Vail Daily travel: Elk Ridge Ranch retreat |

Vail Daily travel: Elk Ridge Ranch retreat

Caramie Schnell
Vail, CO Colorado
Elk Ridge Ranch is a 5,800-square-foot log mansion set on 50 acres, 10 miles beyond Breck (techinally in Alma), just past the summit of curvy Hoosier Pass.

VAIL, Colorado –On a recent bluebird Friday morning in Colorado’s Vail Valley, we pointed the car eastbound on I-70 and headed towards Breckenridge. Our final destination was about an hour from Vail, 10 miles beyond Breck (techinally in Alma), just past the summit of curvy Hoosier Pass.

The Elk Ridge Ranch is a 5,800-square-foot log mansion set on 50 acres. The home, though decorated in the mountain-kitsch style that is so popular among second homes in the mountains and so contrary to my own taste, has lots of personal, unique touches – from whirlpool tubs in some of the bathrooms to a wood burning, river rock fireplace that heats the main floor master suite and the great room. A 12-point elk mounted on the fireplace greets ranch visitors with its glassy stare.

The private home is owned by a couple who lives in Florida and the home is for sale (a cool $1.65 mil if you’re interested). It’s often times rented out for small weddings, reunions and corporate retreats, according to the Web site,

My boyfriend, J.K., nine of our family and friends, and I spent a recent weekend at the ranch. The goal was to get three days of rest and reprieve, without having to fly somewhere to do it. It wasn’t quite a staycation – that term is annoying and has become grossly overused since the recession hit – but didn’t cost what a typical vacation does, either.

The weekend focused on fun (skiing, sledding, hottubbing and more), fantastic food and good friends. By the time everyone had unloaded on Friday, the fridge was jam-packed full of food, bottles of wine lined the kitchen counter and games were piled on the dining room table. It was a definite recipe for fun.

Every person or couple was in charge of a meal and everyone outdid themselves. On Friday night we were treated to homemade lasagna – one vegetarian, one sausage and buffalo – along with salad, bread and plenty of vino. Immediately following dinner we played a few cutthroat games of dominoes.

Around 11 p.m. people began to head to bed. Our room, nicknamed the Honeymoon Suite, was the best room in the house, with ts own mini fridge and gas stove and a stunning view of Mount Lincoln and Mount Bross. It was located above the garage, and away from the rest of the home, providing plenty of privacy.

The second day we awoke to fresh-brewed coffee and a big, cooked-to-order breakfast of omelets, sausage links, toast and fresh fruit. After breakfast, the group scattered for the day.

Four people went skiing at nearby Breckenridge, while one couple spent the afternoon shopping in downtown Breck. Five of us, me included, opted to stick close to the ranch. We gathered in the kitchen while the only Southern boy in the bunch, Daniel, started to prepare dinner for that night – homemade duck gumbo using his Mississippi grandmother Mimi’s recipe.

Next we bundled up and headed out of doors to check out the sledding hills (replete with cute, Disneyesque names) and nearby ski hill above. Yes, the ranch has its own ski hill and if you don’t mind working for your turns, its pretty darn fun.

We plucked a few sleds from the pile in the garage and slid down the driveway. As for the sledding hills, they were fun and would have been even more fun had we had some kids with us. Afterwards we stripped off our jackets and sat on the sunny deck and took in a cocktail and the view.

Come dinner time, Daniel served up his thick duck gumbo over rice, topped with crispy-fried okra. It was great Southern, stick-to-your-ribs fare that prompted most everyone in the group to ask for the recipe.

We finished the night with a few cocktails in the hot tub. Staring up the sparkling stars above, we wished we could spend a few more days relaxing ranchside.

High Life Editor Caramie Schnell can be reached at 748-2984 or

Recipe courtesy of Daniel Garrett

2 to 3 (or one large) small ducks, well-cooked and boned (reserve broth)

3/4 cup margarine

1 cup all-purpose flour

2 onions, minced

1 bunch green onions, finely chopped (include some tops)

1 large green pepper, seeded and chopped

3 cloves garlic

1 bunch celery, minced

1 5-ounce can tomato paste

2 20-ounce cans tomatoes

2 tablespoons dried parsley flakes

1 teaspoon dried crushed oregano

1 teaspoon ground thyme

2 tablespoons salt

1 tablespoon black pepper

2 tablespoons gumbo file

1/2 teaspoon red pepper

2 pints okra

Make a roux with margarine and flour. Add 2 quarts duck broth and remaining ingredients except okra. Simmer two hours, stirring often. Fry the okra and sprinkle atop gumbo before serving over rice or egg noodles.

Yield: 10 to 15 servings.

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