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Combining ski vacation and dude ranch in the Colorado Rockies

Our cabin at Vista Verde Ranch
Our cabin at Vista Verde Ranch

By Eileen Ogintz

VISTA VERDE RANCH, CO. — The secret to successful, happy vacations with grown kids: Plan something they love to do.

In our case, that means a winter ski trip. And with one daughter now living in Colorado, it made sense to come here, rendezvousing with family from Los Angeles.

But this year, I decided to mix it up—opting to spend half our winter ski week at a dude ranch, Vista Verde Ranch, on 500-plus gorgeous acres about 25 miles outside of Steamboat Springs and as far away from the crowds and tumult of a major ski area as you can get.

There are guided snowshoe treks through the forest, Nordic and backcountry skiing, tubing, snowmobiling, winter fishing and of course horseback riding as well as the chance to take a clinic to learn more about horsemanship. There is also yoga, wine and beer tastings, Pilates classes and the chance to sit on your cabin porch in a hot tub or wooden rocker and watch the horses in the snow covered meadow below you.

Winter trail riding at Vista Verde Ranch
Winter trail riding at Vista Verde Ranch

There are just 10 cabins and three lodge rooms that fit a maximum of about 54 people; there are less than 35 here, including a honeymooning couple from Texas, a doctor and his pharmacist wife back for their ninth winter visit from Tampa, a family with two middle schoolers from Texas, father and his grown son from Miami, couples from as far away as Honolulu, the UK and California.

I love that unlike most of our previous ski trips, no one has to worry about planning meals, shopping for groceries, cooking or cleaning up. We just show up for meals—and it’s all delicious:

Eggs benedict, pancakes or an omelet for breakfast.

Three kinds of chili – veggie, meat or chicken for lunch accompanied by a salad bar and brownies for desert.

Braised short ribs, pulled pork with Ramen and Onion Broth and Noodles for dinner.

Did I mention wine, beer and soft drinks are included?

Ben Martin shows how to start an emergency fire on snowshoe trek
Ben Martin shows how to start an emergency fire on snowshoe trek

I love that the staff is so genuinely friendly and helpful—whether Ben Martin who enthusiastically pointed out animal tracks and different kind of trees on our snowshoe hike or the wrangler named Troy Corless who so loves horses. He delights in teaching us about them as we take in the beautiful vistas.

In summer, families come for a week but in winter, many opt for just three or four nights. There are kids’ activities—trail rides and snow games, snowball fights and fort building, a riding clinic and even a cooking class. Several nights a week, kids can opt for an early dinner and supervised activity while their parents linger over several courses.

The Wi-Fi is admittedly spotty but we are taking that as a plus. “Off the Grid!” my nephew says enthusiastically.

The “kids” – who range from mid 20s to mid 30s — headed over to Steamboat today to downhill ski — the ranch shuttle took them and picked them up — while we opted to snowshoe and horseback ride — a morning activity, lunch (no waiting for a table at a busy ski resort cafeteria) and then an afternoon activity. At dinner, the staff comes around to ask us what we would like to do in the morning.

Vista Verde in the Alpenglow
Vista Verde in the Alpenglow

That and choosing which entrée we want for dinner is our biggest decision. We have lots of unfettered family time hanging out in our cozy cabin with its braid rug and wood-burning stove as well as lingering over dinner. So much better than texting to find out what they’re up to.

Is it possible that we’ve really found a no-stress family vacation?

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