Certificate of Excellence
Forbes Magazine calls us an Under the Radar Western Playground
For original article, click here.
Nordic skiing is the undersung player in the snow sports world—a reliable Betty to downhill’s glamorous Veronica.
But dependability has its charms, as I was recently reminded during a stay at Devil’s Thumb Ranch Resort & Spa, just outside Winter Park and about a 90-minute drive from Denver. It’s a heck of a workout—easily torching 750 calories an hour, according to industry figures—lets you take in some stunning mountain scenery, keeps you warm (no cooling your heels on a chairlift), and comes with a relatively low risk of hitting a tree or blowing out a knee. And when you see accomplished skiers tear up the trails—as pros and Olympians often do at Devil’s Thumb—it’s hard not to appreciate the athleticism.
But it’s not just the hotshots who enjoy the snow here. The 80-plus miles of impeccably groomed trails include plenty of beginner runs, and the instruction and rental gear are top-notch. There are also options for skiing with your dog and lighted trails for nighttime skiing. (The season goes through April, with some of the best snow in March.)
The ranch itself—which is open year-round and shifts its focus to horseback riding in summer—is also a bit of a Betty. It has copious practical spaces for meetings (its business is about 50-50 corporate and leisure, and there are quite a lot of cowboy weddings). There’s a huge variety of lodging options and prices, from a room in a bunkhouse with a shared bathroom (from $100) to a large and luxurious “log cabin” with four bedrooms (from $1,230). (My standard room in the main lodge was comped.) The 52 (as of now, though a new lodge building will add another 35 this year) traditional guest rooms have niceties like heated bathroom floors, giant pebbled showers, and gas fireplaces, and work well enough to make up for slightly bland design and occasional parking lot view.
As for the lack of Western trappings like fur throws and antler chandeliers, that’s not an oversight: The owners, a family in Denver, made a conscious choice to favor kindness over cruelty. Unlike many guest ranches, Devil’s Thumb doesn’t allow hunting or snowmobiling, which has a nice side effect of increasing your odds of spotting wildlife on the property. Of the ranch’s 6,000 acres, only about 90 have been developed. The boutique sells all-natural, locally made products, and the (very good) spa uses the organic Eminence line. Heat is geothermal, and the fireplaces are EPA approved.
That emphasis on sustainability extends to dining. Food is generally local and organic, and the ranch has recently gotten into the grass-fed beef game, acquiring about 50 head of purebred Wagyu cattle last year, which it says makes it the first in the country to raise Wagyus. (Admittedly the cruelty-free philosophy breaks down a little here, but this is Colorado, and one presumes those pasture-roaming cows live a pretty sweet life.)
Meals are much better than they have to be, considering the remote location and hungry clientele. Both the higher-end Ranch House Restaurant and the all-day Heck’s have a convivial fireplace-warmed vibe. Even without taxidermy and skins, they have a certain Western panache. And their menus are more sophisticated than one often finds in these parts—think silky curried-cauliflower soup, sautéed abalone (via FedEx), and an appealing riff on Nicoise salad, in addition to the expected ranch-raised beef and wild game. There’s also a deservedly popular après-ski happy hour, with live music, $3 wine, and dollar microbrews.
Which points out another perk of Nordic skiing: working up enough of an appetite to splurge on a brew or two before a hearty dinner with no caloric guilt.