Luxury Ranch Includes Gourmet Food And Outdoor Sports.

I’m a winter guest (or “dude”) ranch specialist – ski at them, write about them, consult with them, love them. Which is a little ironic because when you think “ranch,” you probably also think “horses!” – but I’m a wondrously inept horseman, whatever the season.

I’ve been lucky enough to visit maybe 50 guest ranches in the West, including a bunch near downhill resorts in Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana. So it was intriguing but not a huge novelty some time ago to get a writing assignment about Three Forks Ranch, some forty miles northwest of Steamboat Springs, Colorado, along challenging narrow roads.

I came home gushing, totally out of character for a reserved New Englander. Here’s a whole string of adjectives about Three Forks that might sound ludicrous but are absolutely true—“vast,” “majestic,” “exquisite,” “tasty,” and on and on.

“Tasty”? Ohh yes, when there were multiple professional chefs (head, sous, pastry…? – I’m a gourmand, not a gourmet) under the command of an Executive Chef. The ranch serves no more than 30 guests (probably fewer in winter) – something better than a 3:1 ratio of staff to guests.

The majestic but graceful 35,000 square foot lodge, which opened in 2008, offers not just fabulous dining – my experience was three or four dinner entrées, vegetarian options, two desserts (you can have both; I did) – but also wine tasting and cooking classes in making delicacies such as chocolate truffles. In fact, the chocolates set on your pillow are made in-house. It’s pricey (from $1,695/person/night); it’s worth it.

The lodge-and-spa is the centerpiece of the more than 200,000 (no typo!)-acre getaway, in the midst of the Sierra Madre mountains. You can fly to airports in Wyoming and Colorado and take a guided snowmobile tour on 100 miles of private groomed trails the same day. Other options are guided trips on 50 kilometers of groomed cross-country ski trails – starting virtually outside your door – as well as snowshoeing, dog sledding, and sleigh rides where you’re wrapped in warm furs and can sip hot toddies.

I didn’t try them but there’s also private snowcat skiing and ’boarding (1,100’ vertical), tubing, snowshoeing, and ice fishing – no lift lines, no crowds

The bar with art work. Three Forks has been called “A Ritz with an art collection”

St. Louis businessman David Pratt bought the spread in 1999. Pratt out-bid developers who wanted to subdivide the working cattle ranch, and then he commissioned restoration of 16 miles of the Little Snake River – a huge project that has made it into one of the most productive fisheries in the Rockies. Three Forks as evolved into a world-famous fishing and hunting destination. As a former manager told me, “There’s just not more that you can do outside in Colorado on one property.”

There’s really no typical winter day at the ranch – instead they’re tailored to your wishes. Judging by my experience (after visiting more than 200 resorts in North America), Three Forks is an off-the-charts winter attraction, with superb recreation, setting, facilities, and staff. And did I mention the food? Sumptuous accommodations? Super-nice people?

The lodge is the ranch signature piece, the epitome of elegance. At the same time, it’s an imposing building, starting with the high-roofed porte-cochere and leading to the Great Room, with a 40’ ceiling. There you’ll find an autographed 1866 Steinway grand piano built of silky polished woods – one of the two in the world of this model. (No, I didn’t bang on them keys. Now if they’d had a house Stradivarius, as an ex-violinist…)

The lodge interior is a marvel. Walls are paneled with flawless American cherry wood and imported Russian Pine, a rare knotless wood. The 6,000-square-foot spa downstairs offers massage, body treatments, and an indoor/outdoor swimming pool. There are 15 luxurious bedrooms and suites, dining, conference space, and a fitness room.

I heard one visitor call the place “Ritz-Carlton on a ranch, with an art collection” – a fun summation. The art collection was a unique melding of dominant Western with Oriental, including some pieces from the Ming dynasty. Among the more recognizable artists were Charlie Russell and Frederic Remington, though there were also paintings and bronzes by almost -contemporary artists.

Outside the lodge you’ll often see elk grazing among life-size bronzes of fishermen and Ute Indians, adding still another dimension to the remarkable winter experience that’s Three Forks Ranch.


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