Winter Park and Vail are the Colorado resorts where l learned to downhill ski as a kid while living with my family in Greeley and hitting the slopes for the first time at about age five. Speaking of five, it’s been about that many years since I’ve been back to Winter Park and the nearby Devil’s Thumb Ranch in Tabernash to have some outdoor fun and check out how the ranch’s owners, Bob and Suzanne Fanch, continue to build the property’s capacity to host multiple and larger groups than previously.
In 2001, current owners Bob and Suzanne Fanch changed the ranch property’s fate from becoming developed with residences and a golf course by purchasing it and creating a place that tastefully celebrates the spirit of the West. Since I became editor of Colorado Meetings + Events in 2004, I’ve watched this vision become a reality and the property transform into a unique place for groups and individual travelers.
After the purchase, ridge-top cabins were added as well as Broad Axe Barn, a conference center and events venue built from a reconstructed Civil War-era barn. In 2007, a new 52-room Main Lodge opened, and Ranch Creek Spa became a welcoming place for treatments and yoga the following year. The most recent addition was in 2014 with the High Lonesome Lodge featuring 31 guest rooms and four suites, a private dining space known as the Grotto Suraboza and the beautiful High Lonesome Barn, a Civil War-era barn moved from Findlay, Ohio. There are a variety of meeting/function spaces sprinkled throughout the ranch buildings and grounds, including the similarly new Axel’s Pavilion that transforms into a small ice rink in winter with sledding hill nearby.
Free yoga classes for guests held on the upper-story of the spa in a room with big views is a great way to start the day followed by a Nordic ski or snowshoe on the numerous kilometers of trails right out the back door of the Main Lodge. It’s also possible to go on a winter horseback or wagon feeding ride, take a skijoring clinic with your dog, swim in the indoor/outdoor pool and more. When hunger kicks in, two restaurants and a coffee shop on-site are worth checking out, and the game room and theatre on the lower level of the Main Lodge provide indoor action for all ages.
It also was fun to spend a night in downtown Winter Park and a day on the slopes of a resort that is enjoyable for all levels of skiers and boarders. We had the chance to see the cozy Vasquez Creek Inn with 15 guest rooms, formerly the longtime Gasthaus Eichler, where I had eaten an amazing German meal years ago, that was purchased by the Fanchs, totally renovated and reopened the summer of 2014. After finding success with utilizing the inn as overflow for Devil’s Thumb Ranch and delivering a less-expensive price point, the couple purchased and transformed what is now known as Trailhead Inn in late December 2015, featuring 30 hotel and 10 motel guest rooms, including suites. Both inns are located in the heart of downtown Winter Park near the action.
The main floor of Vasquez Creek Inn has two tasty dining options, the sit-down Volario’s and the grab-and-go (or have a casual sit if you’d like) Caffé Giocondo. Devil’s Thumb Executive Chef Evan Treadwell oversees the menu at Volario’s with the culinary team led by Chef Andrew Aghajanian, preparing dishes that artfully blend Spanish influences with northern Italian mountain cuisine. All pasta is made in-house, the cocktail menu is creative and a private dining room with open kitchen viewing seats up to 40, plus there is a patio that offers fair-weather seating options.
Finishing off our weekend visit with a sunny day on the slopes of Winter Park Resort was a treat, with lines that didn’t overwhelm, a great view of a ski race from a main chairlift, and a lot of smiling faces. The base area bustles with a variety of restaurants, shops and a Starbucks for those who like a familiar cup of joe. A variety of lodging properties at the base area and nearby have capacity to host groups, and for those who don’t ski or snowboard or want a day off, check into tubing, ice skating and snowcat, ski bike and snowshoe tours. Ski resorts with a soup restaurant and a creperie at the base area and decent downhill adventure are good with me!