Issue link: http://digital.slmag.net/i/793509
After some negotiation, we settled on sledding, snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, working the horse feed sled one afternoon and watching a horse training session in the covered arena. Sledding was not the exhausting zip down the hill and then trudge back up experience you likely remember from childhood; once you've finished zooming down the groomed track, a snowmobile pulls you and your sled back up to the top. We quickly learned that activities are a great way to meet your fellow guests at the ranch; in this instance, we had great fun coming up with various tube configurations in an attempt to maximize speed with a young couple from New Orleans who were on their honeymoon. Our two-hour snowmobile excursion took us deep into the National Forest; Vista Verde staff groom approximately 34-miles of trails in the forest. e route included corkscrew turns, plenty of ascending and descending, sweeping views of the Continental Divide and ample time to satisfy our need for speed in a large, flat bowl at the base of a super-steep hill, the powerful ascent of which was the highlight of the outing for me. Cross-country skiing and snowshoeing take place on Vista Verde property and in the surrounding National Forest. I'm a novice downhill skier on my best day, but thanks to fine coaching from our instructor Emily Erickson, I became quite comfortable on our backcountry cross-country ski tour in no time. After settling into a steady cadence, gliding across the powdery snow deep in the quiet of the forest was certainly a restorative experience, even with a few minor tumbles here and there. Our turn on the horse feed sled coincided with the snowiest day of our visit, and a light dusting of powder settled on the hindquarters of the massive Percheron pair tasked with pulling a sled laden with more than 2,500 pounds of hay that we helped to distribute around the pasture. Hawaii native Kaulana "KP" Na'au Ali'I Papalimu works as head horse trainer and farrier. His horse clinics provide fascinating insight into the years of training (and boundless patience) necessary to get a colt ready to accept riders. rice daily we descended on the lodge for meals, either fueling up for a full day or ravenously refueling after a round of vigorous activities. Striking the right balance between haute and hearty, Vista Verde's take on "cowboy cuisine" includes both made-to-order and buffet-style dining. e kitchen is very accommodating to those with special dietary needs, offering the same attention to quality, choice and taste as those without restrictions. While some opted for a simple fruit and yogurt breakfast, others (including me) chose to be more indulgent with specials such as blueberry cornmeal pancakes with a generous side of Applewood smoked bacon. At dinner, we enjoyed everything from perfectly prepared beef tenderloin to local elk and grilled salmon. Each evening a "happy half-hour" precedes dinner and allows guests time to converse with one another and members of the staff. With limited Wi-Fi access and no televisions in the cabins or guest rooms, evening activities are mostly low-key, with the exception of a weekly barn dance and a musical performance by the very talented staff band, led by General Manager Ben Martin (who does a very good rendition of Johnny Cash) in the lodge. To be honest, after a busy day chock-full of new experiences, simply settling into the hot tub on the deck of our cabin and pondering how the ethereal, airy flakes gently descending from the heavens could accumulate to such great heights was an ideal end to a string of powder perfect days. Rates at Vista Verde Guest Ranch from $1,375/person for three nights in a cabin in winter to $4,095/person for seven nights in a cabin in the summer. For more information or reservations visit vistaverde.com. sl slmag.net 53 Powder skiing in Steamboat. Photo by Larry Pierce/Steamboat Ski Resort.