Colorado’s Vista Verde Ranch
Story and photos by Neil Wolkodoff
A guest ranch in winter?
Vista Verde Ranch (VVR) is nestled right up to the Routt National Forest outside of Steamboat Springs, Colorado. It’s enormous, with almost 700 acres plus forest access. It has limited guests in any season, only 51. And, there are more staff than guests, better than a 1:1 ratio. Spread out the guests and staff, and this may be the ultimate social-distancing resort. The property opened in 1916 and has purposely mutated from a working ranch to hunting and fishing, to a winter resort as well with a unique blend of outdoor activities.
It’s a luxury world where you can try new paths, like cross country skiing (XC) or snowshoeing, and meeting interesting people along the way. It is an all-inclusive that lets you explore winter or summer without going out of the U.S. There are weeks for families, and some that are adult-only.
VVR charts your interests and schedule via a nifty form before arrival. Once you are here, plans do change, so during breakfast or dinner, an assigned staff member will change your activities depending upon your change of pace or sense of adventure. Don’t want to go XC with the group? Then they will arrange a private guide to take you on an excursion where the terrain and skill level match abilities. VVR goes way out of their way to ensure that everything from sustenance to activities fits what you would prefer for that day. They’re also quick on the draw to suggest options before you can verbalize them.
The lodging options include 12 cabins and three lodge rooms, with a hot tub right outside the door. The up-scale furnishings are a Western motif best described as ranch-comfortable. All the expected amenities and beverages, and more, are included at this all-inclusive resort. VVR has a high repeat rate, so book well in advance is best if an individual cabin fits your needs. The Ranch does not have television and only limited internet. That is just what the sanity doctor ordered in a way too-connected Covid-19 world. As such, it makes an ideal mountain springboard for romance, such as honeymoons or anniversaries.
XC has been a hot activity this year because of limitations at alpine resorts, and because it has a great deal of distancing built into the action. VVR offers XC in classic, skate, and even back-country skiing adventures, which might be their strong suit. The Nordic Center staff will provide personal guides and lessons when small-group activities don’t fit your ability, liking, or schedule. Remember, with only 51 people at any given time, no activity has more than eight on average for any group activity.
If you have never been on XC skis, getting off-trail in the loose snow is more manageable in balance and propulsion on skinny skis. The back-country is probably a better place to start from a novice introduction or refresher than on a packed trail. In the national forest, the awe of nature is up close as personal, so first-timers feel like seasoned back-country explorers. The guides are more than adept at watching your ski technique and adjusting the route for any ability and comfort level. Newbies can trudge with the best of them off the trail and have an exhilarating experience. In reality, if you want to XC ski 35 kilometers of trail or skate path every day, this is not the place for that singular focus.
The VVR activity list is expansive with snowshoeing, fat tire biking, tubing, ice fishing, sleigh rides, guided alpine treks, wine tasting and cooking classes, ranch yoga, an array of equine riding, and clinic options as well as XC, new adventures to try in a guided yet low-pressure setting.
New to riding? Then the fully-enclosed indoor riding arena lets you get your stirrups set with individually-tuned instruction before you venture on the trail. There’s plenty of room for you to get acquainted with your horse and basic maneuvers under the watchful eye of professional wranglers.
Typically, the food at all-inclusive resorts is not always stellar. VVR might be the exception, and especially considering the number of guests, this is exceptional cuisine. The food & beverage manager is a culinary wiz, sommelier, and master baker. No tasty stone is left unexplored as every meal has at least three options. VVR lets you combine specific entrees, get smaller portions, and make custom combinations as requested. If you are vegetarian or follow any dietary plan, they can accommodate and make it taste first-rate. The CowboyZilla is an a.m., caloric explosion of buttermilk & blueberry pancakes, tender pork belly, biscuits & gravy, and scrambled eggs. It’s sure to fuel at least two significant activities. As the menu changes daily, there is something different in the made-from-scratch plates that means you never eat the same tasty thing twice.
The daily happy hour and dining all occur in the lodge, an easy walk from any lodging location. The great room is the ideal place to chat, beverage-up, read, sit by the fire, and generally decompress.
The Ute Indians roamed this area as a hunting ground for almost 500 years and felt a special connection to the land and creation. The Utes would use quartz crystals in unique ceremonial rattles, which would shine through the buffalo hide after shaking and call the spirits to the ceremony. At dawn and sunset, sparkles of light remind you that VVR is a special place offering a special connection.
Neil Wolkodoff, PhD, is a Sports Scientist in Denver, Colorado who has worked with golfers over the last 15 years. During the rare free times, he travels to exotic golf destinations to see how golf, culture and local geography mix in different locales. He has penned articles for Colorado Avid Golfer, Golf Digest, and Golf Magazine. In his travels, he has golfed with royalty, tour professionals, the local duffer, and the occasional goat.