Piney Lake still a jewel |

Piney Lake still a jewel

Cliff Thompson

After a ride so jarring with washboarded roads it’ll loosen your fillings, the alpine resort at journey’s end makes it worth the trip.

Plus, Piney River Ranch is under new ownership, one that’s glad to accommodate visitors. The previous owners hadn’t exhibited the same hospitality now in evidence, and even closed it halfway through last summer.

“People are happy to see it up and running again,” says owner Linda Hansen, who with her husband, Dana, on June 1 purchased the operation from former owner Paul Howard.

Dana Hansen is a successful commercial property developer in the Denver area, and Linda Hansen is founder and operator of the nonprofit Family Time, an organization that helps parents commit more time to their children.

For the Hansens, operating a mountain retreat was one of their dreams.

“I told my husband, “No sagebrush,'” she says. “I wanted a lake, pines and a spectacular view of the mountains.”

At “Piney,” as locals call it, the Hansens found everything they wanted.

Dana Hansen has been visiting Piney Lake since he was a child. When he brought his wife for a visit to the lake last summer, they decided to make an offer on the business, which at the time was not for sale.

By last spring, however, it was for sale, and in late May the Hansens bumped their way up the road to the lake.

“It must have been fate,” she said. “When we got there we could barely get up the road. The mountains were covered in clouds and then suddenly the sun shone through and I just said, “OK!’ “

“This is Vail’s back yard,” she adds. “You’ve got to share it. God didn’t put this here for just one person to enjoy.”

What they saw was a view of the Gore Range through the giant reflecting pool that is Piney Lake, which rivets everyone who visits. It’s flat-out spectacular.

Since then the Hansens and 15 employees have been upgrading and expanding the facilities. There’s a variety of buildings, including a restaurant, covered pavilions, teepees, a yurt and rentable cabins for overnight stays. The Hansens say they plan on investing an additional $500,000 in the property.

Long-time locals Tom and Jane McNeill work at Piney. He’s operating the restaurant. She doesn’t have a title yet, but says she takes care of anything that needs attention.

“Tom swore he’d never get back in the restaurant business,” McNeill said. “When I reminded him of that, he just said, “”It’s Piney.'”

The restaurant serves gourmet lunches and dinners. On top of that, Linda Hansen has a gourmet cookie company whose products found their way to Piney.

Another local, Doug Skeie, a 1982 Battle Mountain High School graduate, works as a waiter. He returned to the area this summer.

“It’s nice to be home,” he says, adding that Piney’s laid-back atmosphere is more preferable to him than is the high-energy Vail Valley.

The list of activities at Piney is extensive, spanning the seasons.

In summer, horseback trips – there’s 40 horses – through the backcountry range from half an hour to a full day. There are canoes and paddle-boats for renting, fish for fishing, trails for hiking and mountain biking, and wildlife for watching. It’s also a venue for weddings and other celebrations.

In winter, there’s snowmobile tours, cross-country skiing and more.

It’s ideal for families, say the Hansens, as “you can do everything in one place.”

One new twist being considered is backcountry tours in Humvees operated by Lakota Guides, Hansen says. Those tours of the area will conclude with a gourmet lunch or dinner.

For the artistically inclined, there’s even a resident photographer, Carrie Nelson, who doubles as a wrangler.

But the setting and atmosphere is the foundation upon which the operation is built.

“Piney is a great place for people to heal themselves,” say the Hansens. “It’s the best spot this side of heaven.”

To get to Piney Lake from Vail, go north on Red Sandstone Road, take the dirt road northwest out of Potato Patch and follow the signs.

Cliff Thompson can be reached at 949-0555 ext 450 or

Support Local Journalism