As we drove down the switchbacks of Berthoud Pass I pointed out Winter Park ski hill to my friend Lynn. We both looked at the little ant-like people coming down the runs and kept driving. Even though Colorado has had one of their best early snow seasons that had everyone flocking to the slopes in December, I still wasn’t interested. I am one of the few people who live in Colorado that doesn’t like downhill skiing.
However, I too was excited by all of the early Colorado snow as we passed through Winter Park on our way to Snow Mountain Ranch for our girl’s weekend. For those who don’t like lift lines, the YMCA’s 5,000 acres outside of Winter Park is the perfect place for a winter playground. All of this early snow meant that the Colorado dog sledding season was also in full swing at the Ranch!
Even though I’m not a downhill skier, that doesn’t mean I don’t like to get out and play in the snow! I love winter adventure activities! In fact I got hooked on the sport of dog sledding when I was in Fairbanks Alaska last winter. Any chance I have to get on a sled and mush the dogs I do it! Since skiing dominates in the mountains, not many people are aware of the great Colorado dog sledding that we have just a short 2-hour drive from Denver!
Colorado Dog Sledding At Snow Mountain Ranch
“When I first started mushing I didn’t know anything about it or anyone else who did it,” explained Steve Petersen the YMCA Chaplan and head dog musher at Snow Mountain Ranch. Before our dog sled ride, Steve did an inspiring and comical talk about his journey from novice to competitor in dog sledding. He told some unbelievable stories as well as educated us on the sled, harnesses and lines, and care and training of the dogs, while discussing the ins/outs of racing. It was a great primer for anyone new to dog sledding.
Too Mush Fun
Nothing makes me happier than when I can introduce a new adventure to people, and it’s even more of a bonus when I can help them check something off their bucket list! Even though I had been dog sledding before, my girlfriends Lynn and Rachel hadn’t. I was excited their first mushing experience!
At first I was a little worried that the ride would be just a simple sit-in-sled ride. I was happy to learn that the Ranch had special sleds where the rider could stand and hold on, getting a real feel for what it’s like to be a musher. There is a balance and athleticism to mushing; it’s not simply a ride. Once I got the chance to mush my own team in Alaska, I knew I could never go back to simply sitting in a sled and riding! So I was excited that Lynn and Rachel would get to experience the ‘real feel’ of mushing.
Each of us did a short ride with Steve, which consisted of a 2-mile route (15 minutes) through the evergreens and freshly fallen snow. Steve still had ultimate control of the sled, but I was able to learn the commands, stand and get a feel for the turns and bumps, as well as get a better vantage point of the team and how they work together.
And it wasn’t simply about the ride, Snow Mountain Ranch provided a complete well organized, fun experience. They had a fire pit where you could stay warm while you waited your turn, hot drinks, and a place to take pictures of your loved ones sledding. But I really perked up when I heard the word “puppies”! Yes…there were dog sled puppies. They had 4 puppies and a retired dog out to simply socialize while we waited our turn to dogsled.
Seldom are you given this much one-on-one time with the dogs so this was an incredible treat. And the puppies were pretty darn excited to meet everyone too! After the initial excitement of hanging out with humans, they calmed down enough to simple get in some puppy snuggle time. I must admit, I was plotting how I could take one home with me to Denver!
“It was amazing!” Rachel exclaimed when I asked her how her dog sledding ride went. “A bucket list item achieved on a beautiful morning. I’m loving life!” she continued full of adrenaline. I get a lot of joy from experiencing things through others – it’s like my first time all over again!
Dog Sledding Options and Rates
Limited availability for this activity and advance reservations are required. They recommend reserving your ride online or by phone (970-887-2152 x4135) as soon as possible.
Short Rides (2 miles) Monday and Saturdays – $30 for members $50 for guests
Longer Ride (50 minutes) Fridays for guests – $150 per sled
Other Snow Mountain Ranch Winter Adventures
Snow Mountain Ranch has 5000 acres of snow-covered property, and dog sledding is just one of many things you can do there in the winter! The entire property was a winter wonderland of fun for the non-downhill skier! I was pretty much in heaven trying all of the Ranch activities.
I looked at the two signs pointing in different directions; one with a perfectly groomed trail, and the other with one set of snowshoe prints. Choices, choices. I took a big breath of cold mountain air, and turned left into the deep snow trying to follow the one set of tracks. My other favorite adventure activity in the winter is snowshoeing. Snowshoeing is basically like winter hiking, yet a bit slower and can be more exhausting if you are cutting your own trail in deep snow (ie post-holing). My snowshoes sunk in and the snow was up to my knees; I clearly chose the road less traveled.
I was heading up to Columbine point, which had a slight elevation gain, but breaking through new snow and climbing proved to be quite a workout. Yet when I did make it to the top (breathing quite heavily at 8500 feet), I got up to the ridge to an snowy view of the valley and ranch below. An immense sense of satisfaction swept over me having pushed myself to the top. It’s amazing how much you can sweat when it’s freezing outside; snowshoeing in the mountains is a great workout and I was happy to explore my first snowshoe trails in Colorado finally!
Snow Mountain Ranch has miles and miles of snow shoeing trails to try – from beginner to more advanced. They keep them separate from the Nordic skiers, so you don’t have to share the trail. Most of them are groomed pretty regularly and there is a phone app that includes the maps of the area you can use with your GPS. You can rent all the equipment you need from the Nordic center for a full or half day.
Not only did I go up to Columbine point, the next morning I took Lynn with me and we snow shoed out to the historic Rowley homestead buildings on the property. I love getting out and enjoying winter on a perfect blue-sky day. Plus – I got a little history lesson too while checking out the homestead property.
Nordic Skiing and Fat Biking
Since I was so excited about snowshoeing, I sent my friends off to try the Nordic skiing and fat biking; the other two options at the Nordic Center. Snow Mountain Ranch has some of the nicest and most extensive Nordic ski trails in the US plus they regularly offer lessons. Lynn loved the well-groomed trails for beginners.
Fat biking is somewhat new yet, but Rachel was game for trying it. They don’t have as many fat biking trails, but I predict that they will continue to grow with this new winter sport. Rachel did great and if I would have had one more day I definitely would have went myself.
Rates for Nordic Center Trails
There is a trail fee that you must pay for skiing, snow shoeing or fat biking. You can pay for your trail pass, get maps, and rent all the equipment you will need at the Nordic Center. You can also enquire there about lessons.
Single-Day Cross-Country Skiing Trail Pass, Snowshoe Trail Pass or Fat Bike Trail Pass:
Complimentary to YMCA of the Rockies members and overnight guests
Adult (13+): $25 (day pass)
More Information about the Nordic Center
Winding Down with Crafts
After hitting the trails, I stopped at the craft center and decided to try my hand at being artsy.
I sat concentrating on the piece of wood in my hands, slowly burning in a design. The smell of burning wood coupled with the sunset view outside the window made for a pretty great combination.
It is the YMCA after all, and not only is there an active element to the ranch, but there’s also a creative one too. This activity isn’t just for kids, it’s a chance for all ages to become acquainted with their creative side again. I chose to do a wood burning/design project; something I had never tried before. I was amazed at the calmness and concentration that came over me while working on the project. It was just what I needed after such an active day outside. It was a super way to wind down and stretch those creative muscles. In addition to wood burning you could do painting, mosaics, leather design, and pottery.
Who doesn’t love a scene of a little cabin in the snowy landscape with smoke puffing out of the chimney? It’s the perfect place for a winter getaway. And after you play all day in the snow with your girlfriends, a warm fireplace and a bottle of wine in a cabin is a pretty welcome sight!
We stayed in a 3 bedroom cabin high on the hill with a lovely view. We had stopped in Winter Park earlier to pick up groceries and made a hearty feast after our day of adventures. Snow Mountain Ranch also has a dining hall with an incredible buffet if you don’t have enough energy left to cook your own food.
After dinner we played some games and I also worked on editing photos. However, pure exhaustion set in after dinner and it was all we could do to stay up until 10! That’s the sign of a great active winter vacation!
And even though I don’t have kids of my own, I have to say that overall the YMCA Snow Mountain Ranch is incredible for families. There’s something going on all the time; swimming, hungry hippos, roller-skating, movies, dodge ball, etc. It was impressive to see the amount of activities they offered in the winter.
This was the perfect Colorado winter getaway for those who don’t want to downhill ski. However, Winter Park is just 15 minutes away if you do have skiers in the group!
I was pretty happy simply staying at the Ranch all weekend and soaking up the puppy love, wide-open space of the Colorado Rockies, and Ranch’s trail system. And the best part, there’s no expensive lift ticket required to go dog sledding or snow shoeing. I was able to do the winter activities I loved in Colorado without putting on skis and snowplowing down a hill terrified! My girlfriend getaway from Denver was a success. And if one of those cute dogsledding puppies disappears – I have no idea what happened!
Visit YMCA Snow Mountain Ranch
Located near Winter Park, Rocky Mountain National Park & Grand Lake, Snow Mountain Ranch offers a wholesome environment where friends, families & groups enjoy a tranquil setting, more activities than anywhere else & quality time together. Learn more about membership and the winter activities at Snow Mountain Ranch website.
I was a guest of Snow Mountain Ranch for this trip, however all opinions expressed here are my own.