My husband and I have spent the afternoon working on a jigsaw puzzle in our cozy wood cabin. We came to the mountains to do some weekend hiking, but a vernal rain dampened those plans. Since we have no TV and only one bar showing on the smartphone, the puzzle box on the bookshelf beckoned. This is probably the longest period of time we have spent together doing something other than watch TV. The puzzle’s picture of a waterfall, while beautiful, is proving difficult. We are determined. So determined we’re about to miss dinner at “the Ranch.”
In 1907, the Western Conference of the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) opened a training camp in the majestic Rocky Mountains near Estes Park, CO, several years before the mountains themselves became a national park. It was a place where young men could grow, learn and enjoy the outdoors. In the 1960s, the Western Conference went through a period of rapid expansion and the group wanted to find a place where they could bring their families to share this mountain paradise.
A few of these men set out from Estes Park hiking over the Continental Divide. On the other side they arrived at the vast and stunning Fraser Valley. Surrounded on all sides by soaring white-capped peaks, the valley itself was lush and full of wild life. The men envisioned their children playing in the fields and watching the stars above at night. It was the perfect place to build Snow Mountain Ranch.
Today Snow Mountain Ranch is a part of the YMCA of the Rockies, a place where families of all faiths can spend time in nature while building closer family bonds. With over 5,200 acres of area to explore, the activities at Snow Mountain Ranch are as boundless as the Fraser Valley itself. Guests can swim, ride zip lines, play mini-golf or disc golf, bike and horseback ride and these are just the activities that can be found on the Ranch. Families have the entire valley at their disposal for white water rafting, fishing, and hiking in the surrounding mountains. The best part? Every night of their stay, families can return to the camaraderie of the ranch.
Schlessman Commons is a gathering place for visiting families, mostly because it houses the Ranch’s cafeteria. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, evening food service ends at 7:30 PM so we have 25 minutes to get some food, although we can linger in the dining hall for the rest of the evening. The cafeteria is buffet-style dining with a salad station, pasta station, soup station and two main dishes which change daily.
The dining hall is massive with a high-beamed ceiling and windows that show off the endless sky and it is full of large, round tables that encourage different groups to sit together. Other cafeteria items guests can enjoy are an automatic espresso bar and dessert station. After a filling dinner of grilled chicken, mashed potatoes, rice and carrot cake, we each grab a latte and consider lingering in the hall to chat with fellow diners, but the puzzle is calling, taunting us to return.
The accommodations at Snow Mountain Ranch are as varied as the activities. Individual families can rent cabins, as we did, with two to five bedrooms. The family cabins stand on a hillside surrounded by pines providing seclusion for those who want it, but close enough that several families can rent neighboring cabins for group vacations and family reunions. While the cabins appear rustic, they contain full kitchens and grand stone fireplaces. The largest cabins have TVs and multiple bathrooms. The doors open with old fashioned metal keys and have unique names like Bliss, Jamaa, and Sitzmark. Ours is called Agape. Perhaps that’s because our jaws drop at the view from our front deck. Guests can often find books, games and puzzles left behind by previous guests, which is how we came to be preoccupied by the puzzle.
My husband and I are staying in a three-bedroom cabin, a bit bigger than we need, but it works for us. In fact our family is a great example of why Snow Mountain Ranch is a perfect family getaway. We brought our two dogs, a six-year-old cattle dog and a five-year-old Siberian Husky, both of whom love to hike and explore the outdoors. Dogs are welcome in the family cabins for only $10 per night per dog.
For families who prefer roughing it, 12 yurts are available in a cluster not far from the hillside cabins. Each yurt is one large room containing one queen bed and two sets of bunk beds. Dogs are also welcome here. The yurts are not heated, but available for rent in the winter for the truly hearty. The yurt community bathhouse has flush toilets, hair dryers, hot showers and coin-operated washer and dryer. One yurt is handicap-accessible. Tent and RV camping is available from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend.
Another family option are rooms in the Ranch’s three guest lodges. The lodge rooms, similar to hotels rooms, sleep up to six people (dogs not allowed). The largest lodge, Indian Peaks, has rooms with mini-fridge, microwave and wi-fi and is closest to the horse stables. The slightly smaller Silver Sage Lodge offers one queen bed and two sets of bunk beds while Aspenbrook has two queen beds and one set of bunk beds. All three lodges are next to Schlessman Commons.
When the weather doesn’t cooperate, like this weekend, the action heads inside at the Kiva Center. The center holds a roller skating rink and basketball court. Upstairs, families will find foosball and ping pong tables. For more of a challenge, the building holds an indoor archery room and two-story climbing wall. Group lessons for both are available for a small fee.
The morning comes much too quickly after suffering with that puzzle deep into the night. My legs could have used the Ranch’s morning yoga session, but I didn’t get up early enough. While we are slow moving, the dogs are anxious to hit the trails. The Ranch has over 25 miles of trails and dogs are allowed on leashes. After the previous day’s rain, the morning sun has the valley glistening. The dogs couldn’t be happier as they bounce side to side on the trail sniffing the brush. Walking the 4.2k Ten Mile Creek Trail revives our sleepy spirits while the 9,695-foot peak of Nine Mile Mountain looms over us.
That night back at the cabin, the puzzle is winning. The dogs sleep soundly near the fire and we each brought back a hot chocolate from the cafeteria to sip while working on this maddening, infuriating, yet totally addictive puzzle. The hour is late when we take the dogs out for a brief walk around the pines under some newly arrived clouds. By the time we give up on the puzzle, rain drops softly tap the roof. We’ll wake up to a sparkling green valley in the morning.