Feature

A Cabin in the Pines

We love the idea of getting away to a remote cottage in Colorado's high country. Yet, more often than not, that "sweet little rustic retreat" you rented online turns out to be a dusty, cold, bare-bones log dwelling with a tattered plaid sofa and animal heads on the walls. Truth is: It's just not that easy to find weekend escape-worthy cabins on your own. Which is why we've done it for you. Throughout Colorado, we found resorts that offer cozy, romantic, well-appointed cabins. If fluffy down comforters, rough-hewn furniture, and quiet nights by the fire are what you seek, we have a cabin for you.

November 2008

The Game Creek Chalet
Party on-mountain at this one-of-a-kind getaway.

The low purr of the snowcat slows to a stop as it sidles up to what looks like a typical slopeside warming hut. Logan Johnson, our sociable personal concierge, quickly grabs our overstuffed bags, both sets of skis, and a soft-sided cooler and jumps down to the snow. Weighed down by the baggage, he chivalrously offers me a hand as I disembark. Logan, my husband, Matt, and I then stand just outside the Game Creek Chalet and watch as our ride rumbles away through the trees.

Although it's perched on the side of Vail's gladed Game Creek Bowl, this is no warming hut. In fact, this is unlike any "chalet" I've ever seen. Spread out before us on three floors are three bedrooms, an entertainment room, five bathrooms, a dining/living area with an oversized fireplace, full kitchen with granite countertops, wet bar with mini-fridge, and an expansive deck complete with a six-person hot tub. It's more space than the two of us need on this trip, but my husband and I exchange a quick glance that says party house!

After Logan leaves to catch the next cat down the hill, we run around like kids trying to decide which bedroom to choose. We then turn to the next most important order of business: a dip in the hot tub. From the 103-degree water, we take in the spectacular view of Mount of the Holy Cross looming across the valley and watch skiers schuss through the trees.

The chalet's location makes for easy slope access for more advanced skiers. But if steeps aren't your thing, a seven-minute cat ride drops you at the Eagle Bahn Gondola with access to more intermediate slopes. But it's too late in the day for us to take any turns. Instead, we opt to break out the bottle of Barolo, along with the gourmet cheeses and meats we brought in our cooler, and play a competitive game of Monopoly by the fire. —LBK

Quick Tip There are no roads that lead to the Game Creek Chalet. It's snowcat or gondola and skis, or nothing. The last snowcat leaves for the chalet around 11 p.m. each night.

Where to Eat The Game Creek Restaurant sits adjacent to the chalet. Spend at least one night savoring chef Darrell Jensen's seared sea scallop appetizer, roasted beet salad, and grilled lamb loin. $59 for three courses, $72 for four courses, or $85 for five courses per person. For reservations, call 970-479-4275.

Special Touch Order a chef-prepared breakfast of mushroom and tomato omelets, hash browns, fresh fruit, yogurt, and coffee that's delivered right to the chalet door. Trust us, it's worth it.

How to Book It Price for the chalet varies greatly depending on the amenities you require. Rates in November start at $2,219 per night. Call 970-754-7777 or e-mail [email protected] to make reservations.

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Devil's Thumb Ranch
Canoodle in peace in the snowy high country.

It hardly matters how much snow already frosts the ground—when I'm in the high country I long for white flakes. I want to spend a romantic, chilly night on the couch—glass of wine in hand and a fire crackling on the hearth—watching a snowstorm dance outside the windows.

When we arrive at the 1,050-square-foot Coyote cabin getaway early in the evening, we find a neat bundle of firewood resting on the rocking-chair-lined porch (delivered each day at 4 p.m.) and a pre-readied tepee of kindling and logs in the floor-to-ceiling stone fireplace. Placing our snowy boots in the door-side warmer and our bags on the lodgepole pine bed, we then take a minute to peruse our cabin: Blond, round-beam walls soar into an angled ceiling, geothermally heated floors warm our feet, a well-equipped kitchen comes with the requisite wineglasses, and a view of nothing but tall pines and snowy thickets fills the windowpanes.

Waking the next morning to still-flurrying snow, we take a cup of hot coffee on a short stroll. Just down the road we run into the stables at Devil's Thumb, where a brown and white horse stands ready to pull a sleigh across the open meadow. In the distance we see cross-country skiers slip-sliding along some of the resort's 100 kilometers of groomed trails. And sitting just down the way, the ranch's new easy-rustic, 52-room lodge and day spa come into view.

As we walk back toward our chalet, snowflakes catching on our eyelashes, we discuss what to do next. Snowshoe? Ski? Spa? Instead, we decide to do what we do best—nothing, except watch the snow fall. —LBK

Worth-the-Money Extra Set up a time for a couples' Swedish massage (50 minutes, $200) at the Ranch Creek Spa. Show up a few minutes early to sit a spell in the steam room.

Must-Try Activity If you have cross-country gear, there's no better place to put it to use. If not, the staff at the Nordic center can outfit you and get you on the best trails for your ability level.

Where to Eat Bring some snacks and a bottle of wine (or two) for your cabin, but make a reservation at the on-site Ranch House Restaurant for chef-prepared meals bursting with top-notch ingredients like organic beef and locally grown produce. Call 970-726-5632 for reservations.

How to Book It Devil's Thumb Ranch is located in Tabernash, just minutes from Winter Park. The resort offers 16 cabins, all of which are nestled in the woods about a half-mile from the main lodge. Rental fees range from $315 to $895 per night. Visit www.devilsthumbranch.com for more information, or call 1-800-933-4339 to make a reservation.

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Blue Lake Ranch
Individual accommodations with a bed-and-breakfast twist.

Late for our check-in, we are speeding down Main Avenue in Durango. My husband and I are stressed; work has been relentless, and life has flung a few curveballs of late. We desperately need a getaway.

Which is why we've chosen to sojourn into the woods at Blue Lake Ranch's serene Cabin on the Lake. With a picnic and bottle of Beaujolais in tow, we are resolved to settle our lives into quietude for the next 24 hours.

The Cabin on the Lake, Blue Lake's only genuine cabin, sits in repose on the banks of a three-acre lake with sweeping views of the La Plata Mountains. Built 25 years ago from locally hewn ponderosa pine, the log cabin's design and decor is part Swiss Alps, part American Indian. We toss our bags in the master bedroom, and within moments head down to the cabin's private dock for a quick look around. Bare cottonwoods tower above us, their branches swaying in the winter wind. The lake, frozen solid with a light dusting of snow, sparkles in the high-altitude sun. I could sit here for hours soaking up the scenery, but the chill in the air changes my mind.

Hunger pangs draw us back to the cabin and into the kitchen. Relaxing at the dining table with the feast we'd packed, I ask, "What do we do now?" Darren answers, "This is it."

The in-room guestbook suggests activities like cross-country skiing on local trails, taking a sled dog tour, and downhill skiing at nearby Durango Mountain Resort. But we're here to relax and unwind. We lie on the king-size bed under the cozy down comforter, reading and listening to the fire crackling in the fireplace until sleep overtakes us.

The morning sun streams through the cabin's many windows, waking us in time for breakfast. We follow the short path to the main lodge for an impressive spread set out by Brazilian expat/chef Jackie Crawford. We tuck into vegetable frittatas, pork tamales, and an array of fresh fruit.

As we enjoy the last of our coffee, a towering, gray-haired gentleman wanders to our tableside. "What are you doing today?" asks David Alford, who we quickly realize is the owner of Blue Lake Ranch. With a heavy sigh, we answer that we must head back home—and back to work. "One day is not enough," he says. We nod in agreement. —Erinn Morgan

Special Touch The perfect spots for reading and reclining, two comfy leather chairs sit in front of the master suite's stone fireplace.

Must-Try Activity Just 25 minutes west, the well-preserved Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde National Park are open throughout the winter.

Where to Eat The closest restaurant—and one of the area's finest—is the Kennebec Café and Bakery, an elegant European-style cafe serving creative, tasty cuisine. Try the savory duck two-ways entrée, a delicious pairing of seared breast and confit with a pomegranate glaze. 4 County Road 124, Hesperus, 970-247-5674, www.kennebeccafe.com

How to Book It The Cabin on the Lake sleeps two to eight people. Double-occupancy rates range from $275 in winter to $375 in summer per night ($20 extra per person). Blue Lake offers other individual accommodations, including the River House and the Cottage in the Woods. Call 1-888-258-3525 or visit www.bluelakeranch.com for reservations or more information.

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Mountain Lodge at Telluride
High-end digs for your next wintertime reunion.

The first snow is barely starting to fall and already I'm worried about the end of the season, because I'm in charge of planning—and hosting—the next semiannual reunion of the seven Bradley Girls, otherwise known as my college roommates

I've known these women for more than 20 years, and they were fussy even back in the days when we lived four to a room in meal-card dormitories. Now that everyone's bank accounts and bourgeois factor have grown, I've been sleepless about finding the perfect getaway spot.

That is, until now. While on assignment in southwest Colorado, I've taken some time to peruse Smuggler Cabin at the Mountain Lodge at Telluride. The heated stone floors, log beams, and expansive mountain-view windows wow me right off. But the Bradley girls are a demanding bunch. Impressive is fine, but our vacation haven absolutely must deliver the goods. So I head to the kitchen. Large, stainless-steel refrigerator to house all the junk food we'll buy and grow sick of: check. Oversized dining table around which to talk about how old everyone else is getting: check. Automatic icemaker for margaritas, highball glasses for Jack and Cokes, and an adjacent roomy living room to accommodate bouts of spontaneous dancing: triple check.

The 2,400-square-foot Smuggler has four spacious bedrooms on three levels, which together can accommodate 10 sleeping bodies in a king, two queens, and four bunk beds. I take a mental note to show up early and snag the king for myself—after all, the hostess should get first dibs, right?

Of course, the real test in reunion digs comes in the bathrooms, because seven women north of 40 tend to haul a lot of creams and potions with them. On the plus side, the three bathrooms have spacious marble countertops, heavy white bathrobes, jetted tubs, and private water closets. On the minus: The mirrors are a bit large and well lit, but that could just be me.

Overall, I think the gals will be pleased. Now, if only the lodge could help us pack. —Shari Caudron

Where to Eat La Piazza Del Villaggio is an upscale modern Italian restaurant in the Mountain Village. Look through the top-notch wine list, and don't miss the outstanding Bolognese. 117 Lost Creek Lane, Mountain Village, 970-728-8283

Best Amenity The Smuggler's front porch looks out on the Double Cabin run at Telluride Ski Resort, providing great ski-in, ski-out access.

Special Touch Flying in from out of town? The lodge will be happy to arrange catering for your first night's dinner or do the grocery shopping for you.

How to Book It Mountain Lodge offers 10 luxury cabins, which are available year-round. Nightly rates for four-bedroom cabins range from $700 in the low season to $3,000 during Christmas week. Call 970-369-5000 or visit www.mountainlodgetelluride.com for reservations or more information.