I realize while packing for my jaunt to the Home Ranch, a Relais & Châteaux retreat tucked into Colorado’s Elk River Valley near Steamboat Springs, that I might be a pathetic excuse for a Minnesotan. Specifically, I don’t have any of the recommended gear (snow pants, headband, non-driving gloves) for such activities as snowshoeing and cross-country skiing (endeavors I have never attempted).
So it is with some trepidation (and a suitcase full of freshly acquired apparel) that I settle into our cabin, one of just eight across the 4,000-acre property. General Manager Brooks Bradbury and his staff quickly assuage my fears, however, assuring me that I am in good hands.
When we take our seats at the communal table for the multi-course, chef-driven dinner, we’re welcomed like long-lost family. Most of the other guests have been coming here for years and are giddy for our introduction to the Home Ranch, an outdoor enthusiast’s playground. We’ll love it, they tell us, and with each passing moment, I believe it more and more.
The next morning, following a hearty breakfast, we head over to the Ski Hut to get fitted for snowshoes and cross-country skis. My stomach starts to dance as I realize that no amount of North Face garb will improve my skills. Before I have the opportunity to make a fool of myself, I blurt out that I will probably make a fool of myself. Our guide, Gage, reassures me that I’ll feel confident out on the property’s wealth of well-groomed trails in no time.
He’s having the two of us rehearse rudimentary movements when I, while practicing a simple, stationary turn, lose my balance and slam down hard onto the snow-covered ground. I’m instantly embarrassed, but Gage tells me it’s important to be OK with falling — most people hurt themselves trying to avoid it.
We set out on Aspen Arches, one of the novice-friendly trails, and my confidence starts shifting from feigned to real. That is, until we reach a gradual slope that careens through the woods, around a corner and past a ravine that, as far as I can tell, drops down to the earth’s mantle. After he’s deftly made his descent, Gage tells me to trust the skis — a concept I can’t even begin to comprehend. I stand at the top of the hill, deliberating and rationalizing. And then, to my surprise, I just do it. I let go and try my damnedest to trust the skis. And as luck would have it, I don’t crash and burn.
I’m now bursting with so much excitement that the property’s miles upon miles of trails are no longer intimidating. And so for the rest of our stay, I snowshoe and I cross-country ski and I stand atop what feels like it might be the highest point on earth. It’s there that I realize that my Home Ranch experience has taught me so much beyond pizza-pie stops. It’s taught me how to live — and how to be a better Minnesotan.
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