typically give us a hard time about taking vacation when we live in a place where everyone else comes for their vacation.  But, there is something pretty special about getting away to see other sights and be around special people, and then we all come back thankful for where we live and ready to take care of others on their vacations!

summer dude ranch news

Dude Ranch Life: Big plans and exciting changes for 2018!

The last couple weeks we have spent some time surveying many of our return guests about what direction they would like to see us go with the ranch in the coming years.  There were some big ideas, and crazy ideas, and just out-of-the-box ideas that we floated their way to get a sense of whether we are on the right course, or not.  Through this process we have learned that although everyone has a different opinion there were definitely some trends that we noticed.  Based on those trends there are some new plans that we’re excited to implement starting this summer.

There was a strong consensus to continue investing in keeping up on the quality of the accommodations.  Following the many suggestions along those lines, and assessing how we can best accomplish this task we are proud to announce that we will be remodeling all the cabins throughout the coming summer months.  As you can imagine, there is a limited window of opportunity given the amount of snow we get each winter, so we have to take advantage of the good summer weather for construction.  We are sure that our guests will enjoy the open air feel of their cabins as we replace windows, and we have even devised a plan where Bill will build new furniture right in the cabins so the guests can enjoy watching him in his artistic zone and learn more about the art of woodworking, all while they are getting ready for the day or relaxing with a good book in the afternoon.  We are recommending that guests bring slippers with them, as when we are replacing flooring, they might prefer the protection from the nails and splinters.  Porta potties will be placed near each cabin for our guests’ convenience during the bathroom remodel phase, and we will allow a one time variance to the “please don’t shower your children by putting them in the hot tub” rule for this summer only.  This is an exciting undertaking, and we are looking forward to having all the remodels finished by next winter!

Another strong recommendation we received was that although improved bandwidth is helpful for those who need to work while on vacation, most of our guests really like the lack of connectivity and the resulting connection they find with their family.  Since so many people enjoy this, we have decided to collect cell phones, iPads, and laptops at check in.  Now, for those who just have to work, with an advance note from their boss, we will release their devices during limited hours.  Please do know that these notes need to be notarized and on company letterhead.  And, if you would like to post anything on social media, as long as you use the hashtag #vistaverderanch and have a following of at least 1,000 people, Devyn will temporarily allow you access to your device.

Lastly, we have tweaked our kids program based on the feedback we received from our guests.  Apparently everyone is frustrated that kids don’t have discipline anymore these days, so we are going to take things into our own hands and help shape the next generation.  It may take a village to raise a child, but it takes a ranch to shift their paradigm.  Fire engine rides with ice cream and horseback riding to pan for gold will be awarded only to the kids who can show that they can make a proper hospital corner on their beds each morning, polish their silverware prior to breakfast, clean the grease trap in the kitchen, scoop out the cow pen, and massage the guides feet after long hikes.  It’s really going to be an amazing program, and Mandy is already lining up the schedule to include a 6am wake-up to feed the chickens and clean the coop.

You can imagine how excited we are to get the ball rolling on moving forward on our plans!  Of course, we may have to wait until after April Fool’s Day to do our final review and rubber stamp these ideas…..or not?

 

snowmobile guide learning about avalanche safety

Dude Ranch Life: Safety First

This winter has been the winter of safety training.  More specifically avalanche safety training.  It really is more of opportunities for training arising than anything, but it has led to a lot of interesting conversations around the dinner table (ok, breakfast and lunch too as we do take gathering to eat seriously here).  The course opportunities started in January when Devyn took an avalanche safety class from the local community college, which has an outstanding outdoor education component.  Following that, Ben (guide) and Michael headed off to Estes Park for a level 1 course with the American Institute of Avalanche Research and Education.  Both discovered in that course that they did know a lot more than they gave themselves credit for prior to the course, but the hands on, backcountry classroom experience was the most valuable portion of the course.  Just days later, Charlie had the opportunity to join some local park rangers for a Level 1 class for snowmobile riders with Tyler’s Backcountry Awareness.

We have always taken safety as a high priority, as we carry a lot of responsibility every time we take our guests out into the backcountry–whether on foot, horseback, skis, bikes, or snowmobiles.  And, winter weather adds a whole new element of safety issues into that equation.  It’s really nice to be armed with this knowledge and experience to continue to work towards providing all of you compelling experiences that are also safe experiences!  It’s truly a line we walk every single time we take guests out, and we’re thankful to have so many amazing pro-guides to help steer the course of those daily decisions.

 

luxury ranch resort horse care

Dude Ranch Life: Drunk Ponies

They were drunk.  Or something was going on.  Why else would there be horses scattered around the arena with their heads hanging low while they swayed back and forth as if on a boat?  Rounding the corner, the mystery was solved.  It was dental day at Vista Verde!  Dr. Courtney and Dr. Sarah had their power drills going and the horses were sleepy from sedation.  What does dental care mean for horses?  Typically we try to annually have our horses teeth examined, and floated as needed.  What’s that?  Here is a little info on what that all means, and why it’s important for equine health care.  Our horses are important to us, as just like our staff if we take care of them then they will take good care of you while you’re here on vacation!

It was a assembly line of horses in the indoor arena.  Sedation first, then as they got sleepy they were brought into the stalls where the vets were set up.  Examine the horse’s mouth, assess their status, float the teeth as needed, turn out into the arena to slowly wake up, get the next horse.  Oh, and then there was Zen Ben waiting with gloved hands for the boy horses to have their annual sheath cleaning.  Because why not take care of that dirty business while they are a bit knocked out?  We’ll leave those details for you to explore on your own.  Not the most fun part of horse ownership, but someone’s gotta do it!

Mystery solved.  Nope, the horses hadn’t gone on a bender in the wine room.  But, I bet they are enjoying their hay a little more today than the day before.  It’s a great think when your chompers work like they should!

Dude Ranch Life: As the Snowflakes Fall

There has been a long running joke at Vista Verde over the years of making up names about the ranch that sound like soap opera titles.  As the Aspens Turn, As the Snowflakes Fall, All My Horses, Rides of our Lives, you get the idea.  It’s not that life at the ranch is really that dramatic, but on the days when we’re all going a dozen different directions trying to keep all the different plates spinning, it is a good way to chuckle.  So, with the funky winter we’ve had this year–late to start, then snow, then no snow and warm weather, oh yeah finally snow again, oh gosh now it’s blowing away, phew another storm–you get the idea–this title felt somewhat appropriate.

So, what has been going on at the ranch? Behind the scenes of taking out guests on skis and snowshoes, tubing, dancing, dining and hot tubbing there is a lot of hitching up the sleigh for feeding time, baking breads and simmering stocks while at the same time preparing meals for 10 different dietary restrictions, cleaning stalls, early morning grooming and snow blowing, ironing sheets and polishing mirrors, answering back to back phone calls about reservations for vacations this winter, next summer, the fall, and even next winter, and lots and lots of Skype interviews with potential staff.  The ranch reminds me of a beehive sometimes.  Nice, quiet, and peaceful from the outside, but a buzzing factory once you dive into it.

Deep in that buzzing beehive there are some exciting things happening!  Ben and KP returned from a horse sale late Saturday night with 5 new geldings who all seem pretty amazing.  After giving them a day to settle into their new home in private stalls in the Indoor Arena, Monday was a play day with a number of staff hopping on them to see how they go.  So far, we’re really happy with what we see.  You never know what you’re going to get when you buy a horse, and often times you find out things about them once they are back at the ranch that didn’t show up at the sale.

So, as the beehive keeps buzzing and the snowflakes hopefully keep falling, we’ll continue to try keeping all those plates spinning.

Dude Ranch Life: The VVR Book Edition

When you live in a place with limited bandwidth and spotty cell phone service, there tends to be an inclination to either go to the dark side or just read a lot of books. As we prefer the latter option, there tend to always be a lot of great book recommendations that come from our staff. This week we share some great suggestions that tie into our local area and activities we like to pursue.

Recommended by Beka
Hiking the Boat by Diana Crane-White: We use this book all the time when trying to learn more about the history and surroundings of the beautiful trails we use year around. It is focused on summer but has many useful and fun facts and advice about the area. It’s a must have, even as an encyclopedia for hiking the areas around Vista Verde Ranch in the summer. It’s hard to find in any shops outside Steamboat Springs but can be ordered online.

Recommended by “Zen Ben”
Horses Never Lie and Considering The Horse by Mark Rashid: These are two wonderful books that help introduce true horsemanship to anyone interested in learning more about horses. These books help transform the old mindset of “breaking the horse” and the old cowboy into the new trusted-based relationship through passive leadership. True horse people start with trust as the foundation to build a relationship with their horse. I read this book faster than I read Harry Potter!

Recommended by Devyn
Nothing Daunted by Dorothy Wickenden: This is a true story of two adventurous East Coast society girls who take teaching jobs west of Steamboat Springs in the Elkhead Mountains. This book is seamlessly written, with beautiful descriptions of the landscape, great stories from the wild west, and historical information.

dude ranch babies

Dude Ranch Life: All kinds of babies

With the large staff filled with young people starting off in life, we always have a stream of ranch babies to cuddle and love on. And we’re not even referring to the cute foals that arrive every spring. We’re talking about little people! As one set grows up, another arrives, and 2018 is no different than the past several years.

At this point it’’ pretty hard to hide the fact that Beka and Michael are expecting a little one to come skiing out to join them on their many adventures at the end of March. Not that anyone was trying to hide it, but somehow it flew under my radar to make a big announcement last summer when we heard the great news. Of course, Beka hasn’t let pregnancy slow her down much, and she’s still getting out and enjoying her time recreating in the snow as long as possible. We can’t wait to meet this little girl soon, and we will keep you all posted of her arrival.

Adding to the excitement there was another baby announcement recently. Must be something in the water up at the Adventure Center, as Ben and Addie will be welcoming their first child mid-summer. Wow, we’re going to have some active little kiddos cruising around this ranch pretty soon. I suppose Eamon will finally get a run for his money!

What a great place to start a family, and what a great place to grow up! We look forward to meeting these new additions to our ranch family.

winter vacation ideas

My winter ranch vacation: Max’s 5 perfect days at VVR

Here’s the guy who has been coming to Vista Verde since he was a little tike, and has now been at the ranch during both the summer and winter time. So, how does a veteran VVR guest play out his 5 perfect days? Max shared with me his vision of 5 perfect days over breakfast when he was at the ranch recently.

Day 1
Max didn’t hesitate to suggest that he would start his stay off with a horsemanship clinic. He acknowledged that riding a horse is much like riding a bike, and that a refresher on his technique is always a good way to get tuned up for the rest of his stay. It’s time to reconnect with his buddy Rebel and get his timing and cues sharpened up with KP’s instruction.
Over lunch, Max reconnects with his family, and lingers over coffee with his grandma. She’s been bringing him to the ranch for years, and they have shared so many memories here together. This is a special place where they enjoy long conversations and tales of the trail together.
After spending the morning inside the indoor arena, it’s time to get out and get moving, so Max chose to go cross country skiing that first afternoon. It’s a good intro for him as he hasn’t spent as much time at the ranch in the winter as he has in the summer. This intro to skiing gets him dialed in so he is able to do more and advance throughout his stay at the ranch.

Day 2
Now that he’s feeling more acclimated, Max is ready to hit it hard today. The morning is a backcountry ski, and it’s amazing with fresh snow having fallen overnight. The powder is light and fluffy, and the scenery is glorious. Almost so much that he doesn’t realize that he is working pretty hard as the guides see a young, fit guy and decide to push him a bit.
The warm fire in the Lodge and a big lunch are a welcome sight after that big ski. It’s wonderful that when you’re a young guy packing away the calories you can just keep eating and eating at the ranch! It’s good to catch up with his little brother and hear about what fun he had that morning as well.
Fueled up and recharged, Max jumps onto snowshoes for the afternoon. It is fun to be able to tackle terrain he might not have wanted to attempt on skis, but have no problem climbing up hills and meandering through tight trees on the snowshoes. I’m guessing this is a night that Max barely makes it through dessert before he falls asleep.

Day 3
Now it’s time to get back on Rebel, and Max is really looking forward to the new clinic that Ben Y-H is leading this winter called Zen and the Art of Horsemanship. Max points out how cool it is to stop thinking about himself as a rider and instead think of his horse as an extension of himself. During the clinic he finds himself tuning into the smaller, subtle details of riding, which is eye-opening and exciting to notice.
After yesterday’s epic outings, a trail ride with his family sounds kind of nice today. Mellow, scenic, relaxing, and then, look at that, there is time for a dip in the hot tub before dinner and the music show that night!

Day 4
Having rested yesterday, Max is ready to strap on snowshoes for an all-day outing. The crew going on the trip pack lunches and hit the trial mid-morning. It’s a highlight for this California guy to be walking across a frozen lake, with a view of Hahn’s Peak in the distance. Also, having been to the ranch so many times in the summer, it’s fun to experience a new version of places he’s been before–like this lake where he’s dipped his hand into the cool water in the summer, but is now literally walking on water as he snowshoes across to the other side!

Day 5
That final day has proven to be a tough one for all of those who I’ve asked to craft their perfect 5 days….so tough to pick that final wow moment. Max settles on a final backcountry ski to hone his skills. Maybe some ups and downs to practice technique, so next time he’s back on skis he’ll be able to start a jump ahead with his improved skills.
To wrap up a great trip with his family, they will go on another trail ride to enjoy the views around the ranch on horseback. This also gives him a chance to say goodbye to Rebel and have a final moment of time together before Max has to leave the ranch.
Another great version of how to enjoy the ranch. There are so many different ways one could play out their 5 perfect days at Vista Verde. What would yours look like?

winter guest ranch fan

My winter ranch vacation: Wanda’s 5 perfect days at VVR

There are few guests who are bigger fans than Wanda. Ok, maybe some are pretty close, but what we love about Wanda is her enthusiasm for snow and being at Vista Verde in the winter. So, it was no surprise that, when I asked her to send me what her 5 perfect days at the ranch look like, I received a bit of a novel in reply. It made me excited about winter just reading her descriptions! So, from the Southern empty nester who dreams of fresh powder, here is Wanda’s take on 5 perfect days at Vista Verde.

Day 1
My morning starts with an early morning soak in the hot tub. Dawn is breaking, it is snowing, the only sounds are the horses in the winter pasture. Then to the lodge for my favorite breakfast of VVR branded pancakes with breakfast potatoes & thick cut bacon. The excitement of planning our first full day of activities… must include tubing!!! Off to the Nordic center to meet our group & on the snowmobile up the hill we go to tube down & ride back up..repeat x10 then to the Nordic Center to warm up and talk with the staff & guests with a cup of hot cider.
A quick walk to the barn to check on the horses & off to lunch. Schedule for the afternoon… snowshoe to Elk River (love this trip): the snow is deep, the water is frozen & we snowshoe right on the river.
We have definitely reached our 10,000 step mark. Back to the cabin for a shower in our luxurious bathroom & a quick nap.
Happy hour at 6:00, amazing dinner, and another walk to the barn for the barn dance with staff & guests!! I wish I could remember what I learned the year before.
We fall into our soft comfy bed, happy to be in this amazing place.

Day 2
Up early. It is really snowing. Take a long walk around the ranch, just enjoying the beauty. We can smell the bacon cooking. Down to breakfast for some fresh fruit and amazing granola. Oh… special… grits for breakfast!!! Off to track ski. The trail is groomed, and there is fresh champagne powder in the tracks. A quick change into snowshoes & off to the mare barn to check on all the “girls.”
Ready for a bowl of hot soup & a sandwich. We are ready for a snowshoe trip to Pearl Lake. Love the hike in & out. 10,000 steps again today!
Hot shower, quick nap & ready for dinner!!! Great meal with old & new friends we have met at the ranch over these 12 years. Always wonderful to reconnect. Excited about our schedule tomorrow. The weather calls for snow & more snow. “Early to Bed, Early to Rise!”

Day 3
How I love the hot tub soak to start my day… cup of hot coffee and total silence.
I dream of the sound of “crunch” as we walk to breakfast. Dreaming of pancakes!!! Need the carbs for the energy to handle our busy schedule!! (Justification) We are headed to the Continental Divide on the back of the snowmobile. What an adventure!!! We repeat this trip every year. I cannot get enough of the beautiful landscape. Hoping for another lesson on “avalanche science.”
Ready for a quick lunch and off to feed the horses. They are so beautiful as they run behind the sled in the deep snow, ready for some fresh hay. I hear the tubing hill calling my name. Who would believe a 70-year-old woman would still enjoy that “childhood”memory. Many times up & down and landing in the soft powder at the bottom. The guides seem to enjoy their trips up & down as much as we do.
Time for a break & a nap. Seems to be a common thread every day about this time.
Ready for another great meal… wine pairing tonight. Such fun as Chef Chol comes out and interacts so personally with us. A great time after dinner to sit in front of the fireplace and plan Day 4. The walk back to our cabin with the snow falling always makes me smile & makes me even more excited to see how much falls during the night. I will be up peeking out many times before dawn.

Day 4
Today we are off on another adventure…. Our first try at the Hinman Lake snowshoe. It has been on our radar for three years, and today we are going to give it the old North Carolina try! Could be a very short day… or a very long day.
Lunch & a relaxing sleigh ride… a time to huddle & cuddle with my amazing husband. (With Finn in the front keeping an eye out).
Love having the casual dinners with staff and out for an entertaining evening with the Farwell Mountain Band for a little singing & dancing.

Day 5
Last day. This is always the hardest to plan. How do you get everything else you want to do into one day. I have not ridden in the indoor arena. I have not been on one trail ride. We have not been to Hahn’s Peak Lake.
Ok. Decision time… since it is snowing so beautifully here, we are heading out on trail ride…. then we will strap on a pair of skis and ski around the Ranch until lunch.
Ending up at Hahn’s Peak Lake for our final adventure. There is just “so much to do… so little time.”

The Spotlight is on Cheryl Levesque

It’s been a while since we’ve featured a staff member, and the stars aligned this week to put the spotlight on Cheryl Levesque.  Why?  Because we are going to be handing over the reins of our Instagram and Facebook accounts for a while to Cheryl, so it’s great for you all to meet who will be the face behind the posts this winter! Both Steph and Devyn have found themselves in the weeds a bit this winter, with so many great projects to tackle and so many great guests to entertain, so Cheryl is helping lighten our loads while the ranch is covered in snow.

After graduating High School, Cheryl was working as a secretary for an Optometrist and Personal Assistant for a Psychiatrist. Realizing that she had no desire to go to college, at the time, and wasn’t feeling fulfilled in the 9-5 job life, she decided to spend some time doing things that she enjoyed and packed up and moved to Colorado. Before coming to Vista Verde, Cheryl had worked at a couple other guest ranches in Colorado–working for 3 summers with one and the winter season with the other. She first heard of Vista Verde through a friend who had worked for us for a few seasons, and then through her sister, who was (and still is) working as a line cook at the ranch. Missing her sister and ready to experience a new environment she joined the VVR team in August of 2017 as a line cook alongside her sister.  This winter she branched out to join the team in the office crew, and is learning all the behind the scenes workings of a dude ranch. Cheryl enjoys the great outdoors and being able to be active in them by hiking, biking, running, riding, and now in the snow! One of her more memorable experiences was getting to trek through Nepal and the Himalayan mountains. While there she volunteered with a local café and got to meet many locals and travelers both. She’s looking forward to going trekking through Norway and Europe this spring during our off season break!

We look forward to seeing what Cheryl finds to share with all of you on our social media accounts.  If you aren’t already following us on Instagram and Facebook, tune in and stay up to date on what’s going on at the ranch!

christmas vacation gift guide

Vista Verde’s First Annual Holiday Gift Guide

Ok, take this post as a little tongue in cheek, and just know that it’s the little things that make me laugh.  Since everyone has a gift guide these days, I thought we needed to jump on the bandwagon.  But it might actually be something I try to do each year a little earlier in the holiday season in earnest because there are actually some fun suggestions I think we could share with all of you each year!  And, of course, only a little of it is completely self-serving.

With that humble intro, here are some suggestions on great gift ideas from many of the vendors we work with at the ranch.

Tender Belly Bacon!

Ok, we’re serious.  I know I mention our bacon a lot, but it is really that good, and guests even comment about it when they aren’t here.  So, if you can’t gift your loved one a vacation to Vista Verde Ranch, why not at least get them bacon?  Tender Belly, our purveyor for that awesome bacon, offers a Bacon of the Month Club, among other options for gift purchases.

Experiences, not stuff

We all have too much stuff, don’t we?  And, wouldn’t it feel better to save some packaging from the landfills?  So, why not buy a winter vacation package or a week at the ranch this summer for your loved ones?  You’ll create memories instead of more items to store!

Wild Rags

This is a great gift to give to someone who enjoys the Western look.  We all live in them, and there are so many great designs and colors out there!  Check out the variety at Wyoming Wild Rags.

Ranch Organics

Not only do we love the name, and love the gal who started this great company, but we love the products!  If you want the same scent as what we have with our amenities, look for Sweet Grass.  Ranch Organics is a great small Steamboat company that has gone nationwide in the past decade because of their great products.

A Horse!

Yes, we know you all need a new horse, right?  So why not buy a Vista Verde Ranch bred and raised young horse?  Come on now, the obstacles are merely simple ones to overcome–we’ll help you find a way to ship this critter to your home and even put a red bow around its neck.

Steaming Bean Coffee and our favorite mug

We love, love, love our blue coffee mugs.  So much that we shell out the high price for them to replace the broken ones each season.  They are just so beautiful, and a great size to snuggle up with on a cold morning, or a warm one, or whenever…they are that great.  And the Black Magic blend from Colorado’s Steaming Bean coffee is a guest favorite, so why not pair a bag of that with a gorgeous mug from Mountain Arts Pottery?

When in doubt, gift wine!

Well, it’s always a good fall back, and why not represent the brand and buy someone a bottle of the Williams Selyem 2014 Vista Verde Vineyard Pinot Noir?  No relation to the ranch, but what a cool name, right?

There you go.  The inaugural holiday gift guide from Vista Verde.  Here’s to a happy holiday season!  Oh, and if you’re looking for something to get me, I’ll always take another wild rag.  Who knows, maybe my husband might read this…..

Spotlight on Sara Brinkley

Our longtime massage therapist Trish left us this past fall to move closer to her family.  We were left wondering, “How will we ever fill her shoes?”  Well, after searching high and low in the Steamboat and Clark community, we found Sara Brinkley.  So we wanted to introduce her to all of you this week.  Sara is getting settled in at the ranch, giving massages to staff so they know her work, and getting the massage room set up to her liking.  I was the lucky recipients of a massage from her recently, and am still enjoying the newly stretched muscles and relaxed back!  I asked her some questions to help you all get to know her, so if you’re showing up this winter for a vacation at the ranch, you’ll already know a bit about Sara!

1. Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Maplewood, MN.

2. When you were a kid, what did you think you wanted to do when you grew up?

As I kid I really wanted to be a professional tennis player.

3. What drew you to massage therapy for a profession?

Also as a child, I was the one giving family and friend backrubs. At friend sleepovers, everyone always wanted to be in front of me in the backrub chain. So, the idea of making people feel better was probably what initially drew me to massage therapy.

4. How do you spend your free time?

I love hiking and snowshoeing with my dog. My husband and I love to backpack. We have a boat and love spending time on Steamboat Lake. We also really enjoy working on our land and doing house projects. And I still do enjoy playing tennis, even if it’s not on the circuit!

5. Beside relaxation, are there benefits to guests getting a massage while at VVR?

I believe any minor body pain can be something that changes your day, your activity, or experience. So, by relieving muscle tension, lengthening muscle tissue, and creating better circulation; massage can reduce stress, aid in better sleep, relieve injury pain, and aid in your body functioning at its best.

If you’re coming out to the ranch for a winter vacation, we hope you’ll get a chance to meet Sara and enjoy her work.  She offers either 60 or 90 minute Swedish or relaxing massages typically on Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoons.  60 minute massages are $130 and 90 minute massages are $170.  Feel free to call us at 800-526-7433 to schedule your massage ahead of time, as those muscles do get sore with all the outdoor adventures going on here at the ranch!

winter dude ranch season is getting closer

Dude Ranch Life: Gratitude for the little things

It’s amazing how quiet it is around the ranch right now with us being closed for the off-season.  And what got on my radar this past week was realizing how much that quiet space allows us to appreciate the little things.  Sure, we recognize that compared to the busy world many people live in, being at the ranch is still a more quiet place to be for many.  But, when we’re open and we have a house full of guests to organize, an equally large group of staff to shepherd, and activities going every which way, there are definitely a lot of balls up in the air to keep juggling!  We’re all pretty mindful of noticing the special moments, but sometimes don’t get the space to really soak them up.  This past week I found myself relishing those special moments.

The bald eagle flying over head as I was driving up Seedhouse Road yesterday morning.  Those are the times when I remind myself, “This life isn’t normal–most folks don’t get to see bald eagles soaring around on their commute to work!?”

The alpenglow on fresh snow in the Zirkels as the sun goes down earlier and earlier each evening.

Getting together at my house for dinner the other night with the few people who are at the ranch right now.  Great times, lots of laughter, and total joy when I pulled out the dessert I had slaved over all day–a selection of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.  Because we have amazing baked goods at the ranch all the time, but when we get to binge on Ben & Jerry’s?

Seeing the elk move across the hillside above the cabin early in the morning, and then later on gather in the valley floor underneath an epic sunset.

Sharing a huge pot of venison stew that Chef Jason made last week just because he’s going a little stir crazy not working much these days.  What a surprise, and I can assure you all the brown bag lunches from home were quickly put back into the fridge when we smelled the stew!

Pushing the door when the handle says “Pull”!  Yes, I am telling you it’s the simple pleasures I’m talking about here!  Those kitchen doors are such a source of controversy with the staff, and it’s just kind of fun to walk through them the wrong way when no one is around.

What doesn’t change during the off-season?  The camaraderie of the passionate people here at the ranch, who all care so much about making this dude ranch the best vacation experience ever for our guests, and who work their tails off during the off-season to gear up for the coming season.  It’s a smaller crew right now, so we’re all enjoying the quiet together, getting things done, reflecting on what we can do better, implementing new ideas, and putting the wheels into motion so they are ready for when the staff arrive in early December.

 

New Powder Riding options for your winter ranch vacation

Many of you who visited the ranch last winter tried out our snowmobiling program, and we received some great feedback over the course of the winter. We’re excited to be expanding the program this year with some new riding options.

Our programs at the ranch allow our guests to grow their skills and learn during their stay, and we wanted to mirror this in the snowmobile program. So, there will still be the option of 2-hour trail rides on the snowmobiles, but we have also added another step in the program for those who have already taken a 2-hour trail ride and want to learn more technique, skills, and play a bit more on the machines.

During the 2-hour powder rides the guides will take guests into the powder to teach them how to maneuver and manage the machines in the fresh snow. In addition, there will be the option of all-day rides that give riders time on the trail as well as powder riding instruction and play time. So, there are many options for our guests who catch the bug of riding a snowmobile. And, for all of you who want to avoid the sound of machines, please remember that we have the newer machines that are quieter, and we leave from the barn area and head off ranch right away on our tours, so the ranch remains a quiet and peaceful place. So, the phrase ‘come ride with us’ has multiple meanings—horses, fat bikes, and snowmobiles!

Dude Ranch Gear

The season is wrapping up at Vista Verde Ranch, and we have some great new and used gear available for sale!  If you’re in the area, stop by Sunday, October 22 from 1-4pm to shop and score a deal!

Bikes: Salsa
Bucksaws (S-XL) $2,500
Spearfish (S-XL) $1,200
XL Carbon Spearfish $1,900
Blackborows (XS-L) $900-$1,000

Winter Gear:
Snowshoes: Atlas, Crescent Moon $20-$40
Solomon SNS Ski Boots and Bindings: Various Sizes $20-$40
Backcountry Touring, Classic, and Skate Skis: Limited Selection $100
Kids Skis: $40

Paddleboards:
Hala Inflatable Boards-Nass, Straight-up, Hoss
Comes with carry kit and patch kit $850-$950

Discounted NEW Clothing and Technical Gear

Fly rods: (Prices will be posted soon)
Sage accel sizes ranging from 376-4 up to 596-4
Sage circa sizes 386-4 and 486-4
Sage LL 379-3
Sage txl-f 00710-4

Boots:
Redington willow river women’s boots sizes 5-9
Redington palix river men’s boots sizes 8-13
Simms freestone men’s boots sizes 7-14

Waders:
Redington crosswater women’s waders sizes small and medium
Redington crosswater men’s waders sizes S-XL
Redington sonic pro men’s waders sizes S-XL

 

cattle round up at Colorado dude ranch

Dude Ranch Life: Cattle Ranching with the Beltons

October came upon us quickly, but it didn’t come quietly this year.  Although we always have the chance of snow here in the fall, this month kicked off with a full-fledged winter style snow storm.  Stunning?  Yes.  Welcomed?  Well, we’d actually rather default to our preferred October weather of sunny skies to show off the golden aspens.  But, that’s life in the mountains and today we’re already back to those sunny skies, albeit a wee bit chilly with the snow still hanging around on the ground.

The snow did help us out as it did encourage the remaining cow-calf pairs out in the forest that coming home is indeed a good idea.  You see, we’ve spent the last month convincing the cow-calf pairs to stay out by moving them around to find where the grass was still thick and lush so they could spend as much time out in the forest before we brought them home.  So, by the end of September we were pretty sure they would come home willingly.  Apparently they missed that memo, and although we brought a lot of them home that last week, there are still some stragglers out in the forest.  Following the storm early this week, their attitude seems to have shifted and this time they were a lot more willing to head back to the ranch.

One of the highlights of this fall round-up season for me has been getting our partners Christy and Matt Belton more involved with our guests during the round-up weeks.  We had them join us for dinner each week to meet the guests and then gather around the fireplace after dinner so everyone could learn a little more about their cattle operation.  It was fascinating.  Every week the conversation went a little different direction from water rights to testing bulls productivity (yep, that one got a little silly), but each week gave our guests a chance to understand a little more about the cattle industry and our partnership with Belton Livestock.  This is one of those amazing relationships where everyone wins–our guests get to be a part of a real cattle operation and Christy and Matt get some help with managing a roughly 14,000 acre USFS grazing permit along with over 200 cow-calf pairs.  What was apparent was that having this conversation with Christy and Matt helped the guests realize this is the real deal, and recognize that they have a vital role in helping with the Belton’s business success.

Now we just have to get the stragglers in and call it a year.  Fat happy cows and spunky, well fed calves are heading back to the Belton Livestock headquarters as I write this blog post.  Good job to all who came out to have some fun riding the land and rounding up cows!

Dude Ranch Life: When we say guest blogger, we really mean a guest blogging!

To start I should tell you how it came about that a guest is writing the VVR blog! I was talking to my friend Stephanie and saying how much we enjoyed her blogs, and when could we expect the next one?  As we know, Stephanie’s blogs are informative, amusing and beautifully written and must take time and inspiration to get out, but this time, like all writers, Stephanie was suffering writers block.  She asked me for some ideas, and while other guests nearby came up with several suggestions I suggested “why not get a guest to do a blog?” Stephanie grabbed hold of this idea and said “When do you think you can do it?”……well I was “strung up like a kipper” as we say in England, (Stephanie does have a slightly devious side to her,) so here goes.

My wife and I traveled 5500 miles to get here, suffering jet lag and aeroplane food and driving past many other dude ranches. So, we make a big effort to get here! This is our third time coming to VVR… and it is so worth it. Just for the record, in the past we have never been back to any holiday destination before, so why does VVR draw us back? Not just us but many other guests.  I decided I would attempt to find out what draws us all back.

Over lunch today I asked several people how many times they had been to VVR and why they keep coming back? Some, I asked, have been here over 10 times and many 8 or 9 times (good time to say that those on 9 get the 10th one free) so we are still “newbies ”

When asked why they keep coming back there were lots of different responses. Some say the horses, and indeed there is a horse for every standard of horsemanship from beginners to experienced riders.

But many people never ride a horse, and spend their time fishing, so for them its the fishing and the tales you hear over dinner each night tell of great fish caught and great fish lost all in stunning surroundings. I keep promising myself to go fishing but there is so much else going on. The hard thing at VVR is to make your choices each day.

And the hikers and bikers all talk enthusiastically about the excitement of their days, when we gather together for meals.

Which brings me onto another reason people keep coming back… the food. It is always superb, whether its breakfast out in a field or a gourmet dinner in the lodge you never hear any complaints. And, if you are gluten free, vegetarian or have any other dietary requirement they will always be able to provide for you.

With great activities and great food in beautiful surroundings you could not want for anything more. But, hold on a minute…the fun doesn’t stop there! Every evening there is some event taking place to continue the enjoyment. Line dancing, wine pairing, music night, horse shoe throwing etc with VVR personnel all on hand to make sure it all goes well. My particular favourite is line dancing, which is surprising as I cannot dance! but at VVR I can, as the song says when you get the chance to dance, dance.

When it all boils down to it its not just the horses, the setting, the fishing, climbing, hiking and bike riding, food, evening activities that make it extra special, great as they are, but it is the people. Not just the fine people who look after us, but the friendships that develop over the week keep many guests returning. Ben says in his introduction that it should be like coming back to your family. and, I think, that is why guests return to the ranch year after year, its coming home.

Happy holidays everyone!

Michael Kelleher