Western Winter Wonderland - Top50 Ranches offering Snowy Winter escapes

BY Jody Dahl | Fri 10 Dec, 2010

As I write, a rather chilly England is enveloped in snow. The whiter-than-white scene resembles something out of a Dickens Christmas classic and sets the backdrop for happy pursuits of snowball fighting, sledging and snowman-building. Britain, however, being completely unprepared for the big freeze, has come to a standstill. Why is it that one of nature’s most beautiful offerings – pure white snow – can’t possibly go hand in hand with normal everyday life? Well, this is Britain we’re talking about and let’s face it, we wouldn’t be happy if we didn’t have some kind of weather-related disaster to moan about.

Scrolling through the various weather forecasts online, I inwardly gasp at predictions of -4 degree lows overnight. Then I click onto ‘average winter lows’ for the likes of Montana, Nebraska and Colorado, and let out a laugh. Minus 15 Centigrade?! For countries and cultures prepared for such conditions, freezing temperatures and knee-deep snow are a normal part of everyday life at this time of year. Here, the cold season is embraced, enjoyed and taken advantage of. I promise myself that next time Britain is due for a hit of snow, I’m off to enjoy it somewhere that can cope with more than a sprinkle. If I’m going to be knee deep in the white stuff anyway, I might as well enjoy it at a ranch!

And when it comes to winter ranch getaways, the choices are endless. Where mountainous ranch terrain makes for great summer horseback riding, it transforms into a skier’s heaven during the colder months. I can’t say I’ve ever set foot on a ski, but one place I would love to go and learn is Montana. Lone Mountain Ranch offers several ski packages here, all of which include lodgings in a cozy log cabin and endless cross-country ski and showshoe trails; and dinner sleigh rides sounds like my kind of way of getting into the festive spirit! Families should also consider a break here in March, when the Big Sky Nordic Ski Festival takes place – a week-long celebration of cross-country skiing including family relays, kids terrain park competitions and some fun, fast and furious races, one of which Lone Mountain ranch guests can compete in for free.

Also based in Montana is Triple Creek Ranch, which provides a whole host of winter activities – from snowmobiles, horseback riding, skiing and car tours; to massages, hot tubs, and fireside dinners in the log cabin. As a keen horseback rider, this is right up my street – especially as the ranch also offers Western Horsemanship weekends and guided rides through Bitteroot Nation Forest. This is also one for foodies, as Triple Creek offers Cooking School weekends and gourmet fine-dining. The ranch even opens its doors to guests on Christmas Day!

Now I love Christmas.  If, like me, it’s Christmas tradition you’re after in a ranch getaway, look no further than Alisal Guest Ranch and Resort. Christmas at the Alisal has been a tradition since 1946, and there is no shortage of activities on one of its all-inclusive breaks – carriage rides, carol singing, crafts and more! As a self-confessed Christmas freak, this sounds like the perfect place to spend the holiday season with family and friends.

And then there’s The Ranch at Rock Creek, which certainly knows how to do festive! Offering traditional holiday celebrations, Rock Creek has managed to get the perfect balance between invigorating exercise and relaxing tranquillity. As a novice skier, this one certainly catches my eye, as the ranch terrain is perfect for both hardcore skiers and those looking to take a leisurely stroll in the snow. Not forgetting, of course, the carriage rides and winter horseback riding this western ranch offers. Says The Ranch at Rock Creek: “There is nothing like riding through fresh powder and experiencing the hush of snow that muffles hoof beats as you explore the ranch on horseback.”

I’d have loved Rock Creek as a kid, too – what with its sledding hills, snowball fights, and hockey or ice skating on one of its frozen ponds. Karaoke, bowling and a big movie screen would have kept me quiet while Mum and Dad, meanwhile, could enjoy a treatment at the ranch’s state-of-the-art spa, followed by a gourmet, candlelit meal by the fire.

Talking of pampering, I’m not one to say no to a bit of ‘me’ time. Tod Mountain Ranch, located in the quiet beauty of Canada’s Louis Creek Valley, is the perfect place to grab just that, with its stunning views, peace and tranquillity. Hearty, home-cooked meals by the fire will keep you warm in the freezing temperatures, and cabin accommodation is nothing short of luxurious. Not that skiers shouldn’t consider Tod Mountain – the ranch is just a 15-minute drive from Sun Peaks Ski Resort, which boasts almost 4,000 acres of skiable terrain.

And when it comes to Christmas, Tod Mountain knows how to do the festive holiday in style! For starters, the ranch’s Christmas tree was grown right there on the ranch and each year, is decorated with hundreds of twinkly lights and shiny baubles. Spend a Christmas Eve with local ranchers at the country church’s annual carol service, followed by mulled wine and mince pies back at the ranch. If you’ve any room left on Christmas Day, you can tuck into a traditional Christmas feast before relaxing and enjoying the comfort, calm and tranquility of the ranch. The only thing stopping me from booking up right away is the fact that horseback riding doesn’t run at Tod Mountain over the winter months – however for those who love the Western lifestyle but aren’t too fussed about saddling up over Christmas, this is the perfect winter escape.

All this talk of snow is giving me a taste for a skiing break – and for just that with a touch of luxury, Latigo Ranch in Colorado ticks all the boxes. A dude ranch by summer, Latigo transforms into a cross-country ski destination when winter comes, thanks to the 65km of classic and skate tracks it boasts – and which you’ll most likely have all to yourself! The thought of hitting the slopes in the day and then heading back to the cabin for a hearty meal and a soak in the hot tub sounds like my idea of heaven.

Knowing how so many beautiful ranches embrace the cold snap during the winter months, I’m more than ready to pack up my thermals and head straight to Heathrow Terminal 5. That’s if it hasn’t been shut down due to ‘adverse weather conditions’...

Signing off...Mel Rutherford, Horse & Rider, Pony Mag, UK

TAGS: winter ranch vacation

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