Rocky Mountain weekender: Grand County

Eric Peterson //March 19, 2010//

Rocky Mountain weekender: Grand County

Eric Peterson //March 19, 2010//

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“I’ll race you down, Uncle Eric,” says Cameron, my cousin’s 8-year-old son. We’re at the top of the Quick Silver lift at SolVista Basin at Granby Ranch. Before I can get my gloves through my pole loops, Cameron is 100 feet ahead. I never catch him. He beats me handily – without making a single turn on his way down.

Later I duck down a blue run on the north side of the mountain and beat Cameron, who sticks to the green so he won’t have to turn (“Do-over!” he protests at the base), and even later I get off a lift while he stays on – by mistake. I’m skiing the mountain with Cameron and his family, who bought a family season pass here for a mere $500, with plenty of gentle terrain for the kids and a few nice cruisers for mom and dad.

After the lifts shut down for the day, I make my way 15 miles south to Devil’s Thumb Ranch , the fantastic lodge-and-cabin Nordic resort below the unmistakable geological formation of the same name.

After checking in, I took a tour of the ranch with DTR staffer Shelly Mattfield. The lodge is a work of art, inside and out, with the perfect balance of rough-and-tumble and upscale luxury. Barbed-wire artworks , ski-framed mirrors, and oil paintings make for always interesting décor, the rooms are rich and bold, and the public areas are perfect places to sit down and absorb the unique atmosphere.

On the lower floor, Shelly shows me the game room – complete with a two-lane coin-operated mini-bowling alley, shuffleboards, and a pair of TVs (half of the ranch’s total – the rooms are perfectly TV-free) – and the adjacent movie theater, which screens a pair of family-friendly films every night. Next up is the fitness room. It looks and smells remarkably fresh even though it’s just passed the two-year mark. “It smells brand-new because hardly anybody uses it,” Shelly says.

We move to the adjacent building, the Broad Axe Barn, a Civil War-era barn relocated from Virginia and painstakingly rebuilt with nary a nail. The barn is now home of the ranch’s resident fine-dining Ranch House Restaurant, the recreation center, and an upstairs event hall. The latter gets plenty of use: The ranch is playing host to weddings on 47 of the 52 weekends in 2010.

Because it’s NCAA tourney pick night, I have dinner at the casual Heck’s Tavern in the main lodge. (It has the resort’s other two TVs.) Named for its hexagonal footprint, the two-story bar and grill is centered on a rock fireplace, likewise a five-sided affair and my favorite fireplace this side of the Old Faithful Inn. A savory tomato soup precedes a succulent pork chop. I can’t resist the chocolate pudding cake for dessert – which proves to be one of the tastiest moments of weakness I’ve had in quite some time.

I wake to the sun slowly lifting the curtain of darkness from my bed’s superlative mountain view. After a Western omelet at Heck’s, I strap on a pair of rentals and hit the trails. A brilliant sun hovers above the back side of the Front Range as I work off the rust resulting from a two-year layoff from cross-country skiing. With the finer points of my form, I’d forgotten just how much body heat cross-country skiing generates. As I drop some gear off in my car after my morning ski, dollops of steam escape from my T-shirt, accompanied by the jingle of bells – a horse-drawn sleigh is making a loop of the meadow below.

I have coffee with Suzanne Fanch, who owns Devil’s Thumb Ranch with her husband Robert. She tells me of the booming business at the ranch’s new-in-2008 spa, the progress of the work at their Saddlery building in LoDo, which the Fanches are turning it into a green mixed-use development by year’s end, and the new Bunkhouse down the road from the main lodge at the ranch, offering rooms starting under $100, about half the rate of the main lodge.

“When we built this property, we wanted it so you could breathe a little bit,” she says of the ranch. “This is a place to gain some perspective and some energy to get refocused.”

I get just that in the form of a Swedish massage in the aforementioned spa, after which my stay at Devil’s Thumb comes to an end.

INFO BOX:
SolVista Basin at Granby Ranch (closes late March): www.solvista.com
Devil’s Thumb Ranch (Full Moon Ski and BBQ on March 27; Wellness Weekend April 9-11; cross-country trails close April 10): www.devilsthumbranch.com
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