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There I was, horseback riding with my eyes tightly shut.
Horsemanship programs that focus on building trust and confidence have become trendy — but this was not that.
The wind had picked up and was whipping heaps of icy snow into my eyes and onto my cheeks, which had started to numb.
The prospect of riding in the winter had piqued my interest, and The Home Ranch — a dude ranch about 18 miles north of Steamboat Springs, Colo. — is one of a few places that offers true winter riding.
The all-inclusive ranch is located in the sleepy town of Clark in the upper Elk River Valley. Though certainly not a one-horse town, it is a one-supermarket town, with a small ranching and tourist community. The ranch sits on 500 acres of what was once agricultural land, and it’s surrounded by Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest and mountain peaks that reach up to 12,000 feet. In other words, The Home Ranch is encircled by preserved nature, making it ideal for hiking and horseback riding in the summer; and snowshoeing, light horseback riding, sleigh riding and cross-country skiing in the winter.
While exploring the property’s 20 miles of private groomed trails, I had some sense of how hard the horses have to work in the snow. I enjoyed nearly one-on-one attention from snowsports instructors during my first few attempts at Nordic skiing. One of the guests I met during my stay told me she picked The Home Ranch specifically because of how good its Nordic skiing trails are — and I couldn’t help but agree.
My instructor and I hardly ever saw anyone else as we weaved through silver-and-white aspen groves and open meadows packed with champagne powder. And even better, cabins and the main lodge are intersected by trails, so it’s easy to squeeze in multiple ski or snowshoeing sessions throughout the day.
The Home Ranch is a Relais & Chateaux property, so service is warm, rooms and public spaces are on theme, and the food is notably good. On the first night of my stay — after gobbling up the homemade cookies provided in my cabin — I was treated to a prix fixe menu by chef Tarisa Thiesen, who created a meal inspired by her Lebanese roots. But it wasn’t typical Middle Eastern food — instead, we were rewarded with inspired innovations such as a tabbouleh made chewy thanks to wheat berries, and a savory baklava spiked with fermented pine nuts. Thiesen serves under executive chef Jonathon Gillespie, who clearly sets the tone with his own style of inclusive service that involves presenting exacting details about ingredients, spices and preparation notes about the dishes each night.
Breakfast and lunch are equally delicious: Each morning, our server presented breakfast specials — such as a Dutch baby or pancakes with flambeed bananas — but was also able to accommodate eggs prepared as requested. Lunch was my favorite, with one leafy green salad, three or four other vegetable-based dishes, a sandwich station and a hot station with specials of the day ranging from spaetzle to tequila-rubbed salmon.
Over the course of my stay, I shared the ranch with just one to three couples per day. As a result, there was plenty of time for easy conversation at the communal dining tables, especially when Selina Heintz, director of guest services for more than a decade and a Clark native, joined us for a meal.
The property is owned by the Stranahan family, but Heintz and Michael Moon, the ranch manager, run the show.
Moon and his wife, Dawn, quite literally put on a performance for guests with a pre-dinner concert of their original tunes — many of which exalt the ranch’s natural surroundings. One snowy afternoon, I learned where Moon gets some of his inspiration. My group and I opted for the ranch’s daily horse-drawn sleigh ride, where we watched as he hacked off chunks of hay from hulking stacks to feed the ranch’s horses. The snow was falling all around us, but the horses didn’t seem to mind — not even Betsey and Bell, who transported us up and down snowy slopes surrounded by wispy, blindingly white trees.
It was a novel and precious sight, and I did everything I could to keep my eyes open.
The DetailsThe Home Ranchwww.homeranch.com