This story first ran on BusinessDen.com, a BizWest news partner.
TABERNASH — After mulling it over for five years, a resort near Winter Park has cut skiing trails and thinned out glades for cat skiing in time for next ski season.
Devil’s Thumb Ranch Resort & Spa has the terrain ready for next winter. It’s also doubling down on the wedding business with a new barn and almost 30 new cabins at an adjacent B&B.
Zach Fanch, son of ranch owners Bob and Suzanne Fanch and financial analyst for the business, said he grew up building ski jumps in the mountains at Devil’s Thumb, which is located in Tabernash in Grand County. He said his family always dreamed of opening it to guests.
“There aren’t a ton of places in Colorado that offer it,” said Fanch, 22. “We saw the potential with how much vertical the ranch has, and how much snow it gets.”
Devil’s Thumb already offers Nordic skiing. But the resort started planning for cat skiing five years ago, Fanch said.
The ranch cut seven trails on the mountains of its 6,500-acre property, with 100 acres for glade skiing, Fanch said. The available terrain has about 1,500 vertical feet available and the trails utilize 1,000 of them. The ranch gets roughly 280 to 300 inches of snow a year, he said.
The new addition will make Devil’s Thumb one of the closest spots to Denver for cat skiing, although it will be available only for overnight guests. Loveland Ski Area also recently added cat skiing.
“The culture at the ranch is really outdoorsy, so we wanted to offer a more well-rounded activity experience,” Fanch said. “If you go on a cat skiing trip anywhere else, it’s skiing all day and you get back to the lodge and you don’t have much else to do. That’s not the case at the ranch.”
Fanch said the ranch is renting the cat ski from Mountain States Snowcats, which also will operate the machine. Pricing isn’t set yet, but Fanch said guests can expect it to be competitive with other Colorado cat skiing operations.
“It’s a private tour, so if you and your friends wanna go skiing you don’t have to wait in lift lines, you don’t have to worry about getting separated on the mountain and you’ll have a guide with you so you don’t need to know the local spots,” Fanch said.
The trails range in difficulty from intermediate to expert, Fanch said. To start, Devil’s Thumb will run one Prinoth Snow Cat, which takes 10 minutes to get to the top of the mountain and seats eight to 10 people.
“It’s going to really heighten the guest experience,” Fanch said. “You don’t want to be waiting around in a cat for 30 minutes or an hour to get where you’re going.”
On the wedding venue side of the business, there are big plans there, too. The Fanches bringing in a barn, which dates to the Civil War-era and currently stands in Ohio.
It will be added to the property at Wild Horse Inn, a B&B adjacent to the Devil’s Thumb property that the family purchased in 2021 for $2.7 million to house staff, and later converted for guests.
“We bought the barn a couple years ago and didn’t have a use for it, then we realized it would make a beautiful venue for weddings, retreats and other events,” Fanch said.
Devil’s Thumb is a popular site for weddings, and Fanch said that for every wedding scheduled, 10 others are turned away. For non-wedding events, he said, that figure is more like 20 to one.
“We saw how many people we had to turn away and wanted to be able to direct them toward something else,” Fanch said.
So the Wild Horse Inn property, which is separate from Devil’s Thumb, will be turned into a second wedding and event venue. Right now, the property has a main lodge and three cabins. In addition to the 3,300-square-foot barn, the business is also adding 26 more cabins, a hot tub and two pickleball courts, pending county approval.
Because the barn is in Ohio, Fanch said they have to deconstruct it, transport the pieces to the property and then reconstruct it “exactly how it was built.” That process, and construction of the cabins, is expected to be finished by mid-2024.
Fanch said weddings held at Wild Horse will be less expensive than Devil’s Thumb. According to its website, a Devil’s Thumb wedding — which is a full weekend event that includes a welcome reception, morning-after brunch and more – starts at $90,000 or $125,000, depending on the season.
“There’s been so much demand at the ranch that we can’t accommodate with our number of rooms and the experience that people want to have,” Fanch said. “It will be the perfect place for weddings and events. The views are going to be very similar (to Devil’s Thumb).”