Colorado is known for its mountains, among a number of other notable standouts. People come from all over the globe to photograph these impressive behemoths, scale their rugged peaks, hike, bike and horseback on their countless scenic trails and simply relish the opportunity to rejuvenate mind, body and soul by breathing in their intoxicating air. Located amid this awe-inducing landscape are numerous dude ranches where city slickers who have never been astride a horse join expert equestrians looking to challenge their skills in the rugged terrain. The ranches are a magnet for all kinds of folks, especially families seeking a fun and memorable, all-ages, outdoor adventure vacation.
Latigo Ranch, voted “Best Dude Ranch in Colorado” by Colorado’s Best, offers the classic Western experience, where you can tap into your inner cowboy and cowgirl. This 400-acre property, about 2 ½ hours from Denver is located within the majestic Rockies at 9,000 feet in elevation. It boasts breathtaking, panoramic views of the Continental Divide and offers week-long, all-inclusive programs where you’ll have a chance to bond with your own steed (one of eighty available), hand-picked based on your ability. There’s also a host of other activities: a supervised kids program, fly fishing instruction, special breakfast and sunset rides, Western roping, classic cookouts and high meadows pack trips. Hearty communal meals, comfy log cabin accommodations, hot tub and a rec room complete with ping pong, foosball and board games galore round out the family-friendly scene. And with a max of only 35 guests at one time, you’re assured of a more personalized experience. Both staff and guests get to know each other well over the course of the week and the sense of camaraderie that develops aids in the formation of close bonds.
When the summer’s over, however, Latigo doesn’t close its doors like many other ranches. Come wintertime, it becomes an idyllic Nordic ski haven with some of the best cross-country skiing available in Colorado. Mother Nature is typically kind to this area when it comes to the white stuff and Latigo’s snowfall averages about eighteen to nineteen feet per year. There’s nearly sixty kilometers of machine-groomed, marked trail suitable for both classic and skate skiing, with terrain that varies from flat beginning track to challenging advanced level courses. For backcountry or telemark aficionados, the ranch is surrounded by over 200 square miles of deep powder in the nearby National Forest, making it also a prime snowshoeing mecca. It’s quiet, peaceful and secluded, without highway or town traffic noise to distract you as you glide on the expansive trails with to-die-for views. No lift lines, long waits to get up the mountain or crowds creating unwanted obstacles.
If you’ve never cross-country skied before, know you’re in good hands at the ranch, as there are free lessons available to get you started. Once you understand how to kick back and glide forward, you’ll discover that it’s an easy rhythm to get into and soon you’ll begin to feel almost Zen-like as you become more proficient in your technique. Then you’ll be ready to try some small hills where you’ll learn about snowplowing, wedging, sidestepping, the herringbone and other techniques. Know that you’ll be using your entire body – even muscles you didn’t know you had! Cross-country skiing is an excellent cardio activity and you definitely can work up a sweat in the process. What’s great about the sport though is that you get to go at your own pace, so you can stop and admire your surroundings. Up on the higher trails, you’ll have expansive views, while lower in the woods, you’ll feel like you’re in the middle of an iconic Currier & Ives winter scene. If you’re lucky, you might even spot a critter or two, other than the three ranch llamas, who have the run of the property. I spied a snowshoe hare scampering across the trail right in front of me. He was a thing of beauty, seamlessly blending in with the environment.
When the kids tire of skiing, take them over to the tubing area and let them loose. Then head inside the main lodge for cocoa and homemade cookies and take the chill off as you congregate next to the woodstove. Or get nice and toasty with a leisurely soak in the hot tub. The real warmth of the place, however, comes from the hospitality of your hosts, Jim and Kathie Yost and Randy and Lisa George. The two couples have owned the historic property for the past twenty-nine years. Running it is a labor of love for them and their families, who go out of their way to make guests feel at home. As Kathie says, “All the hard work dims in view of the relationships we get to have with people from all over the world.” Besides being skilled at managing and operating the place, the Georges and Yosts are incredibly interesting individuals who enjoy regaling guests with Rocky Mountain lore and entertaining tales from their past.
Mealtimes are a delight, as both the food and the company are always a treat. It’s fun to exchange stories and share information about ski trails and conditions while chowing down on “nouveau ranch cuisine” – wholesome, tasty and fresh fare. Breakfasts are made-to-order along with homemade granola and a host of toppings, a selection of fruit, juices and more. Lunches are often hearty soups, wraps and sandwiches, and at dinner, you’ll have a choice of either a meat or seafood dish, accompanied by salad, veggies and a starch. And of course there’s dessert, with such mouthwatering creations as raspberry chocolate cheesecake, cashew butterscotch bars, carrot cake and decadent brownies. Vegetarians, those who are gluten-free and others with special diets need not to despair as the ranch is happy to accommodate your preferences. Just know you’ll never go hungry, as in addition to your substantial three squares a day, there’s always plenty of snacks on hand, even in your cabin where you’ll find a container of Latigo’s famous sugar and spice popcorn (refilled daily!).
As for accommodations, there’s a total of ten cabins; the larger six contain three bedrooms and are ideal for families, the other four have one bedroom each. There’s a rustic charm to the units, which are decorated in the proverbial Western style with original artwork. The three-bedroom cabins have wood-burning stoves in their sitting rooms, while the single units have fireplaces, which makes for a cozy ambiance. Thankfully, there aren’t any T.V.s for unwelcome distraction, and trust me, your kids won’t miss them, not one bit! Private porches provide the perfect place to kick back and take in your heavenly surroundings. Treasure the moment and know you’ve given you and your family the ultimate gift.
For more information: www.LatigoTrails.com or 1-800-227-9655