I traveled to the Home Ranch, solo, about five years ago. It was fall - the aspens were glowing, the pasture lush and green, and the Elk River flowed freely. I spent most of my time horseback riding and fly fishing. The winter landscape is equally stunning, with snow-covered mountains and meadows, spectacular sunrises and sunsets, icicles adorning the magnificent hand-hewn log lodge and cabins, and miles of pristine trails through the peaceful valley.
The horses are fuzzy with their winter coats, and the ranch dogs are thrilled to be romping in the snow. The winter season offers cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, sleigh rides, horseback riding, tubing, yoga, cuddling by the fire, and soaking in the hot tub. Downhill skiing at nearby Steamboat Springs, dog sledding, and other off-ranch excursions are also available. All seasons offer exceptional gourmet cuisine.
Our flight from Denver into Hayden was delayed a few hours, and we arrived about 8:00 p.m. Eric was at the airport to greet and drive us back to the ranch for dinner. The chefs stayed late to make sure we didn't go to bed hungry, and guests were still gathered around the inviting, communal table, reminiscing about their day, and finishing off the wine.
After dinner, wine, dessert, and meeting new friends, we retreated to Lonesome Cow, one of the south-facing lodge rooms. There are also several cozy cabins within walking of the main lodge. We slept soundly, and slowly awakened to this beautiful sunrise.
|Sunrise, from Lonesome Cow|
Breakfast service begins at 7:30, with coffee, tea, fresh juice, a platter of fruit, and freshly baked pastries, scones or rolls. Hot breakfast choices may include Lemon Ricotta Pancakes, Gruyere and Herb Omeletet, Tuscan Eggs, Huevos Rancheros, Cheese Souffle, Waffles, or Eggs Benedict.
|Fresh Berries and the most amazing Orange Scones|
|Tuscan Eggs - poached eggs served over polenta, spinach, and|
ranch-cured Prosciutto, with a roasted red pepper sauce
During breakfast, the wranglers and ski guides come in to chat, and arrange morning activities. One morning, Kelly and Alec harnessed Ebony and Ivory, the newly acquired Percherons, for a sleigh ride around the sparkling, snowy meadow.
|A perfect Colorado morning for a sleigh ride|
On another morning, ski guides, Mike and Mark, set us up with boots and snowshoes for a hike. Selina's Timber, and Johnny's Amos, are more than willing to tag along. Having the company of these two goofs helped when we were missing our Dooley-dog. Amos will forever be your friend if you throw chunks of ice for him to fetch, and Timber loves to pounce in the snow, bury his head, and frantically dig for whatever he's heard scurrying below.
|Ranch Dogs, Amos and Timber|
Skate skiing is quite popular at the ranch. I had never even walked in snowshoes, or tried conventional cross-country skiing, and need much more practice before I attempt skate skiing with Steven and Cynthia.
John and I spent a morning out on the trails, photographing the skiers and everything else we could capture. On another morning, we walked through the pasture to visit the 90+ horses and explored the awesome barn. In the summer, guests put on their boots for an evening of music and two stepping in the loft.
|Skiing the fresh powder with Amos|
|One of the yearlings|
|Rows of saddles up in the loft|
On the way back to the Ski Hut, we found Ella and Louis, squealing with glee as they tubed down the hill. Of course, Timber was there to join in the fun.
|Tubing with Timber|
After skiing or hiking off breakfast, Chefs Clyde, Craig, Hunter, JD, Owen and John were back in the kitchen, or outside by the grill, creating something extraordinary for lunch. Two soups, and three or four salads, were always available for a lighter meal or first course. Additional options may include bison burgers, fajitas, pasta, poultry and fish.
|Soups, and Grilled Chicken or Steak Fajitas|
Horseback riding is saved for the afternoon, when the temperatures are a little warmer and the trails less icy. The scenic and peaceful winter trail winds down through the aspens and along the edge of the river, takes about an hour, and leaves time for an afternoon ski, or curling up with a book in the lodge with ranch cat, Buster.
|Wranglers, Kelly and Alec|
|Nourishing my inner cowgirl, on Brown Jug|
The guides are always willing to take a drive off-ranch to nearby towns, lakes and trails. We spent a few hours one afternoon with Mike down by the river, where he introduced us to the Dipper - North America's only truly aquatic songbird. It catches all of its food underwater in swiftly flowing streams by swimming and walking on the stream bottom. Mike has it made, as a ski guide during the winter in Colorado, and captain of his own whale watching charter boat in Alaska during the summer.
|Dipper, and John's ice photography|
Chef Clyde grows his own produce in the summer and sources his game as close to home as possible. The ranch has its own pigs and cattle, and plans on adding chickens in the spring. To accompany him in the kitchen, Clyde recruits young, talented chefs from culinary institutes across the United States to work at the ranch.
|Chef Clyde making southwestern sausage|
|Chef Hunter making Cavetelli pasta|
Some of the kids at the ranch were invited to the kitchen to help prepare the dinner rolls, and bake cookies to fill the bottomless cookie jars in every room and cabin. Louis was so proud to have helped Owen make these Yam Clover Rolls and admonished his sister when she gave away the secret ingredient before they were served.
|Clover Rolls alla Louis|
Before you know it, the sun is setting the sky on fire and everyone is gathered in the lodge for wine, cocktails, and hors d'oeuvres.
|Sunset over the meadow and reflecting on the dining room windows|
|Oysters on the Half Shell, Flatbread|
The dinner entrees were unbelievable. Of course, we overindulged with what we don't typically eat at home - venison, duck, elk, guinea fowl, and goose. Fish and vegetarian options are also offered nightly.
|One of the fresh, delicious salads offered as the first course|
|Lamb and Mushroom Risotto|
I don't know about you, but I'm not used to eating three meals a day, two with dessert, and cookies in between. I justified doing so this week because we had to photograph as many dishes as possible, and then couldn't let them go uneaten ;-) And Owen, new to the ranch as pastry chef, knocked our sweet socks off.
|Owen rolling pear strudel for the breakfast pastry of the day|
|Pear Tart, Chocolate Bouchon, Espresso Crème Brûlée|
I could go on and on with more photos and stories of our week at The Home Ranch, but I think I should leave you now, with a promise to share more photos and a few recipes in some follow up posts. Enjoy the rest of the weekend, and maybe we'll run into you at the ranch during our next visit.
Update: Here's a follow up post, with more photos of horses and inside the barn, with a recipe for soup! Horses, Barns and Soup
Full Disclosure: We were guests of The Home Ranch for the week, in exchange for photography services. We provided our own air transportation, and paid for alcohol and gratuities. We were not obligated to write about our experience, and all of the opinions expressed herein are our own.