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These 5 Colorado dude ranches are spectacular in winter 

Dude ranches often are associated with summer vacations. We picture city slickers slipping away to enjoy the great outdoors and fresh mountain air, learning the rhythms of a horse’s gait and some new tunes around a campfire. But visiting a ranch in winter? Oh, what fun!

Come the colder months, Colorado’s dude ranches offer all kinds of activities, including gliding across the snow on cross-country skis and galloping through the powder on horseback. There’s also dog sledding, sleigh rides, tubing and more, says Courtney Frazier, executive director of the Colorado Dude & Guest Ranch Association.

“You’ll love the evening campfires and cozy cabins,” Frazier says. “Some of our ranches also have full spas to relax in after a busy day of exploring the Rocky Mountains.”

Saddle up: Here are five dude ranches that are perfect for winter escapes with amenities that include a private ski mountain, a top-notch culinary program and a murder mystery weekend.

C Lazy U Ranch

The C Lazy U near Granby couldn’t have a more idyllic setting. Days on the 8,500-acre ranch start with “Cowboy Coffee” traditions around an outdoor firepit with the nip of the alpine air and end with toasting s’mores. In between, there are horse and sleigh rides through the winter wonderland. Plus, a Zamboni is used to groom a pond on the property so you can skate in the open air or join a pickup hockey game.

Guests can also go fly-fishing in Willow Creek, a tributary of the Colorado River. Some sections build up ice shelves, but the creek is still flowing and the fish are still biting.

Three daily gourmet meals are a part of the all-inclusive rate (expect to pay $587 per person/night or more) and the winter dining menu includes carmel apple venison, pheasant cordon bleu, duck confit perogies and rose glazed pink prawns.

Devil’s Thumb Ranch Resort & Spa

Go dashing through the snow — on a sleigh, cross-country skis, or with a pair of snowshoes strapped to your feet. Devil’s Thumb Ranch near Granby is a rustic-luxe winter playground with some unique offerings, including cozy rides in a heated snow cat that traverses the snow-covered Ranch Creek Valley.

The resort also has fat tire bikes that can plow through powder, and Winter Park Ski Resort is just 10 miles from the ranch if doing laps on the slopes is on your mind. After playing in the snow, book a spa treatment and slink into a copper soaking tub or enjoy a heated river stone massage. Rates vary widely, depending on lodging, meal and activities booked. Expect to pay at least $460 a night for lodging for two people.

Vista Verde Guest Ranch

Old West meets luxury at Vista Verde, an all-inclusive dude ranch near Steamboat Springs. The culinary program is worth writing home about, with winter dishes that include carrot cake waffles with walnut syrup, Cuban sandwiches and gnocchi with short rib ragu.

At dinner, add a wine pairing. The guest ranch’s cellar, with more than 90 selections, has received accolades from Wine Spectator.

There are plenty of ways to work up an appetite. The ranch has a fleet of fat tire bikes, plus snowmobiling excursions, tubing, and backcountry ski touring. There also are plenty of groomed trails for beginners. Three-night stays in late winter start at $2,295 per person.

Three Forks Ranch

Near the Colorado-Wyoming border, Three Forks Ranch bills itself as being the “West Kept Secret.” The 200,000-acre ranch has an exclusive partnership with the Mayo Clinic, a healthcare nonprofit that staffs the wellness facility with certified coaches who can provide nutrition advice and personal training.

A stay at the all-inclusive resort includes spa treatments (guests staying three nights can pre-book two services). The ranch also offers private skiing on a mountain that gets blanketed in snow and has 20 runs. Heated snowcats deliver guests to the summit. Nightly rates start at $1,995 per person.

Sundance Trail Guest Ranch

Sundance Trail’s guests have a few options for winter visits at the ranch near Red Feather Lakes. The Country Inn stay includes lodging, meals and morning horseback rides. Or, select the bed-and-breakfast route.

Guests enjoy horseback rides through the Roosevelt National Forest, cozying up by the fireplace and stargazing in the jacuzzi. Gather a group of 8-12 people and the ranch will provide a Murder Mystery getaway. Between meals and horseback rides your group can try to figure out “whodunnit.”

Bed and breakfast nightly rates start at $230 per two-person suite or $170 for single occupancy.

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