A Winter Getaway

Amidst another period of freezing temperatures with bone-chilling winds and the persistence of our nearly monochrome winter vegetation starved of warmth and water, I longingly and somewhat incredulously gaze at the colorful images shared by fellow bloggers from Texas, and Florida, where springtime seems to be in full swing (check out the floral profusion in TX in the following posts: https://portraitsofwildflowers.wordpress.com/2023/03/23/two-takes-on-a-certain-floral-twosome/, https://lindaleinen.com/2023/03/24/the-color-peddler/, and floral and avian riches of FL here: https://ournaturalplaces.com/2023/03/22/spring-mix/).

Our location at 6,000 feet between the western fringe of the Great Plains and eastern foothills of the Rocky Mountains is responsible for winters that aren’t wintry in a picture book kind of way. Fortunately, other areas of Colorado are exactly that, and thanks to above-average snowfalls in most mountainous regions of the state this year, winterscapes existed (and still exist) elsewhere.

One highlight of our winter was an escape to one such winterscape in February. Snow Mountain Ranch in Grand County between Winter Park and Granby is one of two facilities run by the YMCA of the Rockies (the second being Estes Park Center near Rocky Mountain National Park in Larimer County). We discovered Snow Mountain Ranch a number of years ago because of its reputation as a destination for Nordic skiing and used to visit regularly, but hadn’t for four long years, owing to reasons related to the pandemic and personal health challenges.

In a state renowned for its downhill or alpine skiing, not everybody is aware that it also provides alternatives. Nordic skiing differs from downhill skiing in that the skis are longer and skinnier and the skier propels her- or himself by a gliding and kicking motion on classic skis, or a skating motion on skate skis, aided by ski poles. Though either style can be practiced on any surface covered in snow and many people do just that (think golf course or soccer field), Nordic centers “groom” the snow with heavy equipment and typically set parallel tracks in which to classic-ski, and smooth out the surface of an adjacent area for skate-skiing.

While some skiers like to escape into the serenity and relatively unpeopled backcountry, groomed trails have certain advantages: one can easily fall into a rhythm without having to pay attention to potential avalanche danger or concealed objects under the snow injurious to skis or skier. And serenity is still within reach as one often finds oneself alone on one of the many kilometers of trails, enjoying the sense of invigorating movement on the glistening white snow under the dome of a blue sky, where one’s only companions might be hardy corvids, chickadees, squirrels, or even moose, though the latter were elusive during this most recent vacation (not so during a previous one).

Pine squirrel with pine cone

Nordic skiing is an Olympic discipline in which athletes accomplish impressive feats of both speed and endurance. Suffice it to say, we aren’t Olympic athletes. After four years of not skiing, we were simply pleased that we hadn’t forgotten how to, even if our breathing was labored at 8,700 feet and various arm and leg muscles were complaining about the unaccustomed strain—the perfect excuse to spend a day alternating between the swimming pool and sauna, which are also part of the many conveniences at Snow Mountain Ranch. Snowshoe trails afford another, less technical mode to explore the gorgeous setting.

Both YMCA of the Rockies facilities pride themselves of being family friendly and it’s no exaggeration to claim that they offer something for everyone. And even if we don’t usually make use of the gym, ice-skating rink, sledding hill, or crafts lessons, one could easily keep the entire family busy with a variety of activities. Colorado has other attractive Nordic Centers also accessible in three or four hours, but all are less affordable than Snow Mountain Ranch, where the fee for one night includes accommodation at one of three lodges or at one of multiple cabins, a day pass to the Nordic Center, plus a breakfast buffet at a common dining hall for lodge guests. Special deals (such as pay for two nights, stay a third night for free) make a mini-vacation even more appealing and affordable.

Indian Peaks Lodge, our “home away from home” for four nights in February

Our lodge room, which also included a bathroom, fridge, and microwave

View from our room’s balcony

Predawn view from our room’s balcony with the Nordic Center in the center

Former Rowley Homestead, now part of Snow Mountain Ranch

Columbine Point, one of the most scenic sites at Snow Mountain Ranch and a popular wedding venue

We are grateful for this beautiful high mountain valley, and grateful to have added to our fond memories of the place. We are also determined not to wait another four years before we return, and to experience it in the summer, when we will be greeted by vast stretches of wildflower meadows rather than expanses of snow. It’s something to dream of while waiting for spring to arrive.

Cloudscape and winterscape at Snow Mountain Ranch

58 thoughts on “A Winter Getaway

  1. Ein interessanter Bericht über diese verträumte Ranch in der herrlichen Winter-Landschaft und den Langlaufsport. Ich bin in den 1970er Jahren im Winter manchmal mit den Langlaufskis noch unterwegs gewesen. Heutzutage gibt es im schweizerischen Mittelland keine Winterlandschaften mehr.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Vielen Dank, lieber Ernst. Das ist wirklich ein ganz besonderes Stück Erde.
      Wie traurig, daß es in im Schweizer Mittelland keine Winterlandschaften mehr gibt. Zu viele Menschen, zu viel Bebauung und Klimawandel sind überall für den Verlust wunderbarer Landschaften verantwortlich.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Glad to hear you had such an enjoyable time with your winter activities. The lenticular cloud in your last photograph could (with some imagination) pass for a large alien spacecraft that might have led you into adventures of a different kind.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The advantage of living in a place with real winters is the possibility to engage in many fun hibernal activities, including skiing, snowshoeing, and sledding. It’s less fun having to deal with wind and drought, but that being said, we can be outdoors on most days year-round, at least for a few hours, so I shouldn’t complain so much.

      And no matter how appealing space travel is to some people, I doubt there is another planet as welcoming and wonderful as our little speck of blue in the immensity of space, so I would be happy to relinquish my seat on the alien spacecraft to you.


  3. Pat and I love this place! We stayed here a few years back. We’re actually thinking about going skiing this weekend… maybe it’s time for a return trip to Snow Mountain!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Every region has its charm and beauty waiting to be discovered. My heart is also bleeding when I look at the pictures of Steve’s wildflowers, and we are still surrounded by snow and ice. Yet the songbirds are chirping, and spring cannot be far, even in our northern area.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. It’s a beautiful area, if so very cold. Your spring will come soon and those of us in warmer climates will envy the cool summer temperatures.

    I love Estes Park and hope to go back one day–good memories of my one trip there.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Tina. I’m not sure why winter seems extra long this year, but I’m sure you are right and spring will arrive when it’s the proper time.
      It’s getting to the point where we are also dreaming of escaping into the mountains in the summer, as the thermometer along the Front Range climbs into the 90s more and more. Not a good trend.
      I hope you will make it back to Estes Park. We stayed at the YMCA facility there once and also plan to return. It would be best to do so in the off season, as it’s a very busy place.


    • Thank you, Maggie. The views at Snow Mountain Ranch hold a special appeal as they are grand from nearly every vantage point. It’s great to look up while skiing 0r from the lodge and to see the valley and surrounding mountain ranges.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. What an absolutely stunning winter wonderland! Even my warm Florida blood would put up with the cool air for vistas such as this!

    The lodge looks magnificent. A perfect spot to recharge one’s batteries.

    (Thank you for the gracious comments!)

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m glad Colorado’s cool vistas are appealing even to a hot Floridian, Wally (that’s what you meant, right?). 😊

      And it’s my absolute pleasure to promote your blog. I enjoy every visit and have learned a lot from you and Gini.


    • Thank you, Ann. It’s funny you mention the squirrel. I was out on my snowshoes with camera in tow and, during a brief stop, heard a soft noise high in the tree, where this little animal was enjoying its breakfast. I was afraid it might scurry off, as its kind is usually fairly shy, but was glad when it stayed put and allowed me to take a couple of photos.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. You found a great spot for your getaway, Tanja. I was scrolling a little too fast and a quick glance at the squirrel gave me the impression first of a simian face and then something more feline before I saw the little rodent.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Looks beautiful and very tranquil, although probably a bit too cold for this wimpy Brit (I’ve never been on a ski in my life!). I love that squirrel, who’s plainly enjoying his breakfast.

    Liked by 1 person

    • On a sunny and calm day, it’s quite comfortable, even when the temps are in the teens or 20s. But when the wind blows, which is does often, it can get quite unpleasant. We actually took one such day off and lounged around the pool and the sauna. There is no shame in that. 😊
      The little squirrel, on the other hand, is out there in any kind of weather. All local creatures who stay there year-round have to be very hardy. They have my full respect!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Both the squirrel and the snow are immensely appealing, but I’ll admit I envy your sighting of that cloud. It’s one form that I’ve never seen, and I’d love to. Since lenticulars are said to form most often around mountains, my chances are a little slim.

    Thanks so much for mentioning my wildflower photos. They’re lovely, but when I lived in Salt Lake City and hiked up into the canyons in the Wasatch, I often came across wonderful Alpine meadows. When your ‘real’ spring has come, I know you’ll see some of the same sights, and share them with us. I can’t wait! Now, if only I could bottle some of that ‘coolth’ emanating from your photos, to make use of in August!

    Liked by 1 person

    • The cloud was quite impressive cloud, Linda, and it obviously stopped me in my tracks. I wasn’t aware that lenticular clouds are most common around mountains, but I will try to pay closer attention.

      It was my pleasure to link to your wonderful wildflower photos. And while it’s true that Colorado has lovely wildflowers, too, and that alpine meadows are breathtakingly beautiful in more ways than one, the drought has repeatedly limited floral profusion. But this winter brought much snow to the mountains and we are hoping for a good flower year.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Nordic skiing looks like a good workout and possibly a fun activity but near impossible to learn if one does not live in an area with snow on the ground – oh well, ya can’t do everything….

    We once rented a cabin at a place near Estes Park called “YMCA of the Rockies”. Is the Snow Mountain Ranch the same place or different?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Snow definitely helps in one’s attempt to learn Nordic skiing, even though there are “skis” that can be used on the road or even the back country. And depending on your intensity, it can be a great workout.
      The YMCA of the Rockies runs two resorts in Colorado: The Snow Mountain Ranch of this blog post, and another one near Estes Park, where you stayed. That one doesn’t have a Nordic Center, but it provides great access to Rocky Mountain National Park. I hope you enjoyed exploring the area.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Yikes, I’m no stranger to endurance activities, but I draw the line at nordic skiing, you people are crazy hehehehe. Just kidding of course.. well, about the crazy part, I’m still not going to do it. Been a while since I vacationed in the white stuff – used to snowboard all the time, but haven’t had the time – doesn’t help we are gone most winter months these days. My friend always stays at the YMCA at Estes Park and loves it there. I will have to tell him about this option as well. 8700ft (I am hoping that extra zero was just a typo), now that would be a tough run! Thanks for sharing a place I wasn’t aware of.

    Liked by 1 person

    • What, you have never been to an elevation of 87,000 feet?! It REALLY helps you produce extra red blood cells, which would make you run faster than all the other participants in your races. You should try it! 😊

      It’s funny that nobody else seemed to notice that extra 0 (or if they did, they didn’t comment on it). And they say adding a 0 adds nothing!

      Liked by 1 person

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