Vail Daily travel feature: The Broadmoor’s new Cloud Camp is perched on top of Cheyenne Mountain | SummitDaily.com

Vail Daily travel feature: The Broadmoor’s new Cloud Camp is perched on top of Cheyenne Mountain

Caramie Schnell
cschnell@vaildaily.com

Perched atop Cheyenne Mountain, Cloud Camp lived up to its name on a Saturday morning in mid-October. A thin layer of cirrus clouds crept over the canyon, toward the nearby lodge. As we walked to the lodge for breakfast, the sun broke through the haze, momentarily blinding us. It was 8 a.m. on a Saturday and the lure of caffeine and breakfast pulled us from Fisher Canon, the cozy two-bedroom cabin we stayed in for our weekend at Cloud Camp.

Cloud Camp is The Broadmoor's new, all-inclusive "Wilderness Experience" perched 3,000 feet above the famed hotel, atop Cheyenne Mountain. Eleven guest cabins and a fire tower (you can rent that, too) surround the towering timber and stone main lodge.

When the camp opened to guests a little over two months ago, a massive storm lashed the property the first night, Broadmoor assistant manager Sasha Burke told us. After it passed, a bright rainbow rewarded hotel staff with a good omen, and those first guests with the perfect colorful selfie backdrop. Even without storm clouds or rainbows, we had plenty of our own photo opportunities last weekend when we visited Cloud Camp, what with the views of "America's Mountain" — Pikes Peak — to the northwest, the surrounding Pike National Forest and Colorado Springs spread out below, its lights twinkling after dark much like the stars above.

HIKE OR RIDE?

After checking in at The Broadmoor on a Friday afternoon, we loaded into a Cadillac Escalade for the windy ride up Cheyenne Mountain Highway, which takes you past the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo (wave to the elephants and giraffes as you drive by) and the Will Rogers Shrine of the Sun where flamboyant Colorado Springs character Spencer Penrose — the original owner of The Broadmoor and the zoo, the founder of the Pikes Peak Hill Climb and more — is buried with his wife, Julie. The more I researched Penrose, the more I wished I could have known the man. A determined drinker, he hid boatloads of booze under The Broadmoor during prohibition and rode in a cart pulled by a llama with signs advocating the repeal of the 18th amendment. He used an elephant as a caddy on The Broadmoor golf course, housing it across the street from the hotel; one day it broke out and ran down the street. The elephants soon joined monkeys, a polar bear and more at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, which he built in the mid-1920s as a promotion to draw more hotel guests to town.

It's no elephant entrance, but in a somewhat more dramatic fashion, we could have opted to ride into Cloud Camp on a pair of mules — perhaps a nod to the burro rides offered on Pikes Peak from 1914 to 1917. Or we could have hiked up the steep, switchback-laden road, either on our own or with a guide. Guests are free to choose, and perhaps pre-child we would have been a bit more adventurous, but with our 8-month-old baby girl, Ellis, along for the trip, we opted for the Escalade's black leather seats.

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ARTIFACTS AND ANIMALS

After lots of twists and turns, we pulled up to the main lodge, built in the same location as Penrose's Cheyenne Lodge. A little trivia: The old lodge, which was not nearly so grand as what's there now, was opened to the public in 1926. It was closed in 1961 and eventually torn down in 1976, after years of vandalism, according to a story in The Gazette.

We were shown into the lodge and given a quick tour of the vast great room, decorated with impressive Western artwork, an extensive collection of Native American artifacts and mounted animals, including a black bear our daughter studied often over the course of the weekend. I'm glad we didn't run into the real bear the guests in a neighboring cabin spotted in the early morning hours. Two large stone fireplaces bookend the room, providing the perfect place, we'd soon learn, to sip a glass of pinot noir and socialize with the other guests, a key part of the Cloud Camp experience. Eyes wide, we took in the beautiful views from a wraparound deck, complete with numerous telescopes and rocking chairs.

After being shown to our cabin, we stepped out onto the small side deck and stared down the craggy canyon to the entrance to the Cheyenne Mountain Complex, the former home of NORAD, far below.

SECRETS FROM THE SOUTH

That evening, before cocktail hour, we took part in Cooking Club, another Penrose tradition that Broadmoor owner Philip Anschutz has revived. (Anschutz bought the hotel in 2011 and has invested more than $100 million in the facility since.) Along with a couple from nearby Sedalia who were celebrating their anniversary (a common theme, we found), we watched as chef Alex George prepped dinner. George, a talented chef from Tennessee who most recently was the sous chef at the Hearthstone in Breckenridge, prepared two items we'd get to taste later that night: rose veal scaloppini and a Tabasco and buttermilk-marinated fried chicken. George shared his Southern secrets: let it rest for an hour after you bread it and after frying, finish cooking it in the oven. Items on the dinner menus — including Maine lobster bisque; sliced tenderloin of beef stroganoff with broiled tomato Provencale; Rocky Mountain trout meuniere with white asparagus and hollandaise; and peach clafoutis (baked almond custard with Palisade peaches) topped with creme fraiche sorbet — originated from the Cooking Club, a once-a-month, men-only tradition that Penrose started decades back; it continues to this day in a building at the base of the mountain. There was even an Ambrosia salad option one night — when was the last time you saw that throwback on a restaurant menu?

The gourmet food, while certainly not light, was quite tasty and a highlight of the weekend. Good thing there are plenty of activities — yoga, hiking, archery and crafts — to keep you moving while at Cloud Camp, so you don't feel quite so guilty.

CAIRNS TO CRAGS

After breakfast on Saturday, one of the lovely staff members (every person we encountered, guests and staff alike, was genuinely hospitable and kind), Kelly, a certified yoga instructor, taught a 60-minute hatha yoga class. This type of yoga focuses on strengthening and stretching, and I felt like a new, much more limber, open and relaxed woman after an hour. Since I was one of just two people at the 9:30 class, it was essentially a private yoga session, with plenty of one-on-one instruction.

Afterwards, we took advantage of the beautiful, mid-60s weather and hiked the MacNeil Trail, which conveniently starts on the property. We walked in silence most of the way, over a carpet of golden aspen leaves. The crunch of leaves and a few chattering squirrels were the only sounds. The trail includes a good amount of up and down, with plenty of man-made cairns to keep you from going off course. Towering rock formations, many of which looked just like enormous versions of the smaller markers, are strung along the mountainside. There are plenty more dramatic rocks to explore at the nearby boulder field, six or so switchbacks down off the main road, marked by another cairn.

High Life Editor Caramie Schnell can be reached at cschnell@vaildaily.com.

Interested in a similar experience but don’t want to wait until next year? There are two, all-inclusive establishments with a similar wilderness-meets-luxury focus that are open year round that we highly recommend.

The Home Ranch, located in Clark near Steamboat Springs, is the only Relais & Chateaux dude ranch in Colorado. The charming Western ranch has six rooms in the lodge and eight cabins available to rent surrounding the lodge. Skate skiing (on 30 km of groomed Nordic trails) and cross country skiing, snowshoeing, tubing, dog sledding, sleigh rides, skiing at the nearby resort and more are offered during the winter. All activities and three gourmet meals are included in the rate, which start at $550/night for two people, with a two-night minimum. Visit http://www.homeranch.com.

• Or further away, The Ranch at Rock Creek in Philipsburg, Montana has similar activities available: cross country skiing, snowmobiling, horseback riding, snowshoeing, snowcat adventures, sleigh rides, hockey, sledding and ice skating. Discovery Ski Area is 25 minutes away. Rates start at $850 per person, per night, during the winter and are all-inclusive with food, drinks and activities. Read more about the Ranch at Rock Creek in this 2012 Vail Daily story. Visit http://www.theranchatrockcreek.com.