Image: KIDS IN SNOW
Photo courtesy of Vista Verde Ranch
Playing in the snow is a perfect pursuit at Vista Verde Ranch.
By
Tribune Media Services
updated 11/10/2010 5:05:31 PM ET 2010-11-10T22:05:31

I'm floating over five feet of snow in the wilderness on skis that are slightly fatter than traditional cross-country skis.

This isn't the kind of skiing where a snowcat takes you up a ski slope so you can ski down in deep powder as fast as you can. Nor is this the kind of backcountry experience my kids enjoy where you sling your skis on your back and hike up the mountain for the glory of skiing down — "working for your turns," as they call it.

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Vista Verde Ranch, 25 miles north of Steamboat Springs on some 560 pristine acres at 7,800 feet above sea level, is a place to literally slow down and enjoy the scenery from the back of a horse or on snowshoes or backcountry skis away from crowds and cars. It's also a good place to introduce kids to snow, if you aren't sure how they'll take to a major ski resort like Steamboat an hour's drive away.

Atlanta grandparents Bill and Sally Smith brought their daughter, son-in-law and three grandchildren from Atlanta for a few days for just that reason. They expected to go over to Steamboat to downhill ski part of the time, "But we never made it. We were having too much fun," said Bill. "The kids loved every bit of it and didn't want to leave," he said, after the younger members of the family had departed.

Video: Escape the cold with these hot adventures (on this page)

Vista Verde Ranch has just nine well-appointed log cabins, each named for a surrounding mountain. Ours is called Farwell. (Think wood-burning stoves, oh-so-comfy beds with patchwork quilts, deck hot tubs and astounding mountain views.)

Of course, none of this comes cheap. Figure on more than $1,300 a night for a family of four all-inclusive, though there are much less expensive deals if you choose your dates wisely. (Come Jan. 2 to March 12 and pay regular rate for the first two guests and half off for additional ones.)

And if you don't want all of the guided excursions, rates start at $195 a person, including meals, equipment and evening programs. At a major ski resort you could spend more without the personal attention. (Mention Taking the Kids and get an additional $50 off. The B&B rates work the same for the kids — first two people at rack rate, additional guests 1/2 off.)

There is room for just 45 guests; today there are just about 20 of us. There's a new main log lodge with a huge fireplace that seems to invite you to stretch out on the big couches, as well as a new indoor arena — to help teach riding (there are 90 horses here). "It has gotten used 10 times more than we expected," said Peggy Throgmartin, who, along with her husband, has owned the ranch for the last four years.

"This is my husband's dream since he was seven," said Peggy, adding that it took till they were in their 50s to make it happen — here at Vista Verde Ranch. Throgmartin, scion of an Indiana family business now in its fourth generation, and his wife searched all over the West for the right place to serve as a gathering place for their own three grown children. "We are a very close family and we wanted a place where the family would want to come. That was a big factor," she said. "As soon as we drove up the driveway, we knew this was the place."

The three young teens we're traveling with were a bit more skeptical at first wondering if they'd be bored without downhill snow sports. I'm traveling with my cousins Carl and Dana Weinberg and their two kids, as well as another friend and her teenage son. We opted to try the ranch for a couple of days in the middle of a 10-day ski trip.

Slideshow: Hit the lifts (on this page)

Maddie King, 11, whose parents oversee the activities, is convinced a kid would be crazy not to love the place. "It is a ball to get out in nature and have snow all over you," she says. There's nothing better either than having a snowcat pull you back up the hill you've just sledded down. Sledding, Maddie declares, is her favorite thing to do on the ranch.

True to her word, our teens perk up immediately. Because the ranch is all-inclusive, there are drinks and snacks in the cabin fridge — and the kids have their pick of activities, not to mention cookies. I love that for a few days, the only decisions we have to make is whether we want to ski or snowshoe or whether we want fish or lamb for dinner. (Or whether the kids want to eat with us or with the other kids.)

We spend the morning in the backcountry touring on skis, through the trees in the deep snow on National Forest land that surrounds the ranch. We end up at an ice cave built by local school children. So quiet! So beautiful!

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"Nothing better than being outside on a day like this," says our enthusiastic guide, Jeff Ballantyne, who spends summers fighting fires with the U.S. Forest Service. He gestures to the fresh snow, the quivering Aspens, the sun trying unsuccessfully to peak through the clouds as the snow continues to fall. There are 30 guest ranches in Colorado but Vista Verde is just one of a handful that is open in winter and summer. (For more information on ranches, visit www.duderanch.org).

One afternoon, we go out horseback riding — good thing we were dressed warmly. We take a tour of the ranch, past the original cabin built by homesteaders early on in the 20th century. It's snowing gently; the air is cold and fresh. We're limited to a narrow trail that the ranch staff has blown out for the horses, but I don't mind the lazy pace. We mosey along happily.

The place forces you to get unplugged — there is Wi-Fi, but cell service is spotty. We go deep in the backcountry to snowshoe or ski where we won't see another soul. Another plus: This is a safe place where kids can have some freedom and try new things -- with or without their parents by their side.

The atmosphere is conducive to making new friends too, whether you're nine or 49. All of the kids ate dinner together and then watched a movie while the adults shared a large table and an impressive meal that included tamales, guinea hen with rice pilaf, Napoleons filled with peanut butter pastry cream and an assortment of sorbets.

The good news: We'll work off the calories snowshoeing tomorrow. The other good news: The teens are smiling.

For more Taking the Kids, visit www.takingthekids.com and also follow "taking the kids" on www.twitter.com, where Eileen Ogintz welcomes your questions and comments.

© 2010 Eileen Ogintz ... Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.

Video: Escape the cold with these hot adventures

  1. Closed captioning of: Escape the cold with these hot adventures

    >>> morning on "today's" travel, fire and ice getaways. kate maxwell is the article's editor for traveler magazine. you are right on the ball with this first one, you like the breckenridge resort. al talked about it this morning.

    >> breckenridge is opening on friday, and everyone's talking about west coast skiing this year, because el nina is supposed to bring record snow to that area.

    >> what about value? it can be an expensive sport.

    >> in breckenridge , they are offering $90 a night, which is a fantastic rate and it goes for four days.

    >> let's move away from the west coast , or the western part of the united states , you like killington as well.

    >> killington is the beast of the east and this is a midweek deal. if you go on sunday and stay until friday, great stuff, $82 and it includes your ski pass and your children's ski pass.

    >> kids are skiing free there?

    >> kids under $15 ski for free.

    >> sticking with skiing, you also like jackson hole , wyoming and in particular, they've got a big attraction for snowboarders.

    >> the conditions are wonderful and especially back country, but if you're a wannabe snowboarder, there's a crash course . you get a full day's tuition, everything is thrown in, from the boards, the boots and the bindings. it's a really great hotel.

    >> let's turn to some warmer weather destinations.

    >> 29 rooms, but if you've seen the film "the harder they come" the people behind it are the people behind this hotel as well. it's a real individual property, steps from the beach.

    >> it's called jake's?

    >> $150 a night is a really great deal and they're throwing in things like a cooking class.

    >> so can the smaller hotels compete with the larger hotels in terms of amenities and things like that.

    >> it's a totally different experience.

    >> let's talk about puerto rico , and you like the ritz carlton . people hear ritz and they immediately think this is going to be pricier.

    >> you book three nights and it works out to $107 a night. the ritz has some really good meal import restaurants.

    >> in birmingham, you like the reefs hotel and club?

    >> they have both of the reefs, the number one hotel in the caribbean and atlantic the last six years.

    >> that's a good record.

    >> really great deal. you buy five nights and you get christmas for free. and they do things like tree trimming.

    >> and lastly, turks and caicos , the readers are offering a much lower. for you, it's $360 and they're throwing in --

    >> just for the today show?

    >> that's great. and free breakfast, a free romantic dinner, and they have a great kids

Photos: Popular ski and snowboard playgrounds in America

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  1. Heavenly run

    Heavenly Ski Resort in South Lake Tahoe, Calif., offers skiers 91 trails and 4,800 acres of terrain. (Corey Rich courtesy of Heavenly Ski Resort ) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Busy at Beaver Creek

    Colorado's Beaver Creek Snow Resort averages 311 inches of snow per year, gets 300 days of sun and offers more than 1,800 acres of skiable terrain. (Jack Affleck courtesy of Beaver Creek Snow Resort) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Oh boy, Alberta

    Whiskey Jack Lodge is pictured at the foot of the ski hills in Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada. Lake Louise Ski Resort is one of the larger ski areas in North America with 4,200 acres of terrain. (Andy Clark / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. 2-mile-high club

    Looking for a high-elevation rush? The base center at Utah's Snowbird Ski Resort sits at 8,100 feet. The resort's highest point, Hidden Peak, climbs to 11,000 feet. (Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Va-va-va-Vail

    Vail, Colo., located west of Denver, is one North America's better-known ski towns. Vail Ski Resort features more than 5,200 acres of skiable terrain over 193 trails. (Jack Affleck courtesy of Vail Ski Resorts) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Après ski

    Skiers and snowboarders can do more than hit the slopes in Vail, Colo. Visitors can visit spas, go shopping and enjoy nightlife, festivals and family-friendly activities. (Jack Affleck courtesy of Vail Ski Resorts) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Take a Telluride

    Also located in Colorado, Telluride Ski Resort has 18 lifts, 120 trails, more than 2,000 acres of terrain, and features "Galloping Goose," the resort's longest run (4.6 miles). (Telluride Ski & Golf) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Road trip!

    Ski and snowboard enthusiasts can easily drive to Telluride from the Four-Corner states. Located in Southwestern Colorado, the drive time is seven hours from Denver and Phoenix, 2 1/2 hours from Grand Junction, Colo., and 2 1/4 hours from Moab, Utah and Durango, Colo. (Telluride Ski & Golf) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Stowe away

    Stowe Ski Resort is smaller when compared to competition west of the Mississippi, but it is a hot spot in the Northeast. The area offers 485 acres of terrain, but an average trail length of 3,600 feet -- longer than any other New England resort, its Web site boasts. (Stowe Mountain Resort) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Great spot for beginners

    Buttermilk Ski Resort is small compared to some of its Colorado neighbors. Located just outside Aspen, Buttermilk has carved out its niche by focusing on snowboarders and beginners. Buttermilk offers 435 acres of terrian over 44 runs. (Hal Williams Photography Inc.) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Experience required

    Aspen Mountain is the backdrop for a horse and carriage ride in downtown Aspen, Colo. Aspen Mountain features 76 trails -- 48 percent considered "more difficult," 26 percent "most difficult" and 26 percent "expert." If you're a beginner, you probably want to get your feet wet some place less daunting. (Hal Williams Photography Inc.) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Take a hike

    Members of Aspen Center for Enviromental Studies (ACES) take a snowshoe tour in Ashcroft, Colo.Ashcroft Ski Touring/Cross-Country Area offers about 22 miles of groomed trails, and is located 11 miles from Aspen. (Courtesy of ACES) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Lock and Keystone

    Another popular ski option in Colorado is Keystone Ski Area, located about 90 minutes from Denver International Airport. The area features 20 ski lifts, two gondolas and more than 3,100 acres of terrain. (Bob Winsett courtesy of Keystone Ski Area) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Grab a six-peak

    Vermont's Killington Ski Resort stretches across six peaks. Skiers and snowboarders can reach the area's 752 acres of terrain with 22 lifts. (Killington Resort) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Beautiful Breckenridge

    Big crowds may descend on Colorado's ski resorts, but that shouldn't be a problem at Breckenridge. The resort has two high-speed SuperChairs, seven high-speed quad lifts, a triple lift, six double lifts, and others, giving it the ability to move nearly 38,000 people per hour. (Carl Scofieldd courtesy of Breckenridge) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Bring the family

    Smuggler's Notch in Vermont bills itself as "America's Family Resort," and offers services, activities and education aimed at making sure everyone in your clan has fun. (Smuggler's Notch Resort) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. 63 years and going strong

    Colorado's Arapahoe Basin has been operating since 1946. "The inaugural season opened with a single rope tow and $1.25 daily lift tickets," its Web site reads. Prices and equipment surely have changed, but "A-Basin" offers the skiers and snowboarders 900 acres of terrain -- more than half above the timberline. (Arapahoe Basin) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Long way down

    Utah's Alta Ski Area is scheduled to remain open through April 18, 2010. It features 2,200 acres of terrain, more than 100 runs and an average snowfall of 500 inches per season. It does not, however, allow snowboards. (Alta Ski Area) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Not for the faint of heart

    Of the 116 runs at Jackson Hole Ski Resort in Wyoming, 50 percent are "expert" and 40 percent are "intermediate." That's great news if you pass up the bunny slopes for some challenging skiing and snowboarding. (Jackson Hole Mountain Resort) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. On -- or off -- the beaten path

    Jackson Hole Ski Resort offers 2,500 acres of terrain, plus an open backcountry gate system that offers access to an additional 3,000 acres. (Jackson Hole Mountain Resort) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Sun Valley -- how original

    Seriously. Idaho's Sun Valley, started in 1936, claims it is the original ski resort. "Born out of a desire to bring the magic of the European ski resorts to America, Sun Valley quickly became a phenomenon without peer on this continent or any other," its Web site boasts. (Sun Valley Resort) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Do you believe in miracles?

    American Shaun White is pictured competing during the Nokia Halfpipe Snowboard FIS World Cup on March 4, 2005 at Whiteface Mountain in Lake Placid, N.Y. Lake Placid has hosted the Winter Olympics twice -- in 1932 and 1980 -- and offers a variety of activities, including downhill skiing, cross-country skiing, ski jumping, ice skating and more. (Ezra Shaw / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Old West reminder

    Seven thousand feet up in the Colorado Rockies, nestled quietly below one of the largest ski mountains in North America, sits a small ranching community that serves as a constant reminder that the Old West is alive and well. Never far from its ranching roots, Steamboat remains firmly linked to a Western tradition that sets it apart from every other ski resort in the world. (Larry Pierce courtesy of Steamboat) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Big skiing in Big Sky Country

    Whitefish Mountain Resort in Whitefish, Mont., collects 300 inches of snow each year and features 3,000 acres of terrain, 94 marked trails and a 3.3-mile run called Hellfire. (Donnie Clapp courtesy of Whitefish Mountain Resort) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Sweet on Sugarloaf

    Sugarloaf Ski Resort features 1,400 acres of skiable terrain, including Tote Road, a 3.5-mile-long stretch running from summit to base. Sugarloaf's redesigned terrain park features the 400 foot long Superpipe, a magnet for snowboarders throughtout the region. Portland and Bangor offer airport service to Sugarloaf, and Boston and Montreal are four short hours away. (Grant Klene courtesy of Sugarloaf Ski Resort) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Crossing borders

    With more than 400 inches of snow per year, nearly 8,200 acres of skiable terrain and 200 trails, Whistler Blackcomb Ski Resort in British Columbia, Canada, is an outdoor enthusiast's paradise. (Randy Lincks courtesy of Whistler Blackcomb ) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Carrying the torch

    Some athletes will become world champions of their sport on the slopes of Whistler Blackcomb when the Winter Olympics roll into British Columbia early next year. (Paul Morrison courtesy of Whistler Blackcomb ) Back to slideshow navigation
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