We travel underground, crammed into tubes. We go to sleep to the sounds of incessant honking and shrieking car alarms. We are careful not to step in the effluvium of frat boys on our stoop on Saturday nights.
So when we arrived at Vista Verde, a luxury dude ranch near Steamboat Springs, CO, we felt as though we’d arrived on an alien planet. “Shhh,” I said to Maxine, 9, and Josie, 12, as we stood outside the central lodge on our first evening. “You have never been anywhere this quiet in your lives.”
There was snow everywhere. None of it was crusty and gray, and there was no visible dog pee. There were lanterns. We could hear our footsteps crunch and see every star in the sky. And there were horses. And friendly cats and dogs. And did I mention the horses?
Vista Verde began as a hay and cattle ranch in the 1920s, and in the 1950s the owners started taking in traveling hunters and fishermen for extra income. Today, there are a few vintage buildings on the property, but almost everything is new and beautifully maintained. There’s a perfectly calibrated feeling of rustic luxury—it doesn’t feel vomitously cartoon-cowboy or cutesy-frilly.
Guests stay in individual cabins with peaked wooden ceilings, private porches, and hot tubs, overlooking pastures and hillside. When we opened the door to our cabin, Wapiti— with its two wood-burning fireplaces, vintage décor, and private kitchen—Maxine gasped: “Can we live here forever?” She also said: “I love it here so much I promise to make my bed every day!” This did not occur.
I was afraid that my non-horsey, bookish family might be a bit overwhelmed by all the outdoorsy options, but I needn’t have worried. My husband immediately became buds with a fellow guest and went skiing in nearby Steamboat Springs. The kids, who had minimal horseback riding experience, fell madly in love with the whole experience.
One day the kids went snow-tubing with Dan, one of the many polite and flannel-clad young staff members who cheerfully saddled horses, baled hay, fit skis, and provided beverages. Josie immediately made a friend her age and threw herself into the activity, but Maxie was too afraid to go down the big hill. I watched, worrying: Should I intercede? Urge her to buck up? But I held back. Max was perfectly happy just making snow angels; she was overjoyed when Dan let her ride down in the big plastic sled behind the snowmobile to pick up the tubers at the bottom of the hill. As Dan dragged the whole group of them back up to the top of the hill, I could hear Max squealing with joy, and I realized something: She was having a grand time, in her own way. Why did she have to sit in a tube?
Other days, the kids built snow forts, had snowball fights, learned to groom their horses, had riding clinics, watched movies, and did crafts. I went riding and did yoga. You can also go hiking, backcountry skiing, and snowshoeing. In the warmer months, in addition to riding, there’s mountain biking, fly fishing, hiking, rafting and kayaking, and an on-site pool. One day we went on a sleigh ride together, with hot chocolate and piles of blankets. We felt impossibly wholesome, all our city cynicism dropping away. Maxine fed icicles to one of the ranch’s lovely dogs, Rosie. Josie and I took a cooking class together with the ranch’s chef, bonding over our lousy knife skills.
As a family, we had (delicious) breakfasts and lunches together; at night the kids often ate with their peers while we grownups had more sophisticated, less screechy dinners with our fellow guests. There was sweet and spicy pork barbacoa, shiitake and hedgehog mushroom risotto with parmesan crisps, and grilled salmon with mustard-horseradish aioli and kale. Some nights after dinner, we sat in our hot tub. Other nights we hung out beneath the soaring beamed ceiling of the lodge’s communal Great Room, with its rough-hewn stone fireplace, wrought-iron chandelier, and vast expanses of windows. The cowboys played guitar; we played board games, read books and drank good wine. There were no TVs in the rooms and no electronics allowed in the dining hall. It felt like a true getaway.
To learn more, visit vistaverde.com!
Marjorie Ingall is a contributor to Tablet Magazine (the online magazine of Jewish news, ideas, and culture) and an NYC mom of two. She is currently working on a book about how and why Jewish mothers have historically raised self-sufficient, ethical, and accomplished kids.