Riding through winter

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— The first thing a novice rider notices about winter horseback riding is the silence.

"The only sound you hear is the creak of the horses' hooves on the snow," Ray Heid said last week as he turned his gaze to the hills surrounding Del's Triangle 3 Ranch, southwest of Clark.

Heid has been guiding horseback trips for 40 years. Today, his son, Perk, leads many of the trips. Their ranch, previously owned by Ray's late brother, Delbert, is tucked away on Routt County Road 62 in a seldom-visited corner of the upper Elk River Valley.

Ray Heid is a former champion collegiate skier, a longtime ski shop owner and a key figure in the history of Ski Apache in New Mexico. He was driving a snowcat for Steamboat Ski Area at night and leading horseback riding trips in the summer when he got the idea to try winter horseback riding. Heck, he was going home twice a day to feed the horse anyway.

Now his winter trips rival summer business.

Winter rides cost $65 a person and include a trip in a comfortable people mover van for the 30-minute trip from the ski area to the ranch.

And that's not all that the fee covers. The Heids recommend guests wear ski clothing, but they'll provide their dudes with a pair of well-worn chaps and a beat-up hat guaranteed to bring out the cowgirl or cowboy in everyone. Of course, in winter, some people would prefer to hang on to their knit caps.

The Triangle 3 horse herd includes a mix of American quarterhorses and Arabians. There might be a couple of nags in there, too.

"These horses are all in-shape athletes," Ray Heid said, sweeping his hand in front of him. "They get their exercise every day."

Riding experience is not necessary for visitors to Del's Triangle 3.

"In winter, the best thing you can do is let the horse do exactly what it wants to," Ray Heid said. He explained that the path the horses trod is a very narrow strip of hardpacked snow with an ocean of soft white fluff four feet deep on either side. The horses know better than to step off the path -- in fact, you couldn't budge them off it if you tried.

Ray Heid is a natural storyteller, and most guests go home with memories of his tales of the history of North Routt County, legendary skiers and of course, horse sense.

For more information, call 879-3495.

-- To reach Tom Ross, call 871-4205 or e-mail tross@steamboatpilot.com

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