Snow graffiti? Who knew? The kids program at Vista Verde Ranch

By Eileen Ogintz

CLARK, Colorado — Ready to make snow graffiti?

All you need is some snow and spray bottles with food coloring—blue, yellow, green, red, purple…

Pretty soon we have blue snow penguins, orange and purple snowballs and a decorated snow fort and snow slide.

Mandy Anzalone and her Vista Verde pupils testing snow painting techniques
Mandy Anzalone and her Vista Verde pupils testing snow painting techniques

No wonder kids like Mazie Hoffman,10, ranks Vista Verde Ranch as the best family vacation destination ever—better than the Bahamas, St. Lucia, a downhill ski resort, even Disney World.

“I think it’s the best vacation for us too,” said Mazie’s mom Peg.

“It’s awesome whether you come in summer or winter. Mazie, her younger brother Luke, 8, and their parents have been to the ranch in both seasons.

One of the two Vista Verde Ranch doggos - Buddy is king of the hill
One of the two Vista Verde Ranch doggos – Buddy is king of the hill

“All of the activities are fun,” says Mazie—whether horseback riding, tubing, snowshoeing in the winter or going on long trail rides and to barn dances in the summer. “And I don’t even like to dance,” she said.

“And the food is amazing,” added Luke, especially the chocolate chip pancakes for breakfast. “I have them every day,” he said. His favorite winter activity: “snowball fights!”

Mandy Anzalone, a former teacher and mom herself, has been running the kids’ program here for the past four years, encouraging the kids to learn about the environment –the birds and animal tracks they see, for example, birds’ nests, pinecones and icicles.

Blu is king or queen of the barn cats at Vista Verde Ranch
Blu is king or queen of the barn cats at Vista Verde Ranch

Inside the Kids Cabin there’s a foosball table, plenty of books, puzzles, board games and arts and crafts supplies. The kids often adjourn here when they’ve finished dinner and their parents are lingering over their wine or coffee.

“We get a lot of kids who have never seen snow,” she said. “And of course, that is a highlight—that and the horses.”

This morning the two Hoffmans, from North Carolina and Adelyn Field, 6, who is here for her fourth visit from Missouri, started the day making horse treats from smashed peppermints, oats and molasses that they’d give to “their” horses later before going on a trail ride in the snow. “No snowball throwing when I have my eyes on you,” Adelyn told Luke.

In summer when there are more kids, the programming is divided into age groups starting at 6—elementary, middle school and high school and Anzalone staffs up. She adds that there seem to be more families opting for a winter visit— 10 will be here the third week in March, for example–in part because they can come for a long weekend rather than a week’s stay that is required in summer.

Adelyn Field seemed satistifed with her perfect decorated snowball
Adelyn Field seemed satisfied with her perfect decorated snowball

‘We see families who have really saved up for this, it is a big stretch and it is so important that we give them a really quality experience,” she said. It helps that the staff—46 when the maximum number of guests here is just 52—genuinely seem to love what they do, including introducing visitors to new sports, to horses and the Colorado wilderness.

Tomorrow, there will just be the two Hoffman kids, but they don’t care. “It doesn’t matter how many kids are here,” said Mazie, “It’s always fun… I love it… and the adults have fun too!”

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