Warming up winter
It’s the stuff that dreams, or at least touchy feely TV commercials, are made of. Imagine this playing out on the tube: the father, wife and kids are reunited for a perfect day on the slopes only to end up with healthy, ruddy red faces sitting around a roaring fire. Of course, in TV land our family is a group of actors selling Folgers’ new dark roast coffee or perhaps a new flavor of Swiss Miss hot cocoa. Luckily, in Vail, the dreamy world of fireside perfection is available in real life and often the coffee and hot chocolate is thrown in free-of-charge.From high-end lodges, lined with both exterior and interior fireplaces, to rustic back-country huts gloriously free of TV and telephones, there is a nearly endless list of local places to kick off the ski boots, order a hot steaming beverage and lounge fireside. We picked five exceptional Vail Valley fireside experiences and all but one come complete with a range of hot beverages and snacks, and all are within a 30-minute drive of Vail Mountain. Since some order was required we went from high-style ease to the fireside rewards that take a little more effort to obtain.Bachelor Gulch Ritz CarltonWhen it comes to fireside ambiance in a luxurious environment, look no further then the Bachelor Gulch Ritz Carlton. With more than 100 fireplaces throughout the property, three grab the spotlight. There is a three-story, wall-to-ceiling fireplace in the great room, a roaring fireplace in the lobby waiting to greet guests and a slope-side outdoor fire pit surrounded by circular seating.While 90 or so are gas-fueled fireplaces in guest rooms, the main three are good old fashioned wood burners. While many hotels employ gas-fueled replica fire pits that look the part, the Ritz fireplaces are the real deal, offering the sensational smell of burning logs and the crackling sound of natural wood.Many guests congregate around the fire pit following a dip in the outdoor pool or dining at Remington’s. The adults can order a “Bachelor’s Coffee” complete with Kahlua, Baileys and Grand Marnier topped with freshly whipped cream while there is always free hot chocolate available fireside for the kids. Call the Ritz Carlton Bachelor Gulch at (970) 748-6200, to make a reservation at Remington’s or stop in and check out the fireside scene on the way to the Buffalo Bar which features live acoustic music most nights of the week.Sonnenalp ResortFor the ultimate in indulgence how about mixing a relaxing spa experience with a magical place called the “Spa Bar” and a seat by an open, roaring fire. Those that think such pleasures are too good to be true can visit Vail’s Sonnenalp, where the fireside scene breaks new ground. In addition to grand fireplace alcoves at the spa, Sonnenalp boasts other fireside areas at the King’s Club.All spa visitors are offered robes and sandals and can enjoy the heated indoor and outdoor pools and hot tubs, complete with relaxing waterfall, while overlooking Gore Creek. After a massage and a bit of reflection in the peaceful meditation room it’s off to one of many fireside venues in the Sonnenalp Resort for something to drink.Although the signature Sonnenalp drink is the mudslide, which visitors can order fireside at the Spa Bar, King’s Club or Bully Ranch, there is also a specialty Winter Warmers menu. Choices include coffee with Kahlua, Bushmills, Schnapps or Baileys; Hot Apple cider with Tuaca, whipped cream and a cherry on top; spicy spiked tea and, of course, classic hot chocolate with Schnapps, Kahlua or Baileys. To book a room call (970) 476-5656, to make a spa appointment dial (970) 479-5404.Lodge at Camp HaleFor those craving a little adventure, preceding fireside bliss, a trip down National Scenic Byway 24 to Camp Hale is in order. Located within a national historic site surrounded by the White River National Forest, the recently built Lodge at Camp Hale features a beautiful, 5,000 square foot log cabin just 20 miles south of Vail and Beaver Creek. Offering a majestic, mountain atmosphere, the lodge boasts a massive, two-sided, stone fireplace perfect to gather around after a day of activity with Nova Guides.Guests enjoy stunning views of Resolution Mountain and the Continental Divide from its large picture windows. On-site activities include guided snowmobile tours, unguided snowmobile rentals, scenic snow coach tours, dog sledding, Jeep tours, and even ice-fishing in their stocked private lake.”It’s very peaceful,” says Nova Guides Kasey Ankney, “yet chaos rules all around it.” With miles of deep-wilderness and snow-covered trails climbing to as high as 12,500 feet, there is always adventure to be had. But, at the end of the day, the cabins huge, semicircle couchettes see tired outdoors-people warming their feet and sipping hot chocolate around the roaring fire. “Everyone has this huge smile on their glowing faces and the kids are running around everywhere,” Ankney says, “it’s probably the best fireplace in the valley to take a family picture.”Besides a photo-op, a trip to the Lodge at Camp Hale offers a fully equipped restaurant, gourmet chef, in-house sound system and three televisions. Call 888-949-NOVA for more info on activities and lodge details. As far as a specialty drink goes, visitors stick with classic hot chocolate as no liquor (besides wine and beer) is served at the cabin.4 Eagle RanchOffering quintessential, Wild West Colorado in all its glory is Wolcott’s 4 Eagle Ranch. Located just west of Vail and Beaver Creek resorts, this working cowboy ranch features starlit sleigh rides pulled by Belgian draft horses, home-cooked barbeque dinners and marshmallow roasting around an outdoor fire pit.In the 1890s cabin, an open-hearth, fieldstone fireplace roars both inside the cabin and outside. Visitors cozy up to the blaze out on the porch or back inside where they can order the house favorite winter drink a hot apple cider spiked with Captain Morgan Rum and topped with a cinnamon stick.Besides true-Colorado ambiance, 4 Eagle Ranch boasts their award winning steak chili, BBQ baby back ribs and homemade hot fruit cobbler. A starry night sleigh ride dinner costs $79.95 for adults and $39.95 for children 5 12. Call (970) 926-3372 to make a reservation for dinner packages, which are available Wednesday – Saturday evening. A shuttle picks up hotel guests around 6 p.m. and they’re back to their lodging by 9:30 p.m. Each night varying musicians play guitar and sing western favorites.Shrine Mountain InnFor those willing to work hard for their fireside-relaxation, the huts of Shrine Mountain Inn offer one of the more rewarding fireside experiences. With a trailhead at the top of nearby Vail Pass these three backcountry huts are located at 11,209 feet, 2.7 miles up a relatively mild trail.Jay’s, Chuck’s and Walter’s, the three huts that make up the Shrine Mountain Inn group, all boast old-fashioned wood-burning stoves while one cabin even has a wood-fired sauna, perfect after a day of hiking and back-country skiing. More than ambiance, these stoves keep the rustic cabins warm and toasty throughout the night. Considered some of the more plush cabins in the network, each includes hot and cold running water and even a generator to add some additional lighting to the glow of the fireplaces.Snowshoes or cross-country skis are the only way to get there, so the cabins tend to attract the more hearty type who don’t mind hauling in their own bedding, food and beverage. Bring your own food and use one of the provided propane grills out on the porch. Considering the 2.7-mile uphill hike, a simple pack of powdered hot chocolate mix and a couple nips of Bailey’s or Kahlua are the drink of choice.For those that fall in love with Shrine there are plenty more deep-backcountry fireplaces to be discovered. The 10th Mountain Division Hut system (the Shrine managers) oversee a system of 29 backcountry huts in the Colorado Rocky Mountains, connected by 350 miles of suggested routes. Visit http://www.huts.org or call (970) 925-5775 for more information on reserving space in one of the many backcountry huts. VT
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