Here’s What Having a Ski Mountain to Yourself is Really Like
When a dirtbag journalist and her daughter roll into a five-star private catskiing ranch, one of them fits in just fine.
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I’m sitting at a restaurant table with my 14-year-old daughter, Cate, at Brush Creek Ranch in Saratoga, Wyo. It’s our first meal here, and I should be focused on whether I want beef or trout, sparkling or still, white or red. I should be appreciating the sheepskin-covered barstools, the soaring wood-beamed ceilings, the warmth of the fire, and the time spent with my offspring.
And all I can think about is my socks.
One is long and gray and worn at the big toe, the other short and bright pink—both fished from the sock bin just before we loaded up the car to drive from our home in Denver.
When we pulled into the ranch’s dirt road—just past a sign that said, “Beef Improvement Center,” where we imagined cows going to group therapy and doing water aerobics—a polite kid in a polo shirt driving a Dodge Ram arrived to escort us through the sagebrush-dotted hills. Before taking the keys to my Smartfood-strewn Subaru to unload our luggage, which included a Safeway bag stuffed with still-wet laundry, he pulled over at the main lodge and ushered us into dinner. That’s when he invited us to remove our shoes.
“Honey, how bad is it?” I ask Cate as I try to tuck one foot under the other. “Would it be worse if I took them off?” I thought about the last time I had gotten a pedicure. Long enough ago for the black part of both big toenails to have grown out to the midway point.
“Mom, oh my God, stop freaking out. No one’s looking at your feet.”
She is right, of course. But only because, aside from the woman who checked us in and the friendly waiter, there is no one here to do the looking. “People haven’t really discovered this place in the winter yet,” the waiter says. He, incidentally, is an alum of my alma mater, Colorado College, and is applying for a master’s degree in hospitality. He looks like he’s 15 years old. “You guys are going to love it here.”
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Then, Cate smoothly orders the chicken pot pie and a Sprite. She appears to feel a level of comfort here that makes me wonder if I gave her too many Christmas presents. I, meanwhile, panic and order the bone-in pork chop, immediately wishing I had ordered the ranch salad instead. As a travel writer, I have been invited to a lot of nice places, a perk of the job that goes a long way in padding the paychecks, but this place is next level, the kind of fancy that doesn’t need to be fancy at all.
Brush Creek Ranch began as sort of a passion project for Bruce White, chairman and CEO of White Lodging, which operates luxury hotels all over the country. The 30,000-acre property, which opened to the public in 2011, consists of 25 guest cabins, a main lodge with 19 rooms, horse barns, a bakery, a 20,000-square-foot greenhouse, a goat creamery, a distillery, a wine cellar the size of a football field, and, naturally, a herd of wagyu cattle.
The ranch is positioned as a luxury adventure property, with carefully catered horseback riding, flyfishing, shooting, rock climbing, snowmobiling, and—this is what we’re here for—catskiing on nearby Green Mountain, which is owned by the ranch and skiable only to its guests, who, by our count so far, consist of pretty much just us.
Cate and I have completely stuffed ourselves—the baked carrots with carrot-top pesto and goat crema elevated that simple vegetable to divine—though I am dismayed that I haven’t even made it through half of my plate. Or, for that matter, through the giant, hot, gooey skillet chocolate chip cookie with a scoop of melting ice cream they brought us for dessert. Cate sees the look on my face, which apparently says, “to-go box,” and puts her hand on my arm. “Mom, don’t. You don’t even know if there’s a fridge in the room or not. And they feed us like this three times a day.”
The waiter circles back to see if we need anything else, and I ask for the check. “Oh no, you’re all set. Everything is included here.” I pause. “Everything?” He laughs. “Yes, unless you order something special from our cellar. Anyone care for a $3,200 shot of bourbon?”
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We scoot our chairs back and pad through the dining room, one bright pink sock flashing, past the second open fireplace, past a snack table with “free chips and LaCroix” Cate whispers, and sit down on the benches by the entry to put on our shoes. We follow the heated patio pavers past the fitness center and saloon, where, as I would find out later during a fun adult happy hour and Cate during an excruciating teenage game of pool, everything is also included. Cate navigates us up is a little gravel walkway that wends around several other cabins, all made of the same logs and mortar.
A small deck wraps around the cabin that’s ours, and inside, it’s “the perfect example of rustic-chic,” I explain to Cate. She rolls her eyes.
We unpack our ski stuff, as we’re heading up to the mountain after breakfast, and I hang the wet clothes in the Safeway bag on the glass shower door. I change into pjs, stuff the telltale socks into the side pocket of my backpack, and smile as Cate yells from the bed. “Mom, we need pillows like these. They’re amazing.”
We wake in the morning to a spring day warm enough to ski without jackets, and the snow surface is fast in the shadows and slow in the sun. The two of us have it all to ourselves—1,100 vert, 225 skiable acres of trails, 12 runs, a guide, a cat driver, two cattle dogs, and a chef at the summit yurt making us lunch. Granted, the terrain is all pretty mellow, with groomed blues that roll through the woods, and the snow is a little manky off-piste. But still. How is Cate ever going to top this in her life?
“Mom, why are you in portrait mode?” Cate demands, swiping through the photos I just took of her, riding up a private mountain all by herself in a shiny new Pisten Bully snowcat. Not only do I not know the answer to her question, but I also don’t know how to impress upon her just how “extra” this experience is.
I remember years ago, when I took her for an annual checkup, the doctor asked her where she liked to ski. “My favorite place is Portillo, high up in the Andes,” she said. The doctor raised her eyebrows. “Jackson Hole and then Aspen are probably my next favorites, but I really want to go to Chamonix,” Cate followed up. Then the doctor looked me fully in the face, down at my flip-flops, and then to the exam table where I set my “wallet,” which is, to this day, a credit card, ID, and insurance card bound together with a hair tie. “I write about skiing for a living,” I said quickly and not a little sheepishly, making a mental note to explain again to Cate that these places are not ordinarily accessible to those in our income bracket.
It’s early afternoon, and we’ve explored nearly every cut run on the hill, plus some trees, which would be amazing if the snow weren’t so variable. The cattle dogs have skied a couple of laps with us, racing us down the hill—little clumps of snow flying from their paws—and sometimes winning. I can’t say we’re hungry yet, thanks to the breakfast of French pastries, thick-cut bacon, goat yogurt, and homemade granola, but it’s time to take a break.
“Want to go eat?” I ask, already knowing the answer.
The cat drops us at the summit yurt, where we’re greeted with the smell of chili and cornbread. We take off our boots—Cate points out that this time, my socks match—and walk in on animal skin rugs. There’s a wood-burning fire and a picnic table set for two. We settle in and order drinks.
“Mom,” Cate says, sipping her soda. “Remember when the squirrels ate our lunch?” She was referring to the sack lunch I buried, as I do every other ski day when we’re not at a five-star all-inclusive ski ranch, that was reduced to bits of tin foil scattered on the snow.
“Oh yeah. Those little f*^$ers.” I smile.
“That makes me glad I didn’t grow up this way.”
“What do you mean?” I ask, holding my breath a little.
“Well, I think it would suck if you were just used to this,” she says, looking around. “Then nothing ever feels special. Because I grew up with you, no matter where we are, I’m just always grateful for lunch.”
I laugh at the backhanded compliment, feign offense—“Oh my god”—and then realize something. Cate is exactly where she should be. Grounded, with her head in the clouds on a private mountain in Wyoming.
Plan Your Trip
Brush Creek Ranch is located in Saratoga, Wyo.; the closest airport is Laramie Regional. Denver International Airport, the closest major hub, is about 230 miles south. The ranch is currently offering complimentary round-trip transportation for guests staying at least three nights and coming from cities within 250 miles, including Denver, Fort Collins, Steamboat Springs, Colorado Springs, Cheyenne, Casper, Vail, and Aspen. Skiing at Green Mountain is included for winter stays at the ranch between Jan. 19 and April 1, 2023. Three daily meals, certain beverages, and most activities are also included. Check out packages currently on offer here.