Peace and quiet in the spirit of the Old West
CLARK – The Home Ranch feels a world away – even from Vail.The guest ranch sits among the mountains, farms and aspen stands of the Elk River Valley, 18 miles up a windy road from Steamboat Springs.The guest rooms, in the ranch’s lodge and in outlying cabins, are both plush and rustic – in keeping with a place that retains the character of the rural West while still being included in the prestigious Relais and Chateaux guidebook.Cross-country skiing, sleigh rides, tubing, horseback riding, hiking, fishing – there are many activities for guests on the ranch’s 1,500 acres. Also, a shuttle takes guests to lift-served skiing at Steamboat.
In winter, the ranch grooms 15 miles of cross-country ski trails on its property, from easy loops outside the back door of the lodge to far-flung traverses that lead to landmarks such as an old llama corral called the “Llamasary.”The ranch keeps a stable of more than 90 horses for riding in the summer.Time to eatDays at the ranch are punctuated by extraordinary cuisine, served at the long, wooden table in the lodge’s dining room. These are community events. Everyone – the guests, the guides, even the manager – stop what they are doing to eat together.
The meals are a time to get to know the other guests, whether they’re a mother, father and son from Chicago who wanted a cross-country skiing vacation or a couple from Florida who wanted a spontaneous getaway from the kids.The rooms – with names like Seegate, Bonanza and Quickdraw – have all of the comforts of a top-of-the line hotel under rough-hewn-beamed ceilings. Add to that a bottomless chocolate chip cookie jar. And subtract a TV – there aren’t any in the lodge rooms. You might have to grab a book from the lodge’s cowboy-themed library.On the right trackWhen I walked into the empty dining room on my first morning at the Home Ranch, the fire was raging in the fireplace and the long, wooden table was set for breakfast. It was dumping snow outside the wide windows.
I chose a fresh-vegetable fritatta from the choices. I met Andrew Peter, a ski guide at the ranch. He told me he takes some guests up Hahn’s Peak, the cylindrical volcanic mountain you can see from the ranch. But we would be skiing at a more elementary level, he assured me.Later, Mike Braal, the other ski guide, joined us. He’s lived in the Elk Valley for 35 years. Braal spends his winters in Alaska, guiding wildlife tours on his boat.After breakfast, Braal and Peter set me up with cross-country skis, boots and poles. The snowcat driver was just finishing up his morning grooming of the trails. The ranch’s dog, Cody, frolicked in the snow.Braal took me on some easy trails around the lodge, along meadows and through trees. He gave me some pointers on my form. The snow had stopped and the sun was out.Later, we headed up the hill to the upper bench of the property. That’s when the lunch bell rang.
SolitudeAfter lunch, using the ranch’s handwritten trail maps, I navigated trails called Quickdraw, Fox Run, Rabbit’s Run, Chute and No Tomorrow.The only people I encounter were a couple and their young daughter who were also staying at the ranch. We said hello as we passed each other.I crossed a meadow and entered an aspen glade. The cadence of my skis was hypnotizing. I stopped in the trees. There was no sound except for the wind through the trees – no voices, no other skiers whipping by, no I-70. I could see Sand Mountain and Hahn’s Peak across the valley. I lost track of time as I stood there.
But, alas, dinnertime was fast approaching – it would be sliced wagyu coulette sirloin tip. I skied down to the lodge.Staff Writer Edward Stoner can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14623, or firstname.lastname@example.org.Vail, Colorado
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