Avalanche Ranch: A Cut of Crystal River Valley Heaven

“Do you see those snow chutes up there?” my husband Jamie queried as we gazed up at an imposing spectacle of snow, clouds, trees and sky. “If I were to build a place called Avalanche Ranch, I would put it right at the base of that mountain.”

Good thing Hunky Hubby is not in the lodging industry because last I checked, building in the path of an avalanche ain’t exactly prime real estate.

As it turned out, Avalanche Ranch was right around the corner. Before long, we pulled into the family-friendly spread nestled discreetly in the Crystal River Valley. Located about 45 miles west of Aspen, it is its neighbor’s antithesis: unassuming and affordable with untouched grandeur.

Avalanche Ranch is situated on 36 acres with 13 cabins and a ranch house. Winter boasts ice skating, snowshoeing, tubing, cross-country skiing and sleigh rides. Summer is king with fishing, hiking, biking, canoeing, paddle boating, badminton, volleyball and tetherball.

The children made themselves at home in our rustic cabin and destroyed any semblance of order within minutes. The loft was the highlight for our daughter Hadley. Partially because she felt like a “big girl” in her new habitat, partially because she quickly realized her gas fumes condescended directly to our bed below.

Our first order of business was painting the neighboring town red. In so many resort towns, I have a “been there, seen that” attitude but Redstone is charmingly different. It is quirky, fun and eclectic with a smattering of artistic shops and houses, many of which have window paintings by “the town artist,” Robert Carr.

The sign at Redstone’s entrance boasted a population of 92. Our waitress at the historic Redstone Inn informed us her brother-in-law was The No. 92 – a veritable celebrity. She assured me since that time, Redstone has grown to at least a booming 130.

Upon returning to Avalanche Ranch, Haddie and I went for a walk. It was a chilled night with a swirling wind as the snow fell like confetti around us. We pondered the complexities of why cousins Dora and Diego can never marry and I marveled that my little girl is growing up before my eyes. And how I never imagined I would be discussing the intimacies intricacies of kissing cousins with her.

And then we went on to have a night from hell with baby Bode. In his defense, he had been sick the week prior and was not fully recovered. He wailed until about 3:30 a.m. Haddie awoke at 6:20 a.m.

You do the math.

And so I did what any good mother would do: stuck Hadley in the bathroom with a movie and some breakfast while I went back to bed.



Part II

As an adventure-travel writer, I was always traveling…and adventuring. If I wasn’t backpacking, I was skiing, hiking, canyoneering or biking. Respite and recovery were never on my agenda.

Until I had children. And then R&R became my life’s mantra.

I had plans for our trip to Avalanche Ranch. Big plans. Our little family would go sledding, skate on their pond and snowshoe along Avalanche Creek. We would then sip hot chocolate by the fire and venture into Aspen for some gastronomic delights.

But then we got three hours of sleep and I realized what family travel is really all about: survival.

We drastically amended our itinerary. We visited the animals at the ranch’s stable and drove up the Crystal River Valley past the crimson cliffs cloaked in snow, the commanding Redstone Castle and the frigid Hays Creek Falls. We gazed down upon it all from our perch atop 8,755-foot McClure Pass…as the kids whined about being sequestered for more than 5 minutes.

When we arrived back at our cabin, I was resolute that Haddie and I needed an adventure so I introduced her to snowshoeing. She looked to me as her Snowshoe Sensei as I judiciously instructed her how to not fall on her face. She did a great job trudging around the grounds and we designated the skating pond as our turnaround point.

We arrived at our destination, scooted around on the ice for a while and turned back. We had gone about 100 feet when I looked down and noticed I was missing one of my snowshoes. Figuring it must have slipped off somewhere around the pond, I looped back but found nothing. I started to worry it was buried somewhere beneath two feet of snow and would not be found until spring.

Hadley started doubting me. “How do you lose a snowshoe, Mommy?”

I was losing face with a 3 year old.

“Sometimes snowshoes just like to play hide-and-seek in the snow.”

She didn’t buy it.

After a 20-minute search and rescue operation, we found the subversive snowshoe perched on a snow bank. A snow bank we had scaled shortly after setting out, which meant I had done the majority of my tutorial sans snowshoe – definitely a credibility crusher.

Perhaps Avalanche Ranch should substitute “Slow Parents” for “Children” on their sign….

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