Twenty maintained trails on privately owned ski hills accessed only by snowcat — I’d call it the best private snowcat skiing west of the Rockies. No lift lines… no crowds… just you and the hill — and if you’re lucky like my family was with some cooperation from Mother Nature, perhaps more than a foot of freshly fallen snow.
That’s what we experienced during our stay at Three Forks Ranch, a ranch resort (with an authentic working cattle operation) on more than 200,000 acres stretching across the border of Wyoming and Colorado, north of Steamboat Springs. The Lodge at Three Forks Ranch accommodates just 30 people in the winter season, in 15 spacious luxury rooms and suites. With an expansive staff — from restaurant servers to outdoor-activity guides to the friendly front-desk crew — personalized service is top-notch here. Especially when it comes to skiing.
As I said, my family of four lucked out during our stay at Three Forks Ranch in early March with a huge snowstorm that began just as we settled into our digs on the upper terrace of the 35,000-square-foot lodge. (My husband and I were in the Three Forks Suite with balcony hot tub; kids ages 10 and 12 in the neighboring Oliver Creek deluxe room with two double beds.) The snow continued overnight, which meant that several inches of fresh powder had fallen by the time we woke up for a 9 a.m. ski date with Gary and Jason, our guides, and Brian, our snowcat driver.
Gary and Jason picked us up at the Lodge in one of the ranch’s many Yukons for a 60-second drive to The Igloo, where 0ur skis, poles and boots had already been stored overnight. From the outside, The Igloo looks like a ramshackle barn (it is actually an old homestead building), but inside it’s been totally refurbished and outfitted with a couple dozen open cubbies for storing winter gear (and fishing poles and waders in the summer). After gearing up, we loaded our skis on the exterior rack of our snowcat, dubbed “Pisten Bully,” and climbed aboard.
It took about 25 minutes to get from The Igloo to the top of the ski hill — which is actually divided into east, middle and west trails. The snowcat took some twists and turns up some steep inclines and I felt a little motion sick by the time we got to the top. But with the big flakes of snow coming down, there was no time to waste. We were so eager to hit the trails!
Gary and Jason started us off on a relatively mild slope, where half of it had been groomed the night prior (still with several inches of freshies) and half of it was deep untracked powder. I’m not a big powder skier, so I took my time making my way over the fluffy stuff, but once I did, I loved it!
Again, we had our choice of trails as we neared the bottom of the hill, where staff in a hut warmed by a wood-burning stove waited with hot chocolate, water and snacks — delightful! My kids and husband followed our two patient, kind guides — whom I think were having as much fun as we were — into the trees, while I took a wide-0pen trail. I was thrilled that the kids showed such fearlessness even on unfamiliar terrain. They did amazingly well navigating around tree wells and stumps.
We had only one casualty during our morning of skiing — no broken bones or anything like that. Instead, my daughter took a tumble and her boot came disengaged from her binding. She lost a ski. No, literally lost a ski. We hunted for it for a good 30 minutes or more, poking our ski poles into the snow and digging around her, and could not find it at all! We’re wondering if somehow slid away under the snow, not leaving a trail. We figure the elk will find it this spring…
Instead off having to ski down the snowy terrain on one ski, another Three Forks Ranch outdoor guide picked Kaylin up on a snowmobile and brought her to the warming hut. There, still another staffer guide met us with a set of rental skis, so she was able to take one more run. (I tell you, the accommodating Three Forks Ranch was so hospitable, doing everything they could to make our long weekend extra special and memorable.)
In all, we completed four runs down the mountain before it was time for lunch. I think if we hadn’t spent so much time searching for the lost ski, we would have managed five runs before 12:30 p.m. Each lap takes about a half hour from the time you’re picked up at the bottom by snowcat, you make the drive to the top and then ski down to the bottom.
Apparently there was another group of 5 skiers on the private Three Forks Ranch ski trails when we were, but we never saw them. That is the beauty of skiing on Three Forks Ranch trails – the privacy! Even if the Lodge were maxed out with guests, the snowcats can only carry eight people each, so there’s never more than 16 people on the slopes at one time — talk about elbow room!
Private snowcat skiing is included in the cost of an all-inclusive stay at Three Forks Ranch, which I heartily admit, is not inexpensive. It’s $4,100 per person for a three night stay, which also includes as much snowmobiling, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and tubing you’d like to do (more on these other awesome winter activities in a future blog post); unlimited spa treatments (yes, you read that correctly); three gourmet meals a day; all alcohol (including house wine, beer or any cocktails you drink during a festive happy hour daily before dinner); minibar stocked with water, sodas, juices, snacks; wi-fi and use of an iPad in each room; use of a fitness center and super-cool indoor/outdoor pool, plus indoor hot tubs; transportation from the local airports and round-trip airfare from anywhere in the world.
Start saving your pennies, people. Because if there’s a chance you could ever swing a visit to Three Forks Ranch in the winter, I bet it’ll be the best snowy vacation you’ve ever had. It certainly was mine.
Thanks Three Forks Ranch for providing my family and me with an incredible long weekend at your slice of heaven in the Rocky Mountains.