Kelly J. Hayes
Special to the Aspen Times Weekly

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December 24, 2009
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Winter at a 90-year-old Colorado dude ranch

GRANBY, Colo. - All the trout you can catch, all the bear you can hunt, all the riding you can handle, all the steak and apple pie you can eat, all for 40 bucks a week. That was the offer when the gates to the C Lazy U Ranch first swung open to the paying public in 1919.

While the views of the Rockies remain as pristine as they were a century ago and the lure of the wide open spaces, all-day trails rides and trout rising on the ponds at dawn and dusk remain as strong as ever, a few things have changed at C Lazy U. They don't hunt bear anymore, and this year a new spa and the introduction of snowcat-served skiing on a private hill have upped the ante for guests.

Located just outside Granby, Colo., the C Lazy U has long enjoyed a reputation as one the nation's premier dude ranches. Upscale travelers looking for simplicity and exquisite mountain scenery come year after year, usually with families in tow, to experience life on the ranch the way it used to be.

Sitting cheek-to-jowl with the western flank of Rocky Mountain National Park, the C Lazy U encompasses more than 8,000 acres of prime high-country land, much of it destined for conservancy. There are 40 well-appointed guest rooms spread throughout the property.

In the summertime, an equestrian program with more than 200 head of the West's smartest horses and trout fishing (the C Lazy U is an Orvis-endorsed fly-fishing lodge) are the main activities.

In winter, cross-country skiing, sledding, tubing, skating and, now, downhill skiing, are what bring the guests and their families out of their elegant but rustic cabins for outdoor fun.

Though a short drive away from the ski resorts of Winter Park and Sol Vista (there is transportation available for those who wish to take day trips), ranch manager Brian Gardner saw an opportunity for snowcat-accessed skiing just behind the main ranch house at the C Lazy U. Over the past two summers, teams surveyed the surrounding area, cleared rocks and brush from hillside trails, and identified a number of natural runs on the 400-acre hill called Baldy Mountain that looms over the C Lazy U's main entrance.

With the new terrain and a luxury snowcat, downhill skiing in a private setting is just steps away for the ranch's guests. Ski rentals are available and the diversity of Baldy's runs make it a perfect hill for both new-to-the-slopes skiers and powder hounds looking for a unique and uncrowded Colorado ski experience.

For those who prefer to slide downhill on their backs, bums or bellies, the C Lazy U boasts one of the premier sledding hills in the state. The main driveway of the ranch serves as a nearly half-mile long luge run of solid ice. Every day at 3 p.m., sledders gather at the top of the drive and begin a rocket-like descent down the main road. The ride has been immortalized on You Tube, but one has to experience it to truly appreciate it.

Just steps from the main lodge is a trail that runs for miles across the open meadow. In summer, it is the access point for horseback rides into the hills beyond; this time of year it is a perfect cross-country and snowshoe path that provides outstanding views of Rocky Mountain National Park to the west and the ski hill just to the north.

Other winter activities include ice hockey and skating on a pond adjacent to the ranch house. A new Zamboni ensures an Olympic-quality surface for skaters to glide in the open air or under a moonlit sky.

But nothing may be more in keeping with the spirit of the season than a ride in the back of a horse-drawn sleigh into the backcountry. Snuggling under a passel of blankets while the winter scenery passes by at dusk is a sublime experience. And if you are so inclined, the wranglers will happily saddle up some horses for a wintertime tour of the property on horseback.

Spas have become ubiquitous at high-end resorts throughout the world, but there are few as unique as The Lazy U. Seven canvas tents are arranged in a circle, wagon-train style, on the banks of a flowing creek. Each tent is set up as a treatment room, most with massage tables or copper soaking tubs. The vibe is spiritual and rustic; it's as if you have entered another place and another time.

While the weather outside may be frightful, the tents are cozy with radiant heat in the floors and potbelly stoves emitting a warm glow in the corners of the tents. One of the tents sits on stilts above the creek and features a glass floor so guests can view the rushing waters below as they melt into the treatment tables and enjoy their massages.

All of the wood for the compound comes directly from the property: In the last few years, the area has been hit especially hard by the pine beetle infestation that has been so destructive in the state. The C Lazy U took an aggressive approach to the problem and clear-cut a number of infested areas. Rather than simply discard the wood, they have built a working mill on the property and use wood from the old-growth trees for all of the construction on the ranch. Not only is the Spa a product of the mill, but the newest cabins also use wood from the property.

While the Lazy U offers different styles of massage, manicures, pedicures and facials, the "soaks" in the copper tubs may be the most relaxing treatments. Especially nice is a "Moonlight Soak" where couples sit side by side under the night sky in piping hot water infused with essential oils as they sip champagne and nibble on strawberries.

While the addition of a Spa and downhill skiing are welcome amenities and a clear upgrade for the guests who come to the ranch in the winter, the real attraction of the C Lazy U is simply the C Lazy U itself.

There are guests who have been coming to the ranch since they were kids and who now come back for extended stays with not just their kids, but their kids' kids as well. It is not unusual to find three generations bunked together in a series of cabins, all without telephone, television or X-Box, spending quality time together.

All of the high-quality meals at the ranch are served family-style in the main Ranch house. It is a place where families gather at the end of each day and relive the skiing, skating and other memories of an experience that is light years from their day-to day lives.

Each evening there is a fire and guests gather around, sing songs, make friends and generally have a great time. It is the kind of gathering that is rare these days.

While most people think of Dude Ranches as a summer experience, the C Lazy U proves that a good time can be had in the mountains no matter the time of year.


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The Aspen Times Updated Dec 27, 2009 09:43AM Published Dec 24, 2009 07:01AM Copyright 2009 The Aspen Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.