The ranch compound lies about a half-mile below. It would take two minutes to drive, but right now no vehicles are allowed on the roadway. This route to the ranch is reserved for us sledders.
I center my Flexible Flyer on its snow-packed crown. A ranch hand’s foot chocks the sled while I drop on top, belly down, face forward, legs up.
“Ready?” he asks.
Away I fly, eyes blurring and my nose a quick drip from the ground. I struggle to keep the bending, bouncing conveyance atop the ice-rutted surface while shrieking downward at speeds that could get me ticketed in a residential zone.
Three screams later, I reach road’s end. There, a 7-year-old fellow sledder looks up at me.
“Doing it again, mister?” she asks. Of course I am.
As an alternative to the usual ski resort getaway, my wife Dianne and I have chosen to bunk down at the C Lazy U Guest Ranch. Located near Granby, Colorado, this poster child for rustic elegance is one of the state’s few dude ranches that offer full winter services, including horses.
We pony up for an afternoon trail ride. Clad in Wyatt Earp-style dusters, Dianne and I mount our mounts. A wrangler leads us up hills, across ravines and through glades. We finally stop atop an expansive overlook where, on a clear day, the views are pure eye candy. At least that’s what he claims. Today, a leaden sky snuffs the peaks, and the air has the clarity of wax paper. By the time we return to our cabin, flakes are falling.
The ranch features 40 accommodations, and the aroma of wood smoke scents the air. A blaze soon graces our fireplace, too. Snuggling in its glow, Dianne and I stare out at dime-size snowflakes wafting to the ground. I’d linger longer in our romantic confines, but my wife says it’s time for cocktails and dinner.
C Lazy U began as a dude ranch in 1919, and its original advertisement bragged that guests could enjoy horseback riding, trout fishing, bear hunting and all-you-can-eat steak and apple pie. These days, those bears are rare, the all-you-can-eat menu remains equally filling but more varied, and C Lazy U offers far more than fillies and fish to keep us occupied, especially in winter.
The ranch maintains 25 kilometers of snowshoe and cross-country ski trails; they Zamboni-groom a frozen pond for ice skating and hockey; and they feature two styles of inner tubing.
There’s the downhill variety, which involves a plunging descent of a high hillside. We squat into tubes at the top, and a ranch hand gives a launching shove. Plummeting downhill, we’re totally at the mercy of gravity and friction, and on this slick-as-Teflon surface, the latter’s in short supply. The few who fail to heel drag at the base get to posthole back through willows and powder.
Then there’s meadow tubing, where a snowmobile pulls an inner tube around a flat field. At least it looks flat. In reality, the terrain feels as undulating as my grandmother’s washboard. Bottoms bouncing and faces plastered with spindrift, we are flung at NASA-worthy G-forces behind a racing snowmobile driven by a NASCAR-wannabe.
While all this was fun, what Dianne and I really came to the ranch for is snowcat skiing. C Lazy U features a cat-accessed, guest-only ski area about the size of a New England resort, but with far better snow.
The terrain varies from beginner bunny runs to bowls, chutes, steeps and trees for those more experienced. And there’s plenty in between. We do a few warm-up runs on intermediate-grade groomers.
Then we’re off to the fun stuff in an afternoon of pure downhilling ecstasy with no lift lines to endure and no Bode Miller-wannabes using us as human slalom gates.
After slope sliding, my wife needs kneading. She books us into the ranch’s Lazy You Spa.
Across the river from the main compound, Lazy You consists of heated tents erected atop wooden platforms. One holds a side-by side pair of bathtubs. Except for their copper color, they could have come straight from a Cialis commercial. We’re here, my wife hints with a glint, for the Western Wash Couples Soak.
We simmer in these copper kettles for about 45 minutes, sipping Champagne and eating chocolate-dipped strawberries. Then we don robes and march over to the massage tent for 15 minutes of light massage. When it’s all over, the staff offers to drive us to our cabin. We decline, opting instead to walk.
The air feels brisk. Our feet crunch the packed snow. The sun has dropped behind the hills and the first stars of evening grace a darkening sky. The ambience seems perfect and the time right. I squeeze Dianne’s hand.
“Let’s go back to the cabin and …”
“Not now,” my wife interrupts. “It’s time for cocktails and dinner.”
If You Go
When to Go: Holiday Season at the C Lazy U, which begins Dec. 21, is a very popular time and reservations should be made well in advance. Winter Playtime begins Jan. 2 and, with the exception of Presidents Day Weekend, tends to be relatively uncrowded. The best snow conditions typically occur from mid-January through early-March. Contact C Lazy U Ranch (970-887-3344, www.clazyu.com) for information or reservations.
Getting there: C Lazy U is located 6.5 miles northwest of Granby, Colorado, on Colorado Highway 125. From Denver, it’s a two-hour drive over Berthoud Pass.
Other Colorado Dude Ranches: Contact the Colorado Dude and Guest Ranch Association (866-942-3472, www.coloradoranch.com) to learn more about other Colorado ranches.
Dan Leeth is a freelance writer who lives in Aurora, Colorado. Check out his website, www.lookingfortheworld.com.