5th March 2018 | James Cove, Steamboat, Colorado
Our editor is reasonaby adept on skis, but in the saddle…? James Cove has just had the time of his life in cowboy country near Steamboat.
I’ve had perhaps the most interesting time on snow and off skis in my entire life.
And all thanks to this man and this beast.
More of 80-year old Ray Heid later.
Now I am not familiar with riding horses.
I seem to recall people saying you need to let the animal know who is the boss straightaway, otherwise trouble ensues.
I looked at my horse, Cinnamon, and her surroundings and thought of my expertise in horse riding.
I decided on a different approach.
Cinnamon clearly had more experience in these matters than me so I decided I would just sit in the saddle and let her do her thing.
If required I would simply hang on.
She would be the boss.
It proved to be a good decision as others in the group battled with their animal trying to make it do things it didn’t want to do.
The horse always seemed to win.
The road into Colorado’s cowboy country from the ski resort of Steamboat was breath-taking.
There are 400 working ranches around Steamboat – it is a genuine cowboy town.
Most of the ranches breed cows that then go on to the feed lots near Denver where they are fed up and then slaughtered at 18-months old.
There around 10,000 head of cattle in the land around the ski resort.
We arrived at Del’s Triangle 3 Ranch after the 45-minute drive and I was helped aboard Cinnamon by Ray and a very useful box.
Then it was the off.
I very sensibly took the decision to hang around at the back and chat with Ray.
As we trudged through the snow he told me his story.
“I was born in Steamboat in 1938 and used to be head ski coach for Wyoming University. Then in 1964 I went down to New Mexico to teach Apache Indians how to set up and run a ski resort.”
“They were the Mescalero Apache Tribe who were first generation descendants of Geronimo himself.”
“An oil mogul needed to make a tax loss so he bought them a ski resort and I trained them up to ski and run it as a business.”
“And you know what it’s still going. Have a guess what it is called…”
“No idea,” I replied.
“Ski Apache,” he laughed, throwing his head back. “Not very original but it kinda works.”
On we trudged on horseback through the snow and into the aspen trees.
Now some of my favourite type of skiing is tree skiing, and my favourite trees to ski through are aspens.
They are often perfectly spaced.
And so they proved to be on horseback too.
“You know aspen trees are one of the largest living organisms in the world. The trees in the groves are all connected via the same root system. Aspens are the largest and oldest continually living organism. They are 1,000s of years old,” Ray informed me.
“Even when a fire rages through the trees burn, but the roots survive and the trees come back.”
In the distance was a mountain with a flattish peak.
“That’s Sand Mountain. Each summer we saddle up our horses and take out skis and ride 3 and a half hours to its base. Then we tether up the horses, put skins on and hike up for a couple of hours. It’s a total of 9 hours there and back for a 5 minute ski, but it’s always worth it,” said Ray.
“I first did it in 1953 and last year we did it on June 20th, but we couldn’t get all the way to the top as there was so much snow and a danger of avalanche. Last winter was a good season for snow.”
Cinnamon and I walked on.
She was perfectly behaved and I like to think she had the same view of me.
“Hey Ray, someone told me cowboys wear Wrangler jeans rather than Levi jeans. Is that true?” I enquired.
“And if so, why?”
“Sure is. That’s because the cowboys are actually called wranglers. The company came along and made jeans with a thin seam on the inside especially for the wranglers so it makes it more comfortable in the saddle. They called the jeans Wranglers.”
“The thicker seam is on the outside which makes them a bit stiff when out of the saddle so I wear them for riding and not much else. Though I’m sure there are many different designs now.”
And 2 hours after setting off we arrived back at the ranch.
I was sad it was all over.
Now I have done many activites in resorts apart from skiing and snowboarding.
From huskey dog trails in Scandinavia and ski jorring in Chamonix through to driving piste bashers in Norway, ice climbing in Verbier, snow shoe walking in Flaine, zip lines in Saas-Fee, paraponting in Les2Alpes and many other activites in many other resorts that I have forgotten about.
My two hours aboard Cinnamon with Ray by my side were far and away the best time I have had on snow and off skis.
It is worth heading to Steamboat just for the horseback experience – the skiing is a bonus.
Thank you Ray.
And thank you Cinnamon.
And if you want to get into the saddle then this is the place to head to: Del’s Triangle 3 Ranch
In the meantime here are a few more pictures of my day:
See the video below showing what it’s like at Ski Apache, in New Mexico. The ski area was set up by Ray Heid who James rode with at Del’s Triangle 3 Ranch:
See here for the main PlanetSKI news page with all the latest stories from the mountains.
For the Spirit of the Mountains – PlanetSKI: No1 for ski news