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Ski Resort Life

Home on the Ranch

A stay at Devil’s Thumb Ranch offers a very different ski vacation—along with a chance to unplug.

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Après-ski at Devil’s Thumb Ranch isn’t your typical drinks-at-the-bar-soak-in-the-hot-tub-head-out-to-dinner type of experience. Rather, after a long day pounding the moguls at Mary Jane, hunker down for a mean game of Clue, glass of pinot in hand, slippers on your feet. Fold into an overstuffed leather couch in the airy, mountain-rustic loft that overlooks Heck’s Tavern—so named for the hexagonal stone hearth that rises three stories to the ceiling’s pine beams. The space is packed with rocking chairs, chess sets, Western knickknacks and dozens of old-fashioned board games: Monopoly, Life, Scrabble, Sorry and, of course, Clue.

You don’t come to Devil’s Thumb Ranch to network or to “be seen.” In fact, this place makes being a hermit tempting: You could easily spend your entire vacation at the ranch—skiing on the more than 100 kilometers of groomed nordic trails, playing candle-pin bowling in the game room, browsing books on Colorado history in the wood-paneled library—but the slopes of Winter Park are 15 minutes away. At day’s end, returning to the cowboy cuisine, comfortably worn-in couches and good ol’ Western hospitality makes for a truly unique ski vacation—even if you don’t own a 10-gallon hat.

Opened in 1946 as a working ranch, Devil’s Thumb was purchased in 2001 by Bob and Suzanne Fanch, who saved it from becoming a golf course. Since then, they’ve steadily added amenities—16 ridge-top cabins, two restaurants, pool, 12,000-square-foot spa and 52-room lodge with fitness room, game room, theater, coffee shop and 106-seat Heck’s Tavern.

Woody, warm and welcoming, Heck’s may as well be the ranch’s living room, kitchen and lounge rolled into one. Three meals are served here daily—though the Ranch House Restaurant offers a white-tablecloth option for dinner, and Hallowed Grounds is great for a latte and a cinnamon roll. Heck’s menu is Colorado casual, organic when possible, always tasty and often local—much of its beef comes from nearby Granby’s Morales Farms, an organic and sustainable operation. And meat is big on the menu (it is a ranch, after all). Venison with caramelized onions and Colorado lamb burgers are served in big portions, followed by white-chocolate bread pudding with caramel ice cream. Roll back to your room without wrestling with the zipper on your parka, never mind wait for a shuttle.

The lodge opened in the spring of 2005, styled after the National Park lodges of the early 20th century. And it’s not just the architecture of those lodges that the Fanches were after, but the spirit, too. They envisioned a place where people can unplug. “Our lives these days are so fast- paced, high-tech and over-programmed, says Suzanne Fanch. “We hope the ranch is a place where individuals are inspired to reconnect with parts of themselves that need some nurturing.”

And they don’t just talk the talk. No TVs in the rooms (except the cabins). No alarm clocks. And a commitment to preserving the land that fosters such connections. To that end, the Fanches are developing just two percent of their 5,000 acres. That’s 90 acres. They installed a geothermal radiant heating system to harvest the earth’s natural warmth and save electricity. The ceiling and all the trim inside the lodge is beetle-kill pine, plus, the owners used logs from forest maintenance thinning programs to construct buildings and fencing. And watch what you throw in the garbage: The janitorial crew collects recyclables from guests’ trash. Now that’s dedication.

The complimentary shuttle to Winter Park runs by request from lobby to base village and back. True, it’s far from ski-in/ski-out, but Devil’s Thumb might be the right choice for a group with a nonskier or two—or a family who would be happy mixing up a few ski days with a horseback ride through snowy evergreens.

Or early morning yoga amid views of the Continental Divide. Or, of course, a rousing game of Clue by the fireplace.

Rates: $210–$755 per night for a lodge room or suite; $315–$1,165 per night for a cabin; 800-933-4339

– SKI Magazine, November 2008