Words and Photos by Kim Fuller Published in Snowshoe Magazine
On a clear Sunday morning in late-January, early bird cross-country skiers were gliding on the freshly groomed tracks of Devil’s Thumb Ranch, a resort in Tabernash, Colorado, located 77 miles in the mountains outside of Denver and minutes from Winter Park.
We watched them from our breakfast seats in Heck’s Tavern, an impressive room with high ceilings and picture windows, designed from a lodge at Mt. Hood in Oregon. I was envious of their graceful display, moving with athleticism and speed through the soft winter light. I love early-morning outdoor movement, even when it’s cold, but our cozy seat inside didn’t leave me yearning very long. We had a 9 a.m. yoga class planned, then a snowshoe, then spa time, so I settled in to enjoy a cappuccino and a granola bowl, stealing frequent bites of my boyfriend’s dish of duck potato hash with pan gravy and stonefruit chutney, and our shared side of homemade sausage, right from the ranch.
Wide Open Spaces
Devil’s Thumb Ranch is 6,000 acres, and the spaciousness is tangible from every angle.
The ranch has committed to building on only a small fraction of their wilderness acreage, and the properties amenities reflect their environmental consciousness, using geothermal and solar energy, as well reclaimed wood for all the structures.
If you’re looking for a family friendly, social experience you can find it there, with features like a heated year-round outdoor pool, a game room, and a theater. We were coming for a quiet weekend, away from the crowds of the bustling Vail Valley — a ski area community that we enjoy thoroughly, but a busy place that we also enjoy escaping.
Lodge rooms are available, but for our two-night stay we were in the beautifully rustic Red Quill cabin in the woods, not named after a feather pen, but a fly fishing fly; I, however, thought of the home-away as my writer’s retreat — located a few minutes-drive from the ranch center, and backing right up to trails, and miles and miles of space.
Peaks and Valleys
Shortly after breakfast, we sat on yoga mats looking through a window at the Ranch Creek Valley, watching clouds in the high distance shift with the wind over the Continental Divide.
“I definitely think that the stretching is such an important part of all the outdoor activities that we offer here at the ranch,” shared Tracie Peterson, yoga instructor at Devil’s Thumb. “And then to have these views as well — I feel like it just really complements it, because at first you get to see and appreciate from this view, and then you get to go out and enjoy it afterwards.”
The class felt great — not too rigorous, but good to get the blood pumping for a snowshoe. Devil’s Thumb Ranch has more than 100 kilometers of groomed trails for cross-country skiing, but the main Nordic byways have some special offshoots for snowshoeing. We brought our own boots, snowshoes and poles, so we didn’t need rentals (although setups are available from the on-site Nordic Center, known as Zach’s Mercantile, for $25 per day ($15 for seniors over 65; $10 for kids).
The staff at this basecamp was helpful in pointing out and describing the snowshoe trails. After a big snow the night before, we were told that one area would have some deep sections, so if we went that way we would need to be prepared to break trail. We chose the route that connected right to the back of our cabin: Moosestomp up to the Marker Hill Vista Point. From where we would start, the route would be about 4 kilometers, each way.
The trail was incredibly well-marked, and a nice steady incline for most of the way to the top of the point. Toward Market Hill ridge, the route became a bit steeper and less obvious. We ran into another couple, Mark and Liz Stalnaker of Denver, who had broken the snow path a few minutes in front of us. They had come to the area for a birthday celebration, to get away and to snowshoe.
The Stalnakers bought a day pass to use the trails ($20 per person), but weren’t staying at Devil’s Thumb.
“We are novices, so this is a good level of strenuousness for us,” explained Mark. “This is the first time this year we have snowshoed without children, and we were able to go a couple of miles this time.”
For anyone looking to add more time or rigor to their snowshoe session, there were plenty of ways to explore the area in out-and-back options or loops. For us, the five-mile session look a little over an hour, with our stops included, and it was perfect for some leisurely Sunday recreation.
Back at Heck’s, the lunch menu had small plates to share, warming soups and chilis, and a range of sandwiches, salads and large plates for an après-snow play appetite.
I devoured a quinoa and kale salad, along with a lot of hearty bites of a large portion of pork green chile nachos. We also ordered a game day special, the breaded wings, which were the only disappointment of our stay. The chicken came out cold, and we sent the dish back and lost a little of our appetite.
Dinner on Saturday night had been the culinary highlight. We ate at the Ranch House Restaurant, a fine dining establishment that will please most, from simple palates to veteran gourmands.
The chef’s tasting menu let us try the range of flavors offered at the Ranch House, from their “Field & Sea” specialties, to their “Garden & Meadow” offerings. The stand-out: bacon-wrapped elk with Morales Farms pickled goose berries, house cured meat and gnocchi. Paired with a silky Petit Verdot, I could feel myself sink more deeply into my leather chair with every euphoric bite.
To top off all the time filled with fresh air and great food, we hit the Ranch Creek Spa to experience one of the other things the resort provides so well for guests: restoration. The facility has a contemporary mountain feel, with grounding and earthy decor that makes it all the more easy to settle right in to the upscale changing rooms and spa amenities.
“I think the spa plays a really important role in the mind, body and spirit restoration that’s provided here at the ranch,” said Kate Philbrick, spa and retail manager. “Because not only can you get out in nature and do different activities, but you’re able to really wind down, too.”
The spa menu has a lot of tempting options, and I almost chose to relax my muscles with a hot stone massage (my boyfriend did, and he raved about it). The products used in the spa are top-notch, like the Eminence line used in the facial I selected. The esthetician was great in catering the treatment to my skin, and I liked the add-ons I chose: a hand and foot quench, and a head massage.
On Monday, we left our cabin and the ranch reluctantly, but feeling fully relaxed and restored. Devil’s Thumb is the kind of place that you leave and say, “I can’t wait to come back.”
Truly, I am already ready to return.
Kim Fuller is a freelance writer based in Vail, Colorado.