Snow Mountain Ranch: A winter playground!

by julie on February 8, 2013

When I learned I was pregnant with Oliver, one of my earliest realizations concerning the inevitable changes a third child would bring was that we’d have to postpone some family activities for a while longer. Camping, hiking, skiing — all of these are more challenging with a wee one in tow, especially when there’s older siblings along who aren’t keen on slowing down.

We’re finally approaching the point where we can do most outdoorsy activities as a family. While I’ve told CJ that we’ll wait until Oliver’s seven before we go back to Black Mountain Ranch, so that everyone can ride together, and Kyle and I don’t dare drag any children under 10 along on another 14er, it’s so cool that we can do pretty much anything else together now.

Our recent trip to Snow Mountain Ranch (apparently we have a liking for _______ Mountain Ranches) is the latest evidence of this new family freedom. After all the fun we had at YMCA of the Rockies last summer, they invited us to check out their winter playground, and we had a ball there too.

Because we didn’t pull the kids out of school early on Friday, it took us a while to get up there, but none of us minded. Snow Mountain Ranch is between Fraser and Granby, with a beautiful trip over Berthoud Pass. (More beautiful in the daytime, with dry pavement, but I’ll still take it over Loveland Pass.)

That evening, we were exhausted enough to simply grab dinner and chill out in the common room our hostess Laura had set up for us. Besides, I knew from experience how busy we’d be the next day.

Sure enough, we rose with the dawn (and what a beautiful dawn it was):

view from room at snow mountain ranch

After a hearty breakfast, we headed off to the dog sledding presentation. Yep, Kristen may have had to travel all the way to Alaska to go dog sledding, but I was introduced to the sport right here in Colorado.

I was genuinely enthralled by YMCA chaplain and musher Steve Peterson’s stories of racing. His love for the dogs was plainly visible, especially as he told us about his former lead dog Yukon, who has since grown too old to race but still comes out with the team.

I didn’t realize how much these dogs love people (and how much they love to run) until we went out to the area where the team was chained, awaiting their chance to pull the sled.

loving the sled dog team

Zig, the dog Kyle’s snuggling, would gently nip at our hands and aughhhrrr whenever we walked away. Ricky, the dog Tacy’s cooing to, would wrap his body around us to keep us right there petting him. Nance, the dog CJ’s practically dozing on, wasn’t as outwardly affectionate, but she has the most gorgeous eyes. CJ in particular, our resident animal lover, spent so much time with the dogs and handled herself so well that even Chaplain Peterson took notice. “Maybe she’ll grow up to be a musher,” he joked.

It was actually to our advantage that the sky remained clouded over. The snow was already packed and icy, making the ride bumpy and cornering difficult. But it’s even more important for the dogs to have chillier weather so that they don’t overheat. They are born to run, and they will run long past the point that it’s healthy, so it’s up to the mushers to ensure that the dogs don’t overdo it.

dog sledding

I’m so thrilled that we had the opportunity to experience dog sledding, and it was surprisingly affordable. All six of us got to ride for $75.

After lunch, all the families in our group went on a sleigh ride, complete with the biggest horses I’ve ever seen, scratchy wool blankets that kept us super warm, and a stop for hot cocoa.

Oh, and a moose sighting.


I have seen some wild animals in their natural habitats, ranging from deer crossing the bike trail as I screech to a halt to avoid hitting a six-pointer, all the way up to baboons lounging by the side of a Ugandan road, but this moose was a whole new ball game. Moose aren’t exactly the friendliest animals, and one of the sleigh drivers told us that horses are downright scared of them. I also remember from our trip to Black Mountain Ranch that horses will save themselves before they’ll save their riders (or passengers). So it was lucky that our sleigh horses kept their cool.

sleigh bells ring, are you listening?

After these chilly activities involving a lot of sitting, we decided a family outing to the pool was in order. While I wasn’t keen to spend summer days in an indoor pool at YMCA of the Rockies, I was all about logging a few laps and scaling the aqua climbing wall at Snow Mountain Ranch.

The girls had to take a swim test to earn green wristbands granting them access to the whole pool. (When the manager started to explain that “if they don’t pass the test…”, Kyle and I couldn’t help snickering.) Tacy and I did swim laps together, and she and CJ and I took turns on the aqua climbing wall. Exactly what it sounds like, the wall arches over the surface of the pool, with handholds and footholds to aid in climbing. Or not; I slipped off several times, but did manage to reach the top and slap the fiberglass plate (the aqua climbing wall equivalent of touching the ceiling after climbing the rope in gym, which I never could do).

Meals are served cafeteria-style, just as they were at YMCA of the Rockies, but with the addition of a fresh prep station that changed with every meal. Philly cheesesteaks, stir fry, omelets, pasta and sauce — these were all worth the wait in line.

The rooms are basic too. Two double beds and a pull-out sofa sufficed for all six of us, and the close quarters don’t matter much when you’re only in your room to sleep and shower. I adore the fact that there’s no TV either.

The lodge is also basic, but the common area with comfy sofas and a roaring fire was a great gathering spot. Plus the kids constructed a fort under the stairs, hanging blankets from both sides, and somehow managing to sync up the same movie on two iPads for about ten of them to watch together. Try getting away with that at a Holiday Inn.

On Sunday, we split up — Kyle and Oliver and Sohee went tubing at Snow Mountain Ranch, and Tacy and CJ and I went skiing at Ski Granby Ranch (another ranch!). Tubing is included as part of accommodations, so it was a great option for those who weren’t up for skiing. (Well, Kyle would have been, but it was my turn for a ski outing.)

Ski Granby Ranch used to be SolVista Basin. I remember driving past it on our way to Black Mountain Ranch, thinking it would be a gorgeous ski area. Not only is it beautiful, with tons of renovations and new construction (as part of the rebranding effort), but it’s super affordable. Tacy has her fifth grade ski pass, and lift tickets for CJ and me were less than $100 total.

Ski Granby Ranch isn’t as busy as Winter Park/Mary Jane (or as pricey), and it’s really family friendly. In fact, the layout of the terrain is absolutely perfect for families, with a centrally located green run (that isn’t ridiculously boring and even has its own area for jumps) and two other lifts — one on either side — to access steeper and longer greens, plus blues and blacks.

snowboarding and skiing at ski granby ranch

CJ and I skied together on the blues, and Tacy joined us for a few runs. Then after lunch (an elegant, sit down lunch that was delicious and not inordinately expensive, like ski lodge meals tend to be), the girls stuck to the green run to perfect their skills, and I checked on them after every second or third run of my own. While the day had started off cloudy, the skies soon cleared up to crystal blue, and I cursed myself for forgetting the sunscreen again.

One more reason I loved Ski Granby Ranch is that it was a piece of cake to get into and out of the parking lot, and from the parking lot to the base. The logistics of skiing back east are far more arduous, or even out here at the larger resorts, and it would kill my desire just to even go skiing. Not so in this case.

Such an amazing weekend. I would gladly return to Snow Mountain Ranch for another family trip, thanks to all the cool activities that are covered as part of the super reasonable accommodations rates, and the proximity to awesome and affordable family skiing and riding at Ski Granby Ranch. Playing outside is fun, no matter what the season.

Huge thanks to YMCA of the Rockies and Snow Mountain Ranch for including our family in this press junket, and covering our meals and accommodations and the sleigh ride. Kyle and I footed the bill for our fun at Ski Granby Ranch, our dog sled rides, and new mittens for Oliver.

Amber's The Mile High Mama February 9, 2013 at 9:02 am

Next time I go to Snow Mountain, I have GOT to do the dog sledding. Beautiful pictures. Glad Granby Ranch turned out so great!

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