Written by Smartwool Ambassador Whitney James
"The plow broke down." We had been shoveling our cars out of the snow for an hour, and the puffy flakes were still falling. While not exactly a surprise, the report from the county dispatcher was a concern. We were in the middle of our inaugural XC Ski and Yoga Retreat, but only three of the 10 participants had made it up the road to Latigo Ranch before winter storm conditions made driving impossible.
When you make plans in the Rocky Mountains in the middle of winter, you had better expect they might not go as planned. As the retreat founder and ski instructor, I had been planning and visualizing the success of this weekend for months. Every last detail was in order, from the incredible sponsor gear to the size of everyone's ski boots and cabin assignments. Now all I could do was sit back and be amazed over the next 48 hours at the incredible positivity and resilience of the women who had signed up to join us, epic snowstorm or shine.
Latigo Ranch (pronounced Látigo and named after a component on a western saddle) was the setting for our retreat. Nestled into the mountains south of Steamboat Springs, it was originally founded as a dude ranch in 1923. Fast forward nearly 100 years, and the George family operates the ranch together year-round. In the summer, the dude ranch legacy thrives and wranglers take guests on trails where they’re more likely to see a moose, bear, or herd of elk than another tourist.
In the winter, the landscape transforms into a snow-covered wonderland. The family grooms 50 kilometers of cross-country ski trails, stocks cozy cabins with firewood and kindling, and keeps guests well-fed with hearty home-cooked meals. The nearest town is seven miles down a dirt road and then another 10 highway miles away: Kremmling, Colorado, home to a population of under 1,500 and one stoplight. When I first moved to Colorado from the west coast, it was to work at Latigo as a wrangler during the summer. This intimate setting that I know like the back of my hand was the perfect place for my first retreat.
As the snow continued to fall, the snowcat went around and around to pack down the fresh powder and offer world-class ski conditions for the girls who had made it to the ranch before the road closure. Meanwhile, the ladies who were stranded in Kremmling found the very last hotel room. For a type-A Taurus like myself, this was mayhem. Surely, there would be mutiny. Tears. Refunds. But instead, when the remainder of the girls arrived the next morning, all I saw were smiles. And finally, the sun had come out. It was time to gather ourselves and offer the retreat everyone had gone to such lengths to experience!
"But wait," you might be wondering, “what the heck is skate skiing, anyway?” It is hand’s down the most aerobic, complicated, and wonderful thing you can do on snow in the wintertime. I inherited the passion for “nordorking” from my 79-year-old father, who embarrassingly claims to have invented the sport. A style of cross-country skiing (the other is classic), once you get the hang of skate skiing, it’s a way to enjoy winter without another soul in sight—for a fraction of the price of lift access. Over the course of three clinics and countless drills, the girls were gliding around on their skinny skis like they’d been doing it for years. Even the occasional wipeout couldn’t wipe the grins off our faces!
Our yoga teacher, Amanda (without whose enthusiasm this retreat might never have happened), guided us through several yoga classes in the social club, a large historic building with a western facade. On Saturday afternoon we settled into a powerful vinyasa sequence, twinkling candles and palo santo setting the tone while the alpenglow began to light up the sky out the panoramic windows. The next morning, twinkling candles lit the room at dawn as more snow began to fall outside. I stared at the dusty chaps and longhorns hanging from the walls as my body finally began to relax. We were all here, and everyone seemed to be having more fun than I ever could have anticipated.
I would be remiss to leave out the incredible food served to us in the ski-in, ski-out lodge by the wonderful George family. There were pancakes. Five kinds of chili. Scallops. Champagne. More pancakes. Needless to say we were well-fueled for our adventures, and the lively conversations between our group at meal times make up some of my favorite moments from the weekend. Of course, that doesn’t count the rambunctious afternoon sledding. Seeing our photographer Emily go careening down a steep hill–directly towards the lodge–with her camera in hand was a moment I won’t soon forget!