Seeking quality time with the entire family plus outdoor winter fun? Found.
If getting the chance to watch a pair of bull moose traipse across a fresh, six inches of snow from your cabin deck sounds oh-so-Colorado, you’re right. And, it’s not a rare sight at Snow Mountain Ranch. Snow Mountain Ranch, a YMCA of the Rockies property, blends glorious Rocky Mountain views with a rustic - yet, comfortable - place to spend a long weekend. Or week. Or summer, if you’re a lucky kid.
There’s something about Snow Mountain Ranch that draws families together. Whether it’s the lack of television in the cabins or the abundance of things to do and places to see, a stay here is can’t-miss quality time.
Where to stay?
The 5,000-acre property sits beneath towering mountain peaks from 12,000 to more than 14,000 feet. Digs range from campsites to 5-bedroom vacation homes for the whole, extended family. Like our previous summer stay at the YMCA of the Rockies in Estes Park, we opted for a three-bedroom cabin which has room for seven people. As a family of four with two grandparents in tow, we stayed quite comfortably. There was no doubt that the bunkbeds in the back bedroom were etched in my now 3- and 5-year-olds’ memories from our last visit to a YMCA of the Rockies property. Squeals of joy could be heard down the hall.
The common area proved to be the backdrop for that family quality time you can’t get when distracted at home or staying in multiple hotel rooms. The great room - made up of a family room, dining area, and kitchen - meant everyone was within conversation range, no matter what they were doing. The adults claimed what became the prized seat in the house: the oversized stone hearth. Not only does it serve to warm your backside once you return from the tubing hill, but it also is the perfect area to dry out wet gear.
A three-bedroom cabin ranges from $279 to $414/night with deals galore in the winter months.
KidTripster Tip: Need a pack-’n-play for a little one who is too small for a bunkbed? You can call ahead and reserve one for free. Bonus: more room for gear in the car!
If your family is on the verge of trying winter camping but wants more than a tent to insulate your sleeping quarters, reserve a yurt. Six people can bed down in each yurt, which has electricity, a mini refrigerator, and microwave—all for $99 a night. But fair warning, there’s no heat. You’d need to make sure your personal sleeping bags are rated to the appropriate temperature which often drops into the single digits.
What to do?
Let’s start at the end of the stay. As we drove down the long, winding driveway away from Snow Mountain Ranch back toward civilization, my husband and I both said - nearly at the same time - that we really could have used an extra day or two. Our two-nights with one full-day stay barely scraped the surface of the programming available to Snow Mountain Ranch guests.
After a slow wakeup on Saturday morning, we had a cross-country ski lesson on deck for my husband, daughters, and me; my parents opted for a self-guided snowshoe trek. To be honest, I was worried that a well-intentioned lesson may put an end to what started as a relaxing mountain getaway. If you’ve hiked with little ones, you know that snacks, moral support, and song-singing are the usual requirements to a mildly successful venture down a trail. Add frosty temperatures and feet in little ski boots attached to skinny skis, and my expectations were that we’d last about 50 feet on the Nordic Center’s pristinely-groomed trails. Enter Coach Jim, still fresh with a tan from his fall season in Cuba and a seemingly infinite load of patience and encouragement for our little tribe. From teaching my daughters to click into their skis and convincing them that they didn’t need poles to keeping up with my 5-year-old while I tended to my toddler who’d rather eat snow than ski on it, Jim was determined to make this experience one that we’d fondly remember. We happily skied for about an hour, encouraged by the promise of hot chocolate at the end of the trail. Cost: Youth $40; Adult $50 for a learn to ski package of equipment rental, trail pass, and one-hour group lesson.
We found a rhythm during our weekend at Snow Mountain Ranch, transitioning between inside and outside activities, as well as high exertion and relaxing moments. Nordic skiing was followed by lunch in the cabin and then laps on the tubing hill and painting in the craft building. Careful to make sure that no one got too cold, too hungry or too tired, it was the perfect plan.
The tubing hill brought out the biggest giggles of the weekend, since we don’t have a comparable sledding hill at home. Know that you have to drag the tubes (and kids, if they’re young) back up the hill unassisted, so by the fourth run, we were toast. On to the craft shop!
Whether you are 3 years old, 33 years old or 53 years old, it’s tough to resist plucking a ceramic mermaid, fairy or Christmas cookie plate off the wall and getting to work. The skill level of the artists in the room ranged from abstract toddler to perfectionist parent, but make no mistake, everyone was concentrating. It may actually be the quietest room on the property, which made it the ideal afternoon break for us. Projects cost from a few bucks on up (mostly depending on size), so bring along cash or a credit card.
KidTripster Tip: Make sure to give the youngest artists a heads-up that they must leave their masterpieces overnight to be fired in the kiln. If they aren’t warned, there could be tears as you exit.
If you have any free time, check out the schedule for the Kiva Recreation Center and the pool next door. The Kiva has a two-story rock climbing wall with four routes and a three-lane archery room. The big wall proved to be a challenge for my little girls, who had never rock climbed before. Decked out in tiny climbing shoes and a harness (both provided) - and with some uncertainty about the rope system - they each climbed about a quarter way up the wall before they wanted their feet back on the ground. Archery was a different story. Our younger daughter was sidelined due to the age requirement, but the rest of our family enjoyed taking turns pulling back the bow. The staff helped lay down the safety rules and give tips on shooting straight. Both rock climbing and archery require reservations. Rock climbing wall cost: Youth & Adult (40-250 lbs.) $6. Archery cost: Youth (5 and up) & Adult $6. You’ll also find a basketball court and a generously-sized roller skating rink where you can rent skates. Skating cost: Free including rentals. In the building next door, take a dip in the pool which always has a lifeguard on duty.
As the sun set on our stay at Snow Mountain Ranch, we sat in front of our cabin fire with the activity guide, plotting our next stay. Our winter wishlist includes dog sledding, ice skating, fat tire biking, and a human-sized game of Hungry, Hungry Hippos.
A trip back in the summer is also a must as we’ve heard tales of a new adventure playground, summer tubing (with a magic carpet back to the top, thank goodness!), and more than 300 miles of trails accessible right out of your cabin’s front door. And our girls had one million questions about how they could stay at Camp Chief Ouray for summer camp after we saw the cabins that dotted the Nordic Center’s trails. Day camp starts at age 5 and overnight camps at age 7. The 110-year-old camp has everything that you remember about summer camp as a kid.
Where to eat?
Plan on the best family meals of your entire year at Snow Mountain Ranch… and you’ll be cooking them! A full kitchen setup made dining in on our own schedule the ideal way to eat for our family. Plus, no judgment for eating breakfast in jammies, lunch in long underwear, and dinner in jammies, again.
We made a very easy meal plan the day before arriving, stopped at the grocery store just 10 minutes south of Snow Mountain Ranch, and stocked the fridge with everything that we’d need for breakfast burritos, sandwiches, pizza, and, most importantly, cookies. No worries, there are cookie sheets in the cabins!
If you want to eat on the property, there are three options. You can do buffet-style dining at the Schlessman Commons Dining Hall, open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Or you can head to the Buckboard Grill and Grocery. We recommend the pizza here. Or above the Nordic Center, the Skinny Ski Cafe is open on the weekends serving up sandwiches, soups, and those motivational cups of hot cocoa.
Snow Mountain Ranch is near Granby, Colorado. That’s less than a two-hour drive from Denver. Situated between Grand Lake to the north and Winter Park to the south, it’s easy to stretch a long weekend at Snow Mountain Ranch into a week-long skiing vacation.
Writer Lindsey McKissick lives just outside Denver with her husband, two young daughters, and her eager-to-hike pup. Her favorite adventure locations include rivers for paddle boarding, anywhere with a forest full of Ponderosa pines or a toasty warm beach.
This writer received a complimentary stay for the purpose of this review. However, all opinions expressed are solely her own.