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Thursday, April 19, 2012

Colorado Vagabond Ranch Hut Tour

In November we bailed on Rahim, took Denver off as a stop on the road trip because we spent too much time in Appalachia with a broken car, and made plans to go to Denver another time. I voted to go back to Colorado in the Summer during the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, but Nicolette had the snowboarding itch and needed to rocket down a mountain somewhere. So we moved the Colorado trip up from the Summer to February. We determined a hut trip would be the way to go, but after reviewing various huts across CO we found we were late to the game in booking beds. At first the only huts we could find were outside Aspen above 11,000', and required a 6+ mile 3000' elevation gain hike to get to the front door. The treat was when you got to the hut after hiking all day you were rewarded with... nothing. Strangely the only huts that were open last minute in the Winter where ones without any ski-able terrain nearly.
Hi Five, we found a hut with beer!
Then Elizabeth (Rahim's GF) found Vagabond Ranch Huts, which included a much more reasonable hike, the promise of ski terrain, a hot tub, and a small general store that stocked beer! For real a hot tub and beer for sale at a remote wilderness outpost? We are in!
Totally in, with hot running water, WIFI, and Rolling Stone magazines
Once we made it to the hut we were greeted by a bunch of dudes. Not just any dudes, former sales people from Nautilus. Nautilus owns Bowflex, these guys were former product associates of Bowflex, so most of the weekend was spent watching these guy flex, quote old Bowflex commercials ("I am 50 years old, and I am in the best shape of my life!"), have contests to see who could do the most triceps dips then take a 'pull' of whiskey from the bottle. Being this was a communal hut that slept 20+ people, we had the privilege of spending the weekend in a house with these guys. It got better, just as we walked into the house and started to unload our gear, a guy on a snowmobile rolled up dragging a keg of Bud Light. As we were watching the events unfold, we were given a bottle of bourbon and told to take a pull. Nicolette, being the scheming one she is, pushed away the bottle of Jim Beam and refused to have a pull unless it was from one of the bottles of Woodford Reserve, which the Bowflex crew gladly opened and handed to her.
The weekend started to unfold with chimney climbing
By the end of the weekend Rahim was scaling the stone chimney and fireplace mantel. Before the weekend became too out of control, we did actually spend some time trekking the valley looking for terrain to ride. The problem was Winter of 2012 came late, light, and warm at the beginning of the season then dumped snow mid way through. This left a problem for back country riders because the avalanche risk throughout the Winter was insane, tons of people died, including a few ski legends, RIP Steve Romeo. Because of this we were extremely cautious. The only open terrain was above the tree lines which was almost fully wind blown, this combined with very few wide open bowls to tear down left us with tight tree skiing. We spent most of the day Saturday looking for good places to ski but in the end found very little, and we spent most of our time simply hiking. Which, in and of itself was bliss.
Hiking to terrain
More hiking to find more terrain
The end of the day after finding zero terrain to ride on
The crew, with a wind blown Gravel Mountain in the background
In the end Vagabond Ranch is a great place, the houses are awesome, and the terrain is beautiful. Our problem was a crappy windy winter. Had the snow been better and safer we likely would have hiked up to the top of Cascade or Granite mountain for some laps above the tree line, but the wind blown snow cover did not allow us to do so. Like I said this is bliss for us, living in the city, having any time to get away to the mountains to suffer is always fun for me.

As a constellation prize we stopped at Berthoud Pass and considered doing a few laps, but the wind chill and super packed snow from an entire weekend of scrapping left many of the popular areas of the pass looking like a poorly groomed ski resort run. We so bagged it all, left the mountains, drove back to Denver, and ate some amazing coconut curry with Rahim and Elizabeth.

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