What’s Happening on the Ranch?

There’s always something happening at Vista Verde Ranch. Foals are born, new recipes are created, or the wranglers are playing tricks on each other. Come here to read the latest news!

Associatedcontent.com – February 2011

The Five Most Romantic Ski Lodges in the West by Rebecca Bredholt

If your normal choice of venue for ski trips is sharing a vacation rental or condo, but you would like to try something more romantic this year, check out one of these lodges for a new wintry experience.

Compiling lists like these is not easy, though. Even getting men and women to agree on a romantic skiing vacation can be futile. Based on a combination of personal experience, research and user reviews, here’s my best recommendation for couples planning a snow covered escape.

Rustic Romance: When it comes to rustic equaling authentic, New Mexico’s Bavarian Lodge cannot be beat. Named one of Travel + Leisure magazine’s most romantic getaways in 2010, this Taos Valley venue features hand carved Swiss moldings and waitresses wearing lederhosen. Their King Ludwig Suite, named after the Bavarian king, has its own balcony with unobstructed views of Kachina Bowl. The best part is the marble covered bathroom with a large Jacuzzi soaking tub – perfect for relaxing after a day on the slopes. Some of the smaller rooms’ décor may border on Disney-esque, but the German food has many visitors coming back for more.

Modern Romance: Aspen already has a lot going for it. Not only is it in the top 10 most romantic cities on TripAdvisor, but it’s also home to The Little Nell, which most couples rank as the second most romantic spot. This five-star hotel offers the only ski in/ski out amenity in the area and is ranked on Condé Nast Traveler’s esteemed Gold List as one of the nation’s top ski resorts. But back to the romance, this 92 room resort makes every couple feel special by offering services like unpacking your luggage and sprinkling the room in rose petals while lighting scented candles. Va-va-voom! You can also get an in-room massage for two or enjoy the heated outdoor pool. If you do happen to venture out, some of the nation’s best slopes await!

Luxurious Romance: If you think surrounding yourself with a cadre of international guests in a $16.5 million dollar exclusive resort in the Grand Teton National Park is romantic, then look no further. Where else can you find a 35-meter pool in the mountains? Located a short, free shuttle drive to the Jackson Hole slopes is this once-in-a-lifetime resort. The panoramic views from 7,000 feet are pretty nice from any angle at this seven acre property – including the one from the private soaking tub in your room. Most of the suites are around 600 to 700 square feet, have woven cow hide chairs and a large window seat. The web site doesn’t mention any packages because at this level of luxury, if you ask for something, they will get it for you – including dog sledding and a sleigh ride to what might be the best dinner of your life. (I saw this massive structure being built when I was there in 2004. It really looks like a celebrity escape.)

Intimate Romance: What might be the best kept secret in Steamboat Springs, Colorado is now out of the bag! Vista Verde Ranch is a small, hidden all-inclusive resort with a gorgeous lobby and outstanding user reviews. The best part? An equestrian program even non-horse people would love. Seriously. They had me at horseback riding in the snow! (full moon and star lit sky optional.) “We have more honeymooners and romantic getaways booked this winter than ever before,” says Stephanie Wilson, who represents the Ranch. Maybe it’s their candle light dinners or the fact that you can have your own private hot tub, or it could be the personalized attention each of their 40 guest rooms receives. Either way, there are only positive things to say about Vista Verde Ranch.

Historic Romance: A child of Roosevelt’s New Deal policies during the Great Depression, Timberline Lodge is a piece of history perched 6,000 feet up in a remote region of Oregon’s Mount Hood. Their new deal for you includes Valentine’s dinner specials and a Wine Maker’s Dinner, a six-course culinary adventure with pairings. Timberline is the state’s only ski in/ski out resort, but before you go, ask about having champagne and truffles placed in your room an additional charge. Just keep in mind that users have noted how sound travels from room to room, but the views here are some of the most spectacular in the West.

Since romance is so personalized, if I’ve left off a resort you think should have been included, let me know.

Dude Ranch stories that make me laugh

When you spend a lot of time with people, there are always funny stories. People are just funny, whether it’s intentional or not. I always think we should write a book about the life and times of a dude ranch. But, I can’t usually remember them long enough. With that in mind, I made a few notes from this winter as events unfolded and funny things happened.

If you’re expecting some earth shattering expose of a well known guest, it’s not happening here. But here are some of the things that have made me laugh as I’ve walked through the dude ranch world this winter:

Note from a guest to the housekeepers: We couldn’t find the moose. Would you please not hide it so well tonight?

Compliment to the chef: Laura walked up to me after breakfast one morning and told me she needed to show me something to share with Chef Matt. What was it that she wanted to show me? She lifted up her shirt a little and pointed to her pant button, that wouldn’t close.

VFB- One of our long time loyal guests Danny blew out his knee just weeks before his scheduled time at the ranch. Being the die-hard that he is, he decided that he might as well recuperate at the ranch rather than sitting around his house. So they came anyway. During his stay, he needed a stool in his cabin so he could elevate his knee. Bill Backer, our quiet and behind the scenes jack of all trades whipped one up really quickly and brought it by. I got an email from Danny later telling me he just had one of the best experiences of his 10 plus years at the ranch: A VFB. What? He explained that meant a Visit From Bill. In fact, he said he thought he might try to break something so Bill would have to come back. First of all, it’s funny that at a dude ranch I’m getting an email from a guest in one of our cabins. But even better is that Danny gave us a new acronym and reminded all of us that even the elusive Bill can make a Vista Verde Ranch stay better. We need to get him out more!

Money back guarantees: Another first this winter..I had a potential guest who was interested in speaking with some folks who had been to the ranch before. So I put him in touch with a few families. Joe, one of the guests he spoke with sent me an email to let me know they had talked. At that time he also told me that he had given the potential guest a money back guarantee on his stay. He didn’t say the ranch would give him his money back, he said he would! Seriously!

So, there are some of my more funny moments from this winter at our dude ranch. There have been plenty more as I laugh out loud on a daily basis. Some of you make me laugh when you call and book and are so excited that you’re screaming (Kathleen and Christine, I’m talking about you) and most of you just make me laugh with your stories and antics while you’re here. It’s so fun to be around wonderful people every day here at Vista Verde. I hope you can come out and create some funny memories sometime too!

Roadtripsforcouples.com – February 2011

Visit a Guest Ranch on Valentine’s Day or Anytime!
February 10, 2011

Our guest post comes from Jody Dahl who grew up on a ranch and currently owns a Montana guest ranch. Feedback from guests and research on hundreds of ranches led her to create Top50Ranches– a resource for travelers worldwide featuring a select collection of ranches that have met established criteria.

Valentine’s Day – you couldn’t miss it if you tried (unless, of course, you’re a man)! It’s the only time of year when storefronts can get away with cramming in heart-shaped- everything in more shades of red and pink than should legally go in one space; when grown men with giant teddy bears casually slung under their arms make strolling down the sidewalk a major hazard.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m all about the cliche and, if I’m honest, pretty partial to a good bit of red/pink clashing as well. But, let’s face it, there’s a better way of saying those three little words than plastered on a giant chocolate heart. You guessed it: a dude ranch vacation. Ladies, it’s time to start dropping hints. Fellas, it’s time to start picking ‘em up!

There are, as always, plenty of dude ranch vacations to peruse on Top 50 Ranches, but some stand out as ideal for couples looking for a romantic western getaway

They say the way to a girl’s heart is through her stomach (very true in my case!) and with this in mind, The Ranch at Rock Creek should be on your shortlist of dude ranch vacations. Seasonal ingredients and ranch-raised meat are the key to the gourmet meals served up here. Add a candle and a cozy corner in The Granite Lodge, and what could be a more romantic setting? I can just see myself musing over the events of the day over a Bison Rib Roast caramelized beautifully and paired with red wine demi glace.

Satisfied that a ranch’s dining meets my stomach’s exacting standards, the next place I look when choosing a suitable dude ranch vacation is the ‘reviews’ page. After all, there’s nothing like an impartial opinion to give you a real insight into what to expect. I hit the jackpot when I come across Triple Creek Ranch – ranked #1 resort by Travel & Leisure! This dude ranch’s rustic, fireplace-equipped log cabins and gourmet dinners sound ideal for a romantic escape with more than a smattering of luxury. A sneaky glance at the dude ranch’s dining and I’m sold – chocolate treats and wine pairings over a candlelit dinner, plus the option of extravagant chocolate lover’s buffet will do quite nicely!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not totally obsessed with food, but you can’t deny there’s nothing quite like cooking with your partner. If you’re a foodie couple, take a look at Triple Creek’s cooking weekends. With classes such as wine pairing, dessert prep and basic technique, this is the ultimate culinary Valentine’s escape.

Now there’s nothing better than sharing a memorable, once-in-a-lifetime experience with your other half. As a bit of an adventure seeker, I’d jump at the chance to take a heli-tour over Glacier and Yellowstone, something offered by The Ranch at Rock Creek.

For me, a working ranch would always be my first choice over any other type of ranch vacation, simply because of its authentic nature – but stumbling across Tod Mountain Ranch, I feel I could be converted… This small and exclusive ranch, hidden in the Louis Creek Valley and surrounded by forested mountains, is a dude ranch with a difference. Privacy and relaxation are practically mandatory here – if you’re looking for the ultimate in luxury accommodations and a focus on riding, then this adult-oriented dude ranch is the vacation spot for you.

If you’ve got a family, you’ll know all about structure and schedule – great for getting the kids to bed, but not so much when you’re taking a dude ranch vacation without the little ones! Want to rediscover your spontaneous side? Then try a dude ranch like Free Rein, where you get the opportunity to do just that – have free reign! Head to British Columbia’s Free Rein in the summer time and bathe in secluded lakes, picnic by the shoreline or simply enjoy a snooze in the shade in peaceful, tranquil surroundings. And if you feel like hopping in the saddle, there’s ample opportunity to improve your riding skills in the arena or venture out on the trail.

Busy parents? Try a little role reversal and have someone answering to your beck and call 24/7 – head to Vista Verde, where there’s an almost-too-good-to-be-true 1:1 guest to staff ratio! Everything is catered to exactly what you want to do – from the arena riding to the fine dining. To really escape the demands of family life, visit in September – it’s adult-only month and a beautiful time of year to boot!

There’s no better person to crack open a bottle of the finest vino with than your partner, and wine buffs can taste some of California’s finest at Alisal Guest Ranch. Nestled in the beautiful Santa Ynez Valley and the renowned Santa Barbara County wine country, this working cattle and guest ranch was voted one of the Top 10 Guest Ranches in the US by Travel & Leisure, and Sunset Magazine named it one of the Top Guest Ranches in California. Couples shouldn’t be put off by this ranch’s high capacity for guests or family-friendly attitude – with 10,000 private acres of ranch to explore, there’s more than enough opportunity to ‘get away from it all’ with your loved one, not to mention taste some of the Sunshine State’s finest wines.

Wine lovers shouldn’t discount Los Potreros as well – this 6,000 acre, organic working cattle farm on Los Sierras Chicas (the oldest mountain range in South America) is located in an exceptional wine producing area. Personally, I’d be straight down to local La Caroyense winery for a wine tasting session, followed by a barbecue and wine drinking session back at the ranch – Los Potreros’ house wine taking centre stage, of course! Mental note to self: make room in suitcase for a take-home bottle.

Top 50 Ranches Couples Retreats will certainly make a romantic out of me! And you?

What is a Cattle Round-up?

With the snow piled so high right now, it’s funny to be thinking about summer. But, we’re getting so many phone calls and emails right now for summer that I am spending a fair amount of time thinking about the place covered in green grass, rather than white snow.

Many of you have contacted us about our fall cattle round-up. For those who don’t know about it, I thought I’d give a run down of what those weeks look like at Vista Verde.
Although our first adult-only week is August 28-September 4, the cattle round-up weeks begin September 4 and run through October 2. These are still Sunday-Sunday stays like our regular summer season, and most of our regular activities are still offered in our all-inclusive resort rates. But there is the added bonus of the cattle round-up option.

For those participating in the cattle round-up, we spend the first day or two in the arena in riding clinics. What does that mean? The trainers and wranglers will be getting you and your horse totally dialed in on how to work together as a team and how we want to work the cattle when we’re out on the trail. This will give you a definite edge in your riding ability, whether it’s your first time on a horse or you’ve been riding since you could walk. As we get into the week a little further, we’ll start heading out on the trail. This is not a City Slickers, camp out on the range kind of deal. Nope, we trailer the horses out to the 16,000 acres where the cattle are hiding. It really is like a game of hide and seek. Sometimes it’s more like playing hide and seek with my 5 year old…you almost have to pretend you don’t see them they are so easy to find. And some days it’s a lot of riding, riding, riding, over hills, through meadows around logs, and between bushes just to find nothing. If we find some, we gather them up and drive them to a holding area. If we don’t find them, we just enjoy the gorgeous Colorado fall weather and then come back to the ranch for dinner.
As a participant, it’s up to you as you how many days you want to go out on the gather. It’s hard riding and long days, so it’s fair game to take a day off and go fishing, go for a hike or just take a nap and relax by the pool. For those who want to ride, but don’t want to take part in the gather, we still do lead trail rides during that time, but not our regular clinics. It’s all part of your all-inclusive resort rates.

A fair warning…the riding during the cattle round-up is definitely the most intense riding we do all year. You are riding very independently, the terrain is rugged and varied and we are not on trails much of the time. For a novice rider who is game for an adventure, it’s just fine. But if you are a timid or nervous rider, let’s talk first. We are safety conscious and are out to make this a great experience for all, but it is the real deal out there on our fall cattle round-up. Hopefully you all get a chance to join us at some point. These 4 weeks at Vista Verde Ranch are really phenomenal!

Equitrekking.com – February 2011

Vacation Destinations to Horse Ride in the Snow
by Darley Newman – Equitrekking.com

Saddle up for Snow Riding at these Ranches

I’ve had the pleasure of horse riding through the snow in a few different areas, including on a film shoot for the Equitrekking Southern Quebec episode. We’ve certainly gotten a lot of snow this winter, so why not get out and enjoy it. Remember, horses have a slightly higher body temperature than we humans, making for a bit of a warmer ride.

The tricky thing with horse riding in the snow is the weather, as the conditions have to be right to take off on the trails, but luckily, many of the equestrian vacation destinations highlighted below have indoor arenas and other activities in case the weather takes a turn for the worse, including romantic horse drawn sleigh rides.

Here are some destinations to consider saddling up on horseback in the snow.

Bar W Ranch- Whitefish, Montana
What could be more romantic than a wintery sleigh ride at a Montana ranch! Bar W Ranch offers horse riding on snowy trails. They also have an indoor arena for those who want a brief outdoor excursion and more time training indoors to brush up on their Western riding skills. There are around 3000 acres to explore in the ranch vicinity and indoor barrels, team penning and pole bending. When you’re not in the saddle, you might want to explore the Western town of Whitefish, ski, skate, square dance, snowmobile or dog sled.

Les Randonnees Jacques Robidas- Eastern Townships, Quebec
Not too far from the Vermont border, saddle up with Quebec native Jacques Robidas or head off on a horse drawn sleigh. Jacques offers guests accommodations in one of his cozy cottages, steps away from the stables. L’Ardoise, the chef, prepares healthy meals, many of which are made with locally sourced products. It’s a homey atmosphere, not too far away from home for many in the Northeast.

The Hideout Lodge & Resort- Shell, Wyoming
Head to this working cattle ranch and look for wild horses in the snow in and around Shell Valley. With many miles of well-groomed trails and some true cowboys to take you out, you’re in for an exciting snow ride at this Western guest ranch. When not riding, the ranch offers snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, photography clinics and Yellowstone is right nearby. This ranch prides itself on giving guests a culinary experience. Besides gourmet meals, those with a sweet tooth can get their chocolate fix. One perk to this ranch vacation are homemade Centho-Chocolates, artisan made Belgian style chocolates, which the Hideout chefs have been specially trained to make. Add in some hot coco, and you’ve got one sweet ride!

Vista Verde Ranch- Steamboat Springs, Colorado
If you are a horse person and you live somewhere that gets lots of winter snow, like Steamboat Springs, Colorado, you’d want to keep your trails well groomed so you can ride outside or have a nice heated indoor arena… or both. Vista Verde Ranch keeps things going in the winter with snow riding, horse drawn sleigh rides pulled by a team of hefty Percherons, and an indoor arena, where you can watch ranch trainer Terry Wegener, National Reining Horse Association Money winner, starting horses and work on your own skills too. For foodies, Vista Verde also offers cooking classes, wine tasting and gourmet meals.

The Guide Ski and their Surprise- by Cliff

A couple of weeks ago, when our guest count was low and the rest of the staff were having a sledding party. The guides decided we would take a little adventure over to Burn Ridge Trail, located a few miles east of the ranch. We got our packs ready, jumped on the snowmobiles, and headed toward the trailhead. Kyle and Cami dropped off the three guides (Cliff, Teresa, and Beka) and we began our adventure. The day could not have started out better; the weather was beautiful, the sun was shining, and the powder was fresh. We were all very excited to ski this trail for the first time as we began our 6 mile journey.

Although we were anticipating a fun all day ski, we did not expect to see as many woodland creatures as we did. On the snowmobile ride to the trail head Kyle spotted a cow elk right off the ranch. Later on in the ski Teresa pointed out a cow moose. By far the most exciting wildlife encounter of the day was the reclusive mountain lion we came across deep in the Burn Ridge valley. Teresa was breaking trail, followed by Cliff then Beka. Five minutes beforehand Cliff and Teresa were talking about how we never see those elusive cats out here, but we know they are in the area. As they say… “Speak of the devil, and he’ll come knockin’ at your door.” And come knocking it did. Teresa first saw the cat, but we couldn’t tell if it was a bobcat or lynx because it was a bit far off. As we skied forward to get a better angle on the feline (while keeping a respectable distance) we were able to see that it was indeed a mountain lion. The three of us stood there unable to truly express how magnificent this cat was. As it calmly continued on its way into the forest the best word to describe our reclusive friend was “regal.” We watched for five minutes as the mountain lion crept away. Fortunately we were able to catch a few pictures of the cat as well as its tracks after it passed by.

After the excitement of the cougar viewing we continued down the valley until noon when we stopped in a clearing surrounded by aspens. As we sat by the fire Teresa skillfully built we enjoyed a lunch of sandwiches and coffee. The sun was still out, the fire was warm, and the coffee was delicious. We all decided we could indeed happily take a nap in the middle of our winter wonderland. However, there were many miles to go before we were back at the ranch to sleep.
Upon reaching the South Fork of the Elk River we had to ski across a snow covered log, the only way to reach the opposite side without skiing up the open river. We crossed without a problem and continued across our famous beaver ponds that make up part of our “Figure 8” ski. Our hard work was rewarded with a great downhill through the aspens and then a magnificent view of the ranch sitting at the base of Mt. Farewell. The last mile of our trip was a mellow trek across a meadow back to the ranch. As we sat in the Nordic Center we rested our weary legs and expressed gratitude for living in a place as incredible and majestic as this Steamboat Springs dude ranch. As Merle Haggard sang, “…if God doesn’t live in Colorado I’ll bet that’s where he spends most of his time.”

The Spotlight is on Ben Martin

Ben would be one of the more obvious ones to spotlight over this past year, but he was never in the right place at the right time for me to catch him for an interview. For those of you who have been to the ranch, it’s hard to not know and love Ben. Officially, he shares the General Manager job with Dace. Unofficially, he’s the coffee and eggs guy. You can always count on Ben to sit down for his favorite meal with a big cup of coffee and share great stories about life at the ranch, oh, and maybe some opinions on sports too.

You see, Ben is not only a cowboy, he’s a sports fanatic. Raised in New Holland, PA, Ben was the youngest of 5 siblings, and the youngest of 49 grandchildren. Yep, you read that right. Growing up with all those kids, he had to be athletic to survive. Those skills took him to college where he studies marketing and was an All-American soccer player and track star before moving on to play pro indoor soccer for several years. After hanging up his cleats, he remains a sports fan so when he’s not ranching, you might find him cheering on the Phillies, Eagles and Flyers.

Back to the ranching side, Ben worked at Lost Valley Ranch, another Colorado dude ranch, for a number of years in the 90’s which is where he crossed paths with our own Dace and Terry. He left briefly to attend Denver Seminary school, receiving a Masters in Youth and Family studies. During that time, he met Holly and finally convinced her to marry him in 1997. Their marriage began with Amanda (now 21 and at college) and Chelsea (now 18 and about to head to college) as their flower girls, and later they added Annie (now 12) and Jack (now 9) to the family. After working as a Youth Pastor in Denver for 7 years, Ben returned to Lost Valley Ranch where he crossed paths with Jerry and Peggy shortly before they purchased Vista Verde. The rest is history as he and Dace teamed up to come to manage Jerry and Peggy’s new ranch.

In the midst of his juggling act of family man and dude ranch manager, Ben tells me he absolutely loves being here – he loves the people, the natural surroundings, and the activities. He loves that his family gets to live in a place like this. It’s pretty obvious Ben feels this way, although he left out how much he loves to go out on a horse and play with cows. And, he’s become quite the ski guide. It’s a rough life, so it’s a good thing we have someone like Ben to live it. Hopefully you’ll all get a chance to enjoy some eggs and coffee with Ben one day.

“If I could change anything about my life, I would eliminate some moments of gross immaturity between ages 14 and 24. Some might argue that the time span needs to be greater on both ends. But, it helps me understand, forgive, and care about others knowing I need it myself.” Quote by the wise Ben Martin

Trekaroo.com – January 2011

20 Vacation Spots For Kids Who Love Horses- Lydie Thomas

Horses are animals that have captured the hearts of children and adults for generations, and for anyone who loves horses, there is nothing more heavenly than spending a whole week in the company of these mighty yet gentle animals. Even if you’ve never had any experience horseback riding, a visit to a good dude ranch will be sure to make a rider out of you. They’ll take you patiently through the very beginning steps all the way through advance galloping rides. The perfect age to begin learning to horseback ride is about 6 or 7 years old. Many ranches will also offer childcare services for younger kids during riding hours.

But if a Dude Ranch vacation isn’t quite in your budget, this list also includes some horse-themed vacations that won’t break the bank, but will bring lots of joy to any one who loves horses. I have to confess that I’ve always been a little weary of of horses myself, but after putting together this list, I am now thinking of taking my family on a horse-themed vacation too.

So check out some of these wonderful ranches and equine facilities and plan to visit one of them soon.
1. Wilson Ranches Retreat Bed and Breakfast

16555 Butte Creek Road
Fossil, Oregon
Peaceful vacation: here we come. This is a 9,000 acres working cattle ranch and this will definitely be a change from your everyday life (unless you are a cow boy). You can go on horseback rides or decide to go move cattle. The horseback rides can last up to 5 hours, your choice. They even offer sunset horseback ride to view the Cascade Mountain and the sunset over Mt Hood. Special rates for family of 4 or more. Children have to be 6 to ride the horses.

2. Wild Horse Sanctuary

Wilson Hill Road
Shingletown, California
As the name indicates, wild horses live here in a safe environment. However in the summer, you can enjoy a 2 or 3 day week-ends pack trips and even 4 day cattle drive. During the fall, you can enjoy the real work in the farm with a 4 to 6 day cattle roundup and drive. It is a very different experience and it is good to know that the money raised with the rides help sustain the wild horses. Expensive but rustic. You can also see wild horses without riding on Saturday and Wednesdays all year long from 10 am to 4 pm (free).

3. Greenhorn Creek Guest Ranch

2116 Greenhorn Ranch Rd
Quincy, California
With miles of horseback riding trails adapted to each level, families are going to really enjoy their vacation at this dude ranch. Many activities are planned to fill the day of the little cow-boys and cow-girls. Children need to be 6 to ride the horses. Kids younger than 6 can enjoy the kiddie corral while mom and dad and the older sibling enjoy some horseback riding on their own.

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4. Ridgewood Ranch

16200 North Highway 101
Willits, California
Watch a documentary or the movie about Seabiscuit and then come to Ridgewood Ranch, home of the famous horse. You will not get to ride horses but you will learn how one horse can capture the heart of a nation.

5. Rankin Ranch

23500 Walker Basin Road
Caliente, California
No cell service and no television. And horses… Already the perfect start of a family vacation. Families can enjoy horseback riding through the mountain and meadow cattle country. During summer, children can enjoy a supervised children’s program with activities planned during the day. Children have to be 6 to ride the horses.

6. Quicksilver Miniature Horse Ranch

1555 Alamo Pintado Road
Solvang, California
This is an ideal stop if you have toddlers. They will get to tour the property and get up and close to the miniature horses. Tours are available only by appointment so make sure you call before showing up.

7. Circle Bar B Guest Ranch and Stable

1800 Refugio Rd.
Goleta, California
A perfect mix of a quiet and horse rides. Stay in one of their rustic (but with modern amenities) cabins and cottages and enjoy horseback rides ith beautiful views of California chaparral country and the Channel Islands. Children have to be 7 to ride the horses. And rides can be as short as 1.5 hours but can also last half a day.

8. McGarry Ranches

6140 West 5000 South
Rexburg, Idaho
If you decide to stay at the McGarry Ranch, you will be spend your vacation working but you will go back home happy, fulfilled, and with memories to last for a lifetime. 2,000 herds of cattle do not get moving alone so you will be complete part of the ranch experience. You can participate at the level you want, you can just go along for the ride or you can learn how to rope and work the cattle. Minimum age to ride is 8.

9. Western Pleasure Guest Ranch

1413 Upper Gold Creek
Sandpoint, Idaho
Kids of families who stay at the ranch during the summer can enjoy a very fun program. Children have to be between the age of 8 and 18. They will learn how to ride, take care of the horse and the equipment. They will have the time of their life and will never want to leave.

10. The Ritz-Carlton, Dove Mountain

15000 North Secret Springs Drive
Marana, Arizona
You can enjoy daily or sunset horseback and trail rides at the White Stallion Ranch by the hotel. Hotel guests enjoy special rates that can vary from $30 to $54 depending on the rides. Children 8 and older can go on fast rides, mountain rides and all day rides. 5 years and older have access to slow rides. All guests need to go on a slow ride before going on a more advanced ride.

11. Vista Verde Guest Ranch

Seedhouse Road
Steamboat Springs, Colorado
Vista Verde owns more than 90 horses so you are sure to find your favorite amongst them. They offer everything from private instruction to morning or afternoon trail rides and even evening dinner ride. They help you pick the best trail according to the level of everybody involved. If the whole family is experienced, they can even leave for the whole day with a picnic lunch. Children have to be 6 to ride the horses.

12. Black Mountain Ranch

4000 Conger Mesa Road
Mc Coy, Colorado
Black Mountain is a guest working ranch so expect a lot of action. A weeklong package will include on top of lodging and meal, horseback riding, cattle drive, overnight trip, whitewater rafting, fishing, archery, rodeo and much more. You can do as little or as much as you want. Admire the Rockies and just enjoy nature! Minimum riding age is 6 and they offer pony rides for younger kids.

13. Ghost Hotel

HC77 Box 11
Abiquiu, New Mexico
Enjoy exploring Georgia O’Keeffe backyard from the back of the horse. You will go where O’Keeffe got her inspiration and you can finish the day with a visit to the Georgia O’Keefe Museum in Santa Fe. You need to have a previous riding experience to go on the trail rides. Private rides accommodate any level. Reservation is mandatory: 505.685.433, ext. 0

14. Cowboy Campout

21978 Bays Chapel Road
Richards, Texas
The barn has been converted into a bunkhouse and that’s where you will be staying. It is rustic and authentic. The family will be treated with horseback riding, movies under the stars as well as chuck wagon dinners and much more. This is the perfect place to escape with your family for the week-end. 5 years old and up may be guided on a horse in the paddock area with parental supervision. Children 7 and up can ride on property only after a lesson.

15. Kentucky Horse Park

4089 Iron Works Parkway
Lexington, Kentucky
This is a must visit if you are in Kentucky. You will enjoy the visit of the Museum of the Horse, the Sattlebred Museum, a horse drawn tour and equine presentations. Famous horses Cigar and FunnyCide live on premises and children will get to see and maybe pat them. You can camp in the Horse Park.

16. Coldwater Ranch

Eminence, Missouri
You have to check their Cowboy Rough-out ride. adventure includes a guide, horse, tack, meals and a tent with a sleeping bag. You will take a trail that will take you across streams, up and down hills and you may even catch a glimpse of wild horses. You can even take a break and swim in the river. The day finishes with a ride back to the stables, food by the campfire and a night sleeping in the tent close to the barn. Any age is acceptable to participate.

17. Rockin’ P Public Riding Ranch

217 McNaughton Park Road
Pekin, Illinois
Enjoy a nice one or two hours ride allowing the family to enjoy a bonding experience. Reservations are required. Children need to be 8 to ride the horses. Budget.

18. The Outerbanks Area

Outer Banks
Corolla, North Carolina
If you like horses but are not too fond of riding them, you can also observe them in the outerbanks. they are wild and majestic and have no master.

19. Dutch Creek Trails

793 Rubin Walker Rd.
Vilas, North Carolina
You will meet Keith the cowboy poet and his friendly staff who will make sure you have a wonderful horseback riding experience. The ride last one hour and they will pick the trail that will most fit your taste and your level of experience.

20. Rocking Horse Ranch

600 Route 44/55
With a GPS use 600 US 44 Highland, New York
The horse activities are included in their vacation package so this is the perfect opportunity for the whole family to enjoy some horseback riding together. Riding starts at 7 year old. Younger kids can ride ponies. When you take a break from horseback riding, plenty of activities are waiting for you: indoor and outdoor pools, ski and snow fun if you are visiting during the winter. The perfect family vacation!

D Magazine- February 2011

Steamboat Springs: Skiing, Luxury, and Fun For the Kids- Nancy Nichols

Get your downhill runs out of the way and head north to Vista Verde Ranch for lots more fun. Kids? Not a problem.

WILDERNESS RESORT: I am sitting in a private hot tub on the deck of a log cabin at Vista Verde Ranch (vistaverde.com), which overlooks Colorado’s snow-covered Rocky Mountains. In the distance, the late-afternoon sun hits the peak of Mt. Zirkel, and, for a moment, the mountain appears to be topped with swirls of frozen peach yogurt. I sip a glass of wine and soak my tired body. But then the squeals of preteen girls zap the Zen out of my moment, and before I can drain my glass, three gleeful gals with frosty red noses are standing around the tub. “Let’s go, Uncle Nancy,” they say in unison. “We’re late for dinner.”

FUNNY FAMILY: I have five nieces, and they all call me Uncle Nancy. When I get the urge to have a child, I adopt one or all of my nieces and take them on an “Uncle Nancy Trip.” I was a little nervous about escorting three of them—Mia, 11; Katie, 12; and Hannah, 11—to Vista Verde Ranch. None of them had ever seen deep snow. And I’ve never had to shoulder the responsibility of transporting three young, overly active girls from their home in Dallas to a dude ranch tucked into the wilderness of the Elk River Valley, 25 miles north of Steamboat Springs. They wanted to learn to ski, sled, and ride horses. I wanted them to experience it all. At the same time, I could have used a little downtime.

RESORT RESCUE: I signed up to go during the ranch’s winter kids’ program, when the young, energetic outdoorsy staff is ramped up to entertain kids ages 6 and older. My girls shrieked with delight as Rachel showed us to our cozy three-bedroom, two-story cabin with a wood-burning fireplace, a minibar filled with snacks, and a refrigerator stocked with drinks. I was happy as well. There was high-speed internet, two bottles of complimentary wine, and a king-size lodgepole pine bed.

DINNER BELL: We made our way through the sidewalks, which were more like tunnels due to the 7-foot walls of snow on either side. As we entered the lodge, we were greeted by a staffer who directed the girls to the kids’ table. We all looked at each other. “Could I have dinner with them tonight?” I asked. Before I got an answer, I found myself standing alone.

PARENT TRAP: Three days later, my girls surfaced. They had learned to ride horses at Vista Verde’s heated indoor arena and knew every ranch hand by name. Their instructor, ranch trainer Terry Wegener, has an extensive background in reining and ranch versatility horse training, competition, and judging. He not only taught the girls how to ride but to communicate with their horses. (Of course, now they all want horses.) The girls spent an afternoon zooming up the side of a mountain in a snowmobile and sledding down. They’d spent hours hanging out at the Kids’ Cabin, where they traded e-mail addresses with kids from all over the country, played games, and watched movies. Sure, they had counselors with them at all times, but the rules were clear: no grown-ups allowed.

PERFECT FIT: Between my long naps and book reading, I did manage to share a few activities with the girls. We all learned to cross-country ski and cuddled under blankets for a horse-drawn sleigh ride, both of which allowed us to tour some of the ranch’s 540 acres. And I learned to fit in with the adults. Each night we gathered at a candlelit table, dined on gourmet cowboy cuisine, and talked about what most parents talk about: how much we miss our kids.

Snow Business

Before settling in at Vista Verde Ranch, many guests get their fix of downhill skiing in Steamboat Springs (steamboat.com). By the time they arrive at the ranch, they are ready to tackle the snowy adventures offered at Vista Verde. Don’t bother toting heavy equipment; the Nordic Center provides a full line of top-notch gear to make these winter ranch activities enjoyable. There are miles of trails for Nordic skiing. The property’s ski guides will escort you on full- or half-day backcountry tours. There are telemark instructors to help you learn or take you to some steep terrain where you can practice your skills. If you need an ego boost, try snowshoeing. Anybody can do it. All of these activities are covered in the daily rate of the lodge, but there are optional activities available at minimal charges. You can spend an afternoon dog sledding through the wilderness ($150 per person, children under 80 pounds $110) or climb a frozen waterfall using ice axes and crampons ($125 per person). Go for it all. The resort can arrange to have a massage therapist waiting for you when you return.

How To Get There:
United (united.com) offers daily nonstop flights from DFW to Steamboat Springs. A representative from Vista Verde will pick you up and transport you to the ranch. Colorado Dude Ranch Travel Service, 800-729-5521, is available to help you with flight and transportation arrangements.

Rates: A three-day minimum is required in the winter. The ranch is open for the dude ranch season from June though September and as a winter ranch from mid-December to early March.
Winter rates for cabins: $325 for one person to $2,000 for six per night. Capacity each night is 40.

Take the Kids: This season kids’ weeks run December 15 through January 5 and February 18 through March 20. Call 800-526-7433 or 970-879-3858 for more information or to make reservations. vistaverde.com

The Pre-Dawn Posse

I tend to come into the ranch early to catch up on my office work while it’s quiet. Most mornings, I have the place to myself. However, on snowy mornings like today, I come into a world of humming machinery and lights of the pre-dawn posse glowing in the distance. It takes a small army to keep up with the snow out here in the Colorado mountains. On these snowy mornings you’ll find Charlie grooming the ski trails with his snow-cat and Bill plowing the plowing the driveway in his truck. In addition, Javin was out on the tractor blowing the piles of snow that Bill pushed to the side of the mile-long driveway and John was over by the barn clearing the parking areas and maintenance areas in the skid steer.

As these guys are out clearing and packing the snow, the Chefs roll into the kitchen. Lewis and Lisa were the early crew in there this morning, preparing everything for Eggs Benedict and Banana Bread French Toast, among other breakfast offerings.
The snow falling dampens the sound of everyone working. It’s a quiet, efficient group of people hustling away at their work to make everything just right for the guests rolling in at breakfast time. We hope to see you step through the Lodge doors for your ranch breakfast at some point this winter!
You might even catch a glimpse of the moon peeping through the snow clouds like it did briefly before the snow began to fall in big, fat, fluffy flakes again.

Vista Verde Indulgences

For the past several years, I’ve been wanting to add to our spa menu, especially for the Winter guest ranch season. It was tough to find someone who lived close by who would be on call for spa services. Emmanell has been our long standing massage therapist, and she is great. Finally, I stumbled across Kate Hallman, a local esthetician. We met, we planned and now we are finally ready to unveil our new Spa services for this winter! So, in addition to a great massage after a day of skiing, horseback riding, or extreme sledding, you can indulge in a facial to revive your skin as well as other great spa services Kate will be offering. She uses a wonderful line of organic products from Phyt, so they are gentle on your skin.

As I am so excited about this new service, we will offer one free treatment with Kate to anyone who books a reservation for this winter between now and January 15. Kate’s ready to get started, so how about a little indulgence in between adventures at Vista Verde Ranch? Give me a call at 800-526-7433 to plan your Colorado winter vacation!

New Year’s Eve Menu

I’m still getting caught up from the holidays, so I don’t yet have the photos from the big night. For your culinary reading pleasure, here is the menu Chef Matt and the crew put together for our annual Progressive Dinner on skis and sleigh. It was a cold night, but the warm stops and great food and drink kept us all going strong.

New Years Eve
December 31st 2010

Kids Hut Menu- 1st course
Arugula salad with goat cheese, dried cranberries, roasted chestnuts,
and a white balsamic vinaigrette
House wine pairing
Bogle Pinot Noir

Hors d’oeuvre
Yukon potato chips topped with a grilled pineapple relish, crème fraiche, and golden reserve white sturgeon caviar
House wine pairing
Tangent Sauvignon Blanc

Kid Friendly Option
Artisan cheese tray with crackers
Beverage Pairing
Cranberry orange juice

Home Stead Menu-2nd course
Canadian lobster and vanilla bisque with sautéed lobster tail meat,
sherry wine crème fraiche, and petite chives
House Wine Pairing
Spiced Mulled Wine

Kids Option
Mini peanut butter and jelly sandwiches
Beverage Pairing
Spiced Apple Cider

Riding Arena Menu-3rd course
Seared foie gras served on toasted brioche topped with blackberry
preserves and micro basil
House wine pairing
Blue Moon Winter Ale

Kids Option
Fresh mozzarella and tomato sandwiches on French bread
Beverage pairing
Henry Wienhard’s Root Beer

Dining Room Menu-4th Course

Champagne Sorbet with a strawberry lime relish

Port Salut cheese roasted pheasant breast, pecan risotto, sautéed royal trumpet
mushrooms, roasted pheasant jus, butternut squash and micro orach
House wine pairing
Bogle Pinot Noir
Chef’s cellar pairing
Antica Terra, Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon, 2008

Tasmanian salmon
Baked Tasmanian salmon atop a bead of fava beans, grape tomatoes, and roasted peppers, classic buerre blanc with dill, steamed sugar snap peas, and micro basil
House wine pairing
William Hill Chardonnay
Chef’s cellar pairing
Shafer, Chardonnay, Red Shoulder Ranch, Napa Valley, California, 2008

American Kobe Flat Iron
Grilled Kobe flat iron steak, parsnip and potato puree, black truffle red wine demi glace, roasted cipollini onions, micro mustard greens, and wilted spinach
House wine pairing
Sebastian Cabernet Sauvignon
Chef’s cellar pairing
Shafer, One Point Five, Napa Valley, Stags Leap District, California, 2007

Assorted mousse in mini chocolate cups

Wild Blue Yonder- January 2011

Winter Guest Ranches- Wild Blue Yonder
By Gigi Ragland | January 1, 2011

Winter Guest Ranches

Escape the crowds packed into the mountain towns and ski hills at one of our select guest ranches in the Rockies. The horses may be boarded up for the season, but the snow adds a whole new dimension to the adventures available. Think backcountry or cross-country skiing, snowshoeing or even sledding through the near empty wilderness followed by savory meals served next to a roaring fire.

Clark, Colorado
31100 Seedhouse Rd, 970-879-3858

Buried deep inside the Routt National Forest, the Vista Verde morphs into a cross-country ski area each winter with 30 kilometers of groomed tracks, but it’s better known for backcountry skiing at “Hole in the Wall” a local’s favorite. Three square meals a day keep you fueled both day and night; moonlit cross-country skiing, snowshoeing or horseback rides are on the docket.

Feel like staying inside? At executive chef Matt Campbell’s weekly cooking class, guests enjoy one-on-one instruction preparing dishes such as salmon or lamb for the evening’s meal. Chef Campbell also hosts a weekly wine tasting for guests.

Granby, Colorado
3640 Hwy 125, 970-887-3344

Since opening in 1919, this legendary ranch and its five-star service has attracted generations of guests. And when the Colorado River valley’s blanketed with snow, the C Lazy U breaks out a buffet of winter activities to take advantage of its 8,200-acre spread of mountains, meadows and commanding views of the Continental Divide. There’s snow-cat skiing, pond skating, backcountry and cross-country skiing, tubing, sledding and snowshoeing.

Guests cozy up in their own cabins, but meet in the main lodge where chef John Adams creates and hones his “Colorado meets the Mediterranean” plates. A flavorful example: an appetizer of duck confit and Colorado goat cheese crostini.

Big Sky, Montana
750 Lone Mountain Ranch Rd, 406-995-4644

The 90 kilometers of cross-country ski trails that snake over and around the foothills of 11,166-foot Lone Peak have earned Lone Mountain the distinction of being called the best Nordic ski resort in the country. And that doesn’t even take into account the available backcountry ski touring available in nearby Yellowstone National Park.

The ranch’s success does owe much to the terrain, but its loyal guests also swear by chef Ian Troxler’s menu. Troxler believes in going straight to the source to get the best local products available. As a result, guests enjoy organic cheeses, naturally raised beef steaks, bison tenderloin, elk sausage, smoked rainbow trout, farm-raised pheasant and all manner of organic garden vegetables.

The epitome of a Lone Ranch meal is the North Fork Sleigh Ride Dinner where draft horses pull diners up to a log cabin lit by kerosene lamps and a dinner of prime rib cooked over a wood-fired stove awaits.

Clark, Colorado
54880 County Rd 129, 970-879-1780

Every winter, this Relais & Chateaux luxury dude ranch turns into a cross-country ski resort with 25 kilometers of groomed tracks spread over its 500 acres in the Elk River Valley. If that’s too tame, the ranch provides guided backcountry trips into the Routt National Forest next door.

Mountain splendor aside, what really sets Home Ranch apart are its 3- to 5-course gourmet meals ranging from filet mignon to lobster tails paired with fine wines designed by executive chef Clyde Nelson. Locals in nearby Steamboat Springs refer to Home Ranch as one of the finest “restaurants” in the area, one open only to guests.

The Excitement of Christmas

I’m still buzzing from last week. This year was truly one of the most exciting Christmases at Vista Verde for me. It’s always great here for the holidays, but this year may go down as the best ever in my book. Why?

I’ve been trying to figure out what it was that created this above and beyond magic for me this year. It’s partly a fact that I have been working REALLY hard since mid-summer to find ways to put Vista Verde’s winter guest ranch season in front of more people. With all that work has created a lot more calls, emails and inquiries. It’s been fun to talk with so many people about the ranch, but it’s also kept me busier than ever before. I wasn’t sure it was going to be a gang-buster holiday season back in August. But, by the time we got to opening day, the calendar had filled up with reservations from folks all over the country. So, feeling pleased to see all these families was just the start of the excitement. When they walked in the doors of the Lodge the first time, I knew it was going to be great. Each time we checked in a new family, Christi, Hannah and I would look at each other and say, “They are just soooo nice!”. And these really nice people were also just really excited to be here. I mean bouncing off the walls, giggling in the dining room, smiling so much your cheeks hurt kind of excited. It’s hard for that kind of energy not to be contagious. So I caught that bug.

In addition to all this wonderful energy and fun times, we have had the most amazing staff. Again, those of you who have been here before may say the last staff you met was the most amazing. But this crew, they really take the cake on that award. They are fun, enthusiastic, hard working and they have that factor of “getting it”. I have seen more ownership, logical decision making, and thoughtful initiation of ideas with this group than I’ve ever seen with a crew before. With people like Sallie running the dining room, Steve and Kelli in the Nordic Center and Jo, Terry and Nicky in the barn, we also have a lot of continuity to make this just run like they should.

My memories of this past Christmas will keep me smiling for a long time. Most of the families have since headed home and we now have another fabulous group of energetic and excited guests here to ring in the New Year. My hat goes off to all of you who took a leap to try us out for such a special and personal holiday. I hope your memories are keeping you smiling throughout your days too.

There’s still time to book your Colorado winter vacation at Vista Verde! Nudge, nudge, wink, wink. We turn over to adults only in about a week, so get the girlfriends together for some snow play or grab your sweetie for a romantic getaway. In mid-February, the families start coming again and we’re open until March 20 for those of you with early spring breaks. Give it a try this year- it’s healthy, it will fuel your energy, it will make 2011 a better year! Wow, now that’s a guarantee.

Happy Holidays to all of you from all of us at Vista Verde Ranch. We wish you the best in 2011!
Stephanie and the VVR Crew

OntheSnow.com – December 2010

Steamboat Is Featured In Eddie Bauer Catalog– Shannon Luthy, Colorado Editor

Steamboat received plenty of ink in the “Christmas in Steamboat” edition of the Eddie Bauer catalog. Page after page featured the northern Colorado town, also known as “Ski Town U.S.A.” Olympian’s were featured on a page titled, “Steamboat’s Legendary Winter Olympians Meet Up With Eddie’s Legendary Down Sweater.” Those featured include Nelson Carmichael, Todd Lodwick, Bugs Werner, Johnny Spillane, Caroline Lalive, and Chris Puckett.

Steamboat’s ski and snowboard instructors also are outfitted in Eddie Bauer.

One of the principals in the Eddie Bauer company apparently spends time in Steamboat and got in touch with officials of the ski area. Loryn Kasten with the Steamboat Ski Area says Eddie Bauer thought Steamboat would be a great location for the holidays, to show the Christmas spirit. “It’s a prime example of alternative means for the resort to speak to clients and potential guests to get the message out about what a great destination Steamboat is.”

It’s more than just the catalog, according to Kasten. “I was just in Denver at the mall and saw huge displays of Steamboat, with the More Barn, and Champagne Powder Snow. It’s great exposure for Steamboat and the community as a whole.”

It was a community effort, with shooting locations on the mountain, at Marabou Ranch, and Vista Verde Ranch, as well as downtown on Lincoln Avenue, which is Steamboat’s main drag. “The Steamboat Chamber was very helpful, as well as the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club kids who came out for a shoot at Howelsen Hill with Billy Kidd.

“The end result is definitely a prime example of how the community comes together to get the word out about Ski Town U.S.A.,” said Kasten.

Sales, Marketing and Moving Furniture

Last week Christi blogged about how job titles are kind of a funny thing around here. I laughed as I started to write this week’s post as it is so, so true. Yes, my main role at the ranch is to focus on the reservations and marketing. Yet, last week I found myself out of the office more than I was in the office because I was busy redecorating cabins, moving furniture and picking through art.

As many of you know, we spent the fall remodeling several of our cabins. Well, Bill and a crew spent the fall remodeling….I just stuck my nose in every now and then to see the progress and helped provide support for the decorating choices. Well, the last mirrors are being hung, the beloved hooks back up on the walls and the dust wiped off every surface. So last week I spent a lot of time overseeing the furniture move, which of course opens the door for furniture swapping from cabin to cabin as well as rearranging with the new floor spaces. Although I’m still muddling through where to put art, what art needs to be replaced or updated and getting the new bedding in (it better arrive this week!) and new curtains hung…I can tell you they are GORGEOUS!! Big Agnes and Little Agnes were the most dramatic remodels and I think I may have a new favorite cabin. The living room space is more logical and laid out better. There is more light with the addition of some new windows. The master bathroom….oh baby. And the upstairs got a major facelift. Saddle also got a brand spanking new master bathroom that is ohh, la, la. Sand and Farwell got some little tweaks here and there but mostly just keeping up with the other 3 cabins with new carpet, paint, floor materials, countertops, fixtures, etc, etc, etc.. I just can’t wait for those of you coming out for the holidays to see them! It’s truly exciting. I tried to get some pictures, but this may require a professional as mine didn’t do the cabins justice.

Speaking of exciting, Dace earned his hiring wings once again with a knock out crew for the winter dude ranch season. We have spent this past week getting to know them, showing them the ropes and having a little fun too. What a great crew! They are from all over the place- West Coast to East Coast and even our lone Brit representative in the Kitchen. Speaking of the kitchen, Matt has a completely brand new team in there and the energy is insanely contagious. When I need a lift, I just walk in there and watch them work and it revs me up. Everyone is talented, professional and passionate. I may be using the word excited too much, but we are pumped!

So, get your plane ticket, pack your bags and give me a call to book your winter vacation at Vista Verde! You may catch me answering the phone from out in a cabin….but I sure hope you get a chance to join the excitement out here this winter!

And that’s the latest from your all-inclusive Colorado resort (I told you I was in marketing too, right?) headquarters. Oh, and did I forget to mention that a Vista Verde Ranch stay makes a great romantic winter vacation idea? Guys…still looking for that last minute present??? Tee hee, can’t help myself.

LA Times- December 2010

Thank you to Amanda Jones for a beautifully written story!

Snow, Horses and Family in Steamboat Springs, Colorado
– by Amanda Jones

Reporting from Steamboat Springs, Colo. —
When I was a teenager, I cut out a magazine photo showing a cowgirl riding a horse through thigh-high snow. The image was so exotic and romantic that I pasted it to my mirror as a reminder of what I wanted from life. So when I had the chance to take Indigo, my horse-mad 12-year-old daughter, to join friends at Vista Verde Ranch outside Steamboat Springs in midwinter, I had an ulterior motive: I was going to fulfill my cowgirl fantasy.

The plan was to spend four nights at Vista Verde, a summer-winter guest ranch, and three at Steamboat Springs ski resort.

Vista Verde is 25 miles from downtown Steamboat in the middle of the Mt. Zirkel Wilderness Area. Even swaddled in snow, the 600-acre property offers an extraordinary panorama of rivers, mountains and forests. The nine cabins and three lodge rooms can house as many as 40 people, although in winter there usually are 20 to 30 guests at a time. Management is careful not to call Vista Verde a “dude” ranch. “There’s a terrible impression of beans and weenies that comes with that term,” said Stephanie Wilson, guest relations manager.

Our cabin, Little Agnes, was cozy: two bedrooms, a sitting room, a kitchenette and a hot tub on the deck. It was decorated traditionally, with a wood-burning stove, leather chairs and oak furniture. It felt like a friend’s guesthouse, with plenty of room for a preteen unpacking explosion.

Part of Vista Verde’s attraction was Terry Wegener and the heated indoor riding arena. Riding in thigh-high snow might be romantic, but it has its limitations. An arena allows you to take lessons and ride for hours in a T-shirt. Wegener is a horse breeder, trainer, champion roper and a true-blue horse whisperer. Although he doesn’t look like the Robert Redford character in the movie “The Horse Whisperer,” he gets the same respect from horses.

Vista Verde is an all-inclusive resort, meaning you don’t pay extra for its array of activities. I relished the 2 1/2 hours we spent each morning in the arena learning the subtle art of flying lead changes and postural communication. “There’s a big difference between sitting on a horse and riding a horse,” Wegener told me, perhaps casting aspersions on my ability. “The horse should know how to move just by where you point your hips.” Wegener proved to be a perceptive and relaxed instructor, and Indigo and I became hip-rotating, intuitive riders.

The ranch is not just for riders. We were also seduced by backcountry skiing. With hundreds of acres and few people, no one was around to laugh at our feeble first attempts. We were entreated to try backcountry by Steve and Kelli King and their also-12-year-old daughter, Maddie. The Kings run the Nordic center at Vista Verde. “Cross-country is wonderful here and you can go for hours on our trails, but you’ve got to try backcountry. There’s nothing like it,” Steve King told me, strapping on a backpack stuffed with outdoor rescue gear.

Backcountry skis are thicker and heavier than their cross-country cousins, with scales on the bottom to grip the snow. This means no trail is required, so you merrily make your own way up hill and over dale. One blue-sky day, Steve and Maddie took us up the Elk River. After a couple of spills, Indigo, who has only downhill skied, mastered the motion and was off in Maddie’s wake. I was less adept, using the dazzling scenery as an excuse for my frequent pauses. It was, as Indigo said, “Snow Queen kingdom-ish,” with shimmering trees, the whispering river and silky mounds of white.

Although we were at Vista Verde for five days, we ran out of time for all the activities and wished we’d stayed a week. We did, however, manage to go sledding and snowshoeing and to take a sleigh ride. I also fulfilled my fantasy of trail riding in the snow, although I was wearing ski pants, a parka and goggles rather than the chaps and cowgirl hat ensemble in that girlhood photo.

At night we’d eat country gourmet food with other families and then assemble in the soaring great room to listen to the cowboy staff singing songs by the “indoor campfire.” The music was especially endearing, particularly “The Last Cowboy,” once famously sung by Kris Kristofferson, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson, and its line, “Another piece of America is lost.” Hearing this made me content that Indigo was witnessing this piece of her national heritage and that there are still places where we can experience an iconic way of life.

We left Vista Verde late on our fifth day and drove through Steamboat Springs to our accommodations on the slopes of Steamboat Ski Resort. In the heart of the Colorado Rockies, Steamboat is known as one of the best ski hills in America, with nearly 3,000 acres of terrain, 3,670 feet of vertical drop, 165 trails (one more than three miles long), an average snowfall of 349 inches and world-famous “champagne powder” for tree skiers.

Because our group of friends had kids in tow, we chose ski-in/ski-out accommodations, meaning there would be no hellish schlepping of gear. We could store everything in lockers downstairs, where we had only to gear up and waddle 15 feet to the snow.

We rented a condominium at the Edgemont, just above the gondola. Ours was a new, chic two-bedroom with a full stainless-and-granite kitchen (with Viking range), dining table, living room, washer/dryer, luxe bathrooms and a view of the children’s terrain park, where kids would wave up at their parents midair. Downstairs were a heated pool and hot tub.

Well aware of my inclination to get lost and ski out of bounds, Indigo and I took a lesson the first morning to get the lay of the land. Our instructor didn’t do much instructing, but we did learn the mountain, which is actually six peaks linked by 18 chairlifts. The best part was when he took us through the trees and into that champagne powder. We live in California, where Sierra cement is the norm, so this was Indigo’s first time in powder. “It’s like meditating,” she yelled as she whipped past me, “so calming.” Not that the child has meditated for even a single second.

We ate some dinners in the condo, thanks to a supermarket at the base of the hill, reached by Edgemont’s free shuttle. One afternoon we took the shuttle into Steamboat Springs, where we bought big-buckled Western belts and wool-lined boots at F.M. Light & Sons, had tea and scones and bought books at Off the Beaten Path bookstore and cafe, procured fudge at the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory and joined Steamboat resident friends at the decidedly non-cowboy Bistro C.V. for dinner. Indigo, who survives on mac ‘n’ cheese, ordered grilled romaine with garlic truffle dressing, Chinook salmon tartare and a Wagu beef burger with foie gras and aioli. Amazing what tree skiing does to an appetite.

Steamboat was founded in the early 1800s by fur trappers and still has that frontier look. It houses about 10,000 Mountain Hardwear-and-cowboy-boot-wearing locals, a five-block stretch of movie set-style brick buildings and a disproportionate number of Winter Olympics athletes.

The area is also known for its thermal springs, so one snowy afternoon we headed to Strawberry Park Hot Springs, seven miles outside town. The pools are surrounded by trees and mountains and are contained by a series of rock walls stepping down the valley. Seeing humans crouched in the steaming water — eyes half-mast, snowflakes coating their hair — I was reminded of the blissed-out snow monkeys of Japan.

The following day we flew out over the Rockies in all their craggy, rumpled splendor. It had taken me 30 years to ride a horse in the snow, but I’d done it. And I’d also done things that reminded me of how well life had turned out, including watching my daughter out-ski me in the trees.

Sunshine and Sand in Steamboat Springs

Several weeks ago, when I was in the midst of the fall mud season….the time when we change from gorgeous fall weather to spectacular winter, I got a call from some guest friends who were vacationing in Hawaii. That time of year can be gray, dreary, rainy and just plain cruddy here in Steamboat Springs so I was especially jealous of these friends. So I told them to send me some sunshine and sand. And this morning I opened a box of….sunshine and sand! With that, I had to plop in the snow and enjoy a little virtual vacation on the beach. Luckily, the sun came out this morning after snow falling all night and it’s actually quite wonderful here today. We have more snow right now than we have ever had at this time of year at our Steamboat Springs guest ranch.

Whether you are dreaming of snow or sand….happy dreaming! I’m enjoying both right now! I’ll update you on the cabin remodels in a few days. I’m still busy directing traffic as we move furniture back into the finished cabins. Oh, they are beautiful!

HGTV Rustic Winter Mantel Feature

Job descriptions at any guest ranch are a bit vague, just ask Steph Wilson, director of Marketing and Reservations with a side of wrangling, yoga, winter guiding, training, purchasing…and well the list goes on. Sallie Hallmark, Front of the House Manager and myself can add Creative Designer to our job descriptions here at Vista Verde. Just before going on vacation Sallie and I took on the task of designing a winter mantel to be submitted to HGTV. We started brainstorming and came up with a theme that is reflected throughout our Colorado ranch resort, which is rustic luxurious. We wanted different colors, textures and layers and we wanted it to feel just as warm to the eye as it did when sitting by the fire. Upon completion, Nathan, a wrangler and our amazing resident photographer captured some great shots. We submitted them to HGTV and received a “thank you for your submission” email. When I came in this morning and checked my email there was an awesome surprise, an email from HGTV’s Decorating Editor and a link to the HGTV Winter Mantel article. We are amongst the company of many luxurious destinations, including the Fairmont Chateau Whistler in Whistler, British Columbia, the Ritz London Hotel in England and the Biltmore in Asheville, North Carolina. We are excited to be with fellow luxury hotel and resort destinations. You can check out our rustic mantel by clicking on the link, or even better, come sit by the fire during an apres ski with a glass of wine and delicious gourmet appetizers.

‘Til Next Time…Christi Cline, Front Desk Manager and newly appointed Designer

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!

The Sounds of Snow

As I woke up to new snow this morning, it got me thinking about the different sounds of snow. Snow make sounds you ask? Yes, there are definitely different sounds with different snow.

Today’s snow is typical of early or late season snow. Sloppy, wet, mushy. Car tires splash around in it, it makes the ground underneath muddy and messy. The heavy, wet snow weighs down the trees and snaps power lines. It’s a necessary snow as we need it to get our base going, but it’s not the most enjoyable snow.

Then you have quiet snow. The kind that just fluffs under your feet, the car almost makes no noise as you drive over it, and you almost feel like you have earplugs in as the sounds of the valley are muffled when this snow falls.

Closely related to that quiet snow is the famous champagne powder snow. This stuff is often followed by a crystal clear, cold day. Everything is magnified with this snow, and every time you take a step it makes a poof sound and snow puffs up around you. Light, fluffy, ideal for skiing and playing, but not so great for snowman building. The snowflakes are huge and beautiful.

Last up on my sounds of snow is the cold snow. This snow is like diamonds, glittering and shining as it falls out of the sky. It comes on days when it is so cold the snow doesn’t get a chance to make big snowflakes, just freezes in tiny little flakes. The trees sparkle as the sun rises and shines on the snow. The sound is crunchy. Whether you are riding a horse, driving a car or walking around every time you make a move the new snow crunches.

If you’re headed for a beach this winter, you’re going to miss out on experiencing one of these kinds of snow sounds. It’s a magical world out at Vista Verde in the winter. Breathtaking. As long as you have the right gear, playing in whatever kind of snow you get is an amazing winter vacation experience.

LA Times – November 2010

Taking the Kids to a Ranch This Winter – by Eileen Ogintz Tribune Media Services

It’s a great place to introduce the kids to snow, adventure — and avoid ski resort crowds
Vista Verde Ranch

I’m floating over five feet of snow in the wilderness on skis that are slightly fatter than traditional cross-country skis.

This isn’t the kind of skiing where a snowcat takes you up a ski slope so you can ski down in deep powder as fast as you can.

Nor is this the kind of back-country experience my kids enjoy where you sling your skis on your back and hike up the mountain for the glory of skiing down — “working for your turns,” as they call it.

Vista Verde Ranch (www.vistaverde.com), 25 miles north of Steamboat Springs on some 560 pristine acres at 7,800 feet above sea level, is a place to literally slow down and enjoy the scenery from the back of a horse or on snowshoes or backcountry skis away from crowds and cars.

It’s also a good place to introduce kids to snow, if you aren’t sure how they’ll take to a major ski resort like Steamboat an hour’s drive away.

Atlanta grandparents Bill and Sally Smith brought their daughter, son-in-law and three grandchildren from Atlanta for a few days for just that reason. They expected to go over to Steamboat to downhill ski part of the time, “But we never made it. We were having too much fun,” said Bill.

“The kids loved every bit of it and didn’t want to leave,” he said, after the younger members of the family had departed.

Vista Verde Ranch has just nine well-appointed log cabins, each named for a surrounding mountain. Ours is called Farwell. Think wood-burning stoves, oh-so-comfy beds with patchwork quilts, deck hot tubs and astounding mountain views.

Of course, none of this comes cheap. Figure on more than $1,300 a night for a family of four all-inclusive, though there are much less expensive deals if you choose your dates wisely. (Come Jan. 2 to March 12 and pay regular rate for the first two guests and half off for additional ones.)

And if you don’t want all of the guided excursions, rates start at $195 a person, including meals, equipment and evening programs. At a major ski resort you could spend more without the personal attention.

There is room for just 45 guests; today there are just about 20 of us. There’s a new main log lodge with a huge fireplace that seems to invite you to stretch out on the big couches, as well as a new indoor arena — to help teach riding (there are 90 horses here).

“It has gotten used 10 times more than we expected,” said Peggy Throgmartin, who, along with her husband, has owned the ranch for the last four years.

“This is my husband’s dream since he was seven,” said Peggy, adding that it took till they were in their 50s to make it happen — here at Vista Verde Ranch. Throgmartin, scion of an Indiana family business now in its fourth generation, and his wife searched all over the West for the right place to serve as a gathering place for their own three grown children.

“We are a very close family and we wanted a place where the family would want to come. That was a big factor,” she said. “As soon as we drove up the driveway, we knew this was the place.”

The three young teens we’re traveling with were a bit more skeptical at first wondering if they’d be bored without downhill snow sports. I’m traveling with my cousins Carl and Dana Weinberg and their two kids, as well as another friend and her teenage son. We opted to try the ranch for a couple of days in the middle of a 10-day ski trip.

Maddie King, 11, whose parents oversee the activities, is convinced a kid would be crazy not to love the place. “It is a ball to get out in nature and have snow all over you,” she says. There’s nothing better either than having a snowcat pull you back up the hill you’ve just sledded down. Sledding, Maddie declares, is her favorite thing to do on the ranch.

True to her word, our teens perk up immediately. Because the ranch is all-inclusive, there are drinks and snacks in the cabin fridge — and the kids have their pick of activities, not to mention cookies. I love that for a few days, the only decisions we have to make is whether we want to ski or snowshoe or whether we want fish or lamb for dinner. (Or whether the kids want to eat with us or with the other kids.)

We spend the morning in the backcountry touring on skis, through the trees in the deep snow on National Forest land that surrounds the ranch. We end up at an ice cave built by local school children. So quiet! So beautiful!

“Nothing better than being outside on a day like this,” says our enthusiastic guide, Jeff Ballantyne, who spends summers fighting fires with the U.S. Forest Service.

He gestures to the fresh snow, the quivering Aspens, the sun trying unsuccessfully to peak through the clouds as the snow continues to fall. There are 30 guest ranches in Colorado but Vista Verde is just one of a handful that is open in winter and summer. For more information on ranches, visit www.duderanch.org.

One afternoon, we go out horseback riding — good thing we were dressed warmly. We take a tour of the ranch, past the original cabin built by homesteaders early on in the 20th century. It’s snowing gently; the air is cold and fresh. We’re limited to a narrow trail that the ranch staff has blown out for the horses, but I don’t mind the lazy pace. We mosey along happily.

The place forces you to get unplugged — there is Wi-Fi, but cell service is spotty. We go deep in the backcountry to snowshoe or ski where we won’t see another soul. Another plus: This is a safe place where kids can have some freedom and try new things — with or without their parents by their side.

The atmosphere is conducive to making new friends too, whether you’re nine or 49. All of the kids ate dinner together and then watched a movie while the adults shared a large table and an impressive meal that included tamales, guinea hen with rice pilaf, Napoleons filled with peanut butter pastry cream and an assortment of sorbets.

The good news: We’ll work off the calories snowshoeing tomorrow. The other good news: The teens are smiling.

View from Matt’s Fly Rod

Chef Matt popped into the Lodge for a while today and we chatted a bit about his fishing tales in addition to ranch related culinary items of course! As he was talking, I realized that he should really share some of these stories with you, so here is a guest blog from Chef Matt Campbell.

Hey there Steph,

Sorry I missed you before you left today. I was a little busy landing a 23 inch rainbow when you honked your horn!!! This is the biggest rainbow I have ever caught on the elk and the second biggest fish I have caught period. What a rush! Here is a picture of a nice brookie I landed earlier in the afternoon.

Fishing has been better than ever on the Elk for fall time. Fish are really aware of the coming winter especially after that cold spell. Fall fishing for me is the time of light tippet, flawless presentations, and offering big meals to hungry aggressive fish fattening up for the winter. Sometimes a big meal is just to hard for fish to pass up this time of year. In the fall fish tend to leave there homes in the runs and riffles of a freestone river and stack up in the larger deep holes. Fish can be very easily spooked so stealthiness is more important than ever with low water levels and extremely clear water. This time of year I use fluorocarbon tippet especially on sunny days where regular tippet can refract light and spook fish. During the fall I concentrate on stone fly nymphs, baetis, and streamer patterns for fly choices on the elk, but anything has the potential to work. The patterns of choice for this week were size 14 to 16 golden stones, and a baetis version of the always popular pheasant tail nymph is sizes 18 to 20.

After a recent trip to Yellowstone National Park and then to a fly fishing guide school in Livingston Montana I feel especially in tuned to what fish want and where they are located. At the school I was exposed to running drift boats and jet boats, advanced fly casting, fly tying, essential knots, wilderness first aid, reading water, mock guiding practices, jet boat maintenance and many other valuable skills. I don’t know if I would ever be a full time guide but all the skills acquired should really help me to excel in one of my other passions in life next to cooking and wine.
The food picture is a little outdoor gourmet cooking I whipped up on my road trip. It was a maple glazed pork cutlet with seared plums, garlic mashed potatoes and sugar snap peas (refined version coming to you soon on a Vista Verde menu).

As for wine some of my recent favorites are Gruet sparkling wines out of New Mexico which rival many traditional French champagne but without the hefty price tag. (the Blanc De Noir is especially delicious) Another good one which some of you may have tried in the wine tasting is Catena Vineyards entry level Malbec which is exceptional for the price. There Catena Alta Malbec is really nice as well if you want to try some of there higher end wines. There Chardonnay and Cab is also tasty but the Malbec is at the front of the pack. Another great wine to try is the Magness Merlot brought to you by the Napa Valley community college. The wines by Magness are of exceptional quality and value. Many of their grapes are being sourced from high end vineyard sights throughout Napa that can go for substantially more under different labels. All of these wines are great choices for everyday drinking wines that pair well with food or can be enjoyed alone.

I look forward to seeing you all this winter and getting to chat more.
Executive Chef
Matt Campbell

Examiner.com – October 2010

A Steak Ride in Autumn: A Vista Verde Ranch Review by Lori Guinn

My horse, DB, struggled a little to regain his footing as we climbed up a rocky path through the vivid purple, orange, gold and rusty brown leaves. DB found a sturdy foothold and hoisted us both up to the more level dirt path above, then began a confident saunter behind our guide. I found myself in the unusual place of feeling both awe at the nearly sensory-overload of my breath-taking surroundings and an extreme inner peace I would have expected more from a week in a monastery than a horse ride through the mountains.

It is not surprising that guests travel from Europe and other places around the globe to visit Vista Verde, a luxury guest ranch near Steamboat Springs, Colorado. It also follows that Vista Verde’s guests tend to be iron-clad loyal—it seemed that nearly every guest I spoke with began his or her story with, “This will be our… (How long has it been, Honey?) … our tenth year visiting so far.” The ranch’s location is ideal and its staff, accommodations and food are outstanding.

The rustic, down-home ambiance is tempered by the quality of lodging and gourmet food. The most striking observation I made though, in my two wonderful visits so far, is the camaraderie between everyone here—staff to guest, guest to staff, staff to staff, and guest to guest. The Steak Ride is the perfect example of this.

As our horses neared the elaborate outdoor kitchen set up especially for the Steak Ride, I noticed I could just see the cluster of cabins and common buildings that comprise the main ranch area. From my viewpoint, they seemed to be huddled in the valley, but not dwarfed by the magnificence around them. The buildings fit—they belong here.

Guests came trotting in a few at a time and the staff offered us wine, homemade lemonade and shrimp cocktail as an appetizer. The smell drifting over from the grills nearly made us all melt–I can’t ever remember feeling so hungry in my life. We sat ourselves on long picnic tables and talked to keep our minds off of the yumminess soon to come. At Vista Verde, the staff members and guests mingle like a close family at a much-anticipated reunion. After lots of chatting, the dinner bell rang and we all got in line to dish up. The marinated steak was covered in an herb butter sauce, but would have still been stellar without it. All the sides that come to mind while thinking of cowboy grub were laid out, including corn that tasted like it was picked at its peak a half an hour earlier. For dessert, I managed to fit a homemade peach cobbler in my extra dessert stomach. Heaven. For entertainment, Ben’s dog kept a piece of juicy cow on his nose while we all marveled. The wonder dog became a salivating statue until he was finally given the okay to wolf it down.

After dinner, the staff stayed to clean up and a few guides took us on horseback at a relaxed, casual pace back to the ranch. I gave DB lots of love pats and let him know I appreciated that he did all the work and I had all the fun. Back at the ranch, the horses were put to bed and the people party began at the lodge. The ballad singing, story-telling and a slide-show presentation of the week’s activities put everyone in a great mood. After the party, I capped the night off with a pampering soak in my cabin’s hot tub while admiring the night sky. I can pass along from personal experience–you haven’t truly admired Earth’s view of space until you’ve seen every last square inch of black sky sprinkled in stars. I can also recommend the perfect spot for everything from a horse ride to star-gazing—Vista Verde Ranch in Colorado.

Please visit Vista Verde online for more information or to book an all-inclusive stay.

Examiner’s Note: Thank you, thank you, thank you Stephanie of Vista Verde, for suggesting this visit. I would also like to thank Dace, Ben, the rest of the staff and the person who grilled my steak.

OutsideAdventureGuide.com – November 2010

Thanks to www.OutsideAdventureGuide.com for including us in this story!

Visit a Cross-Country Ski Resort for a Winter Vacation

This winter, take a cross-country ski vacation at a scenic mountain resort or ranch for the perfect winter trip. The following destination cross-country ski vacations offer excellent accommodations, delicious dining options along with an abundance of winter activities such as snowshoeing, sledding, sleigh rides, snowmobiling and nearby downhill skiing. These winter recreation vacations are perfect for the entire family or as a romantic getaway.

Vista Verde Ranch

Vista Verde Ranch offers an all-inclusive resort ranch and cross country skiing vacation near Steamboat Springs in Colorado. The accommodations and dining are excellent, the scenery is stunning and all your winter activities are outside your door. Classic or skate ski on 30km of groomed trails. Other winter activities include snowshoeing, backcountry skiing, sleigh rides and sledding. For downhill enthusiasts, ski or ride at nearby Steamboat Ski Resort.