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SPECIAL ISSUE: WINTER GAMES

Step and glide, dine and recline

Colorado's Devil's Thumb Ranch is emerging as an upscale yet homey cross- country skiing destination.

December 11, 2005|Jane Engle | Times Staff Writer

Otherwise, only the scraping of skis over crusty snow and the gurgle of a small stream broke the silence. We saw no other people. Above us, a shovel-full of stars sprinkled the dark sky.

Bruce gave us a short astronomy lesson, pointing out the North Star, the Little Dipper and more obscure constellations. It was magical.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday December 13, 2005 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 37 words Type of Material: Correction
Devil's Thumb -- In an article in Sunday's Travel section about Colorado cross-country ski resort Devil's Thumb Ranch, one of the author's traveling companions, Bruce, was referred to as her nephew. Bruce is actually the author's cousin.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday December 18, 2005 Home Edition Travel Part L Page 3 Features Desk 1 inches; 39 words Type of Material: Correction
Devil's Thumb -- In an article in the Dec. 11 Travel section about Colorado cross-country ski resort Devil's Thumb Ranch, one of the author's traveling companions, Bruce, was referred to as her nephew. Bruce is actually the author's cousin.

"Can we do this again tomorrow?" Wendy asked.

We did.

We also skied by day, my companions more so than I because I was sidelined Saturday by the headache and nausea of altitude sickness. This condition is not uncommon at the ranch, where you sleep at 8,300 feet and ski up to 9,000 feet, Bob Fanch told me later. I had recovered by the afternoon.

Wendy pronounced the trails top-notch -- scenic, well groomed and accurately rated for difficulty. But she got lost once or twice, confused by signs that lacked arrows or "you-are-here" marks.

All this stepping and gliding really worked up our appetites, which is a wonderful thing to have at Devil's Thumb Ranch. We tried both the Ranch House Restaurant and the less-expensive saloon; they share a chef, Tricia Cyman, and an admirable wine cellar with about 300 vintages.

At the saloon, which has a more limited menu, we went for comfort food: turkey potpie with mashed potatoes, and a grilled cheese sandwich with French fries. The next night, we tried the restaurant.

The varied menu relied on organic local produce, game and meat from Oakland-based Niman Ranch, "where livestock is humanely treated and never given growth hormones," resort literature said.

After sharing a wonderful appetizer of baked portabello mushrooms topped by buttery goat cheese, Wendy and I corralled an 8-ounce beef tenderloin with horseradish cream sauce and the aforementioned antelope steaks.

The antelope, served as 2-inch-wide medallions, was a bit bland and a tad tough. But the generous serving of tenderloin was rich and tender. Both medium-rare meats arrived piled atop mounds of mashed potatoes, with an array of vegetables. Our desserts were festive and flawless: berry crisp a la mode and a creamy Old Bailey's truffee, similar to chocolate mousse, which filled an Irish-coffee glass to the brim.

The service, while generally good, wasn't flawless. At the saloon, we had to hunt up a hostess to seat us. When I asked for a flight of wines at the restaurant, our waiter curtly replied, "We don't do flights."

Oh, well. My glass of 2001 Robert Stemmler Pinot Noir, from California's Russian River Valley, more than sufficed.

You may feel the need to fortify yourself at dinner if you have to hike, as we did, or ski back to your cabin. A few miles from Devil's Thumb, the tiny town of Fraser that night registered the coldest temperature in the lower 48 states -- 8 degrees above zero.

Wendy and I were on foot because we had traveled to the Rockies aboard the Ski Train, which made a daily round trip on winter weekends between Denver and Winter Park. From there, Devil's Thumb ran a free guest shuttle. The rail journey was reasonably priced and scenic. (See box for details.)

But you might want to arrive by car if you have booked one of Devil's Thumb's ridge-top cabins. That's because there was no regular shuttle service between those cabins and the main buildings.

Poetic moment at the spa

THANKFULLY, I didn't have to rough it at the resort's spa, where Carol, my down-to-earth masseuse, scrubbed, soaked and anointed me for 90 minutes.

We started with a relaxing, 50-minute Swedish massage, enhanced by cinnamon-eucalyptus oil, a hot herbal neck wrap and a classical music track backed by chirping birds.

For a 25-minute treatment called "Sole Survivor," I reclined in a specially designed chair, soaking my feet in a mini-whirlpool tub. Carol rubbed my feet with invigorating citrus salts, then touched on some sore points during a reflexology session.

Could my tight upper-back muscles really be linked somehow to my toes? Guess so.

Afterward, Carol treated me to herbal tea and poetry that she had composed, comparing friendship to nature's beauty.

I practically wafted out of the spa.

Or maybe I should say: I rode into the sunset.

Either phrase will do at Devil's Thumb, where the Old West and Ralph Lauren chic step and glide in cadence.

*

Have skis, will travel

GETTING THERE:

From LAX, American, United and Frontier have nonstop flights to Denver. Northwest, America West, Delta and Continental have connecting flights (change of plane). Restricted round-trip fares begin at $208.

From Denver you can rent a car to drive to Winter Park, Colo., take a shuttle or ride the Ski Train.

Home James Transportation Services, (800) 359-7503, www.homejamestransportation.com, runs between the Denver airport and Devil's Thumb Ranch (see below); one-way fare, $49 per person.

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