Betting the ranch and soaking in the rewards |

Betting the ranch and soaking in the rewards

Stewart Oksenhorn
The Aspen Times
Glenwood Springs, Colorado CO
Stewart Oksenhorn The Aspen TimesAvalanche Ranch, along the Crystal River between Carbondale and Redstone, has built three pools fed by natural hot springs.

Molly Ogilby Jacober says her father, Chuck Ogilby – who has been a developer, owner of a backcountry hut, member of Vail’s Town Council and activist on behalf of water and backcountry-access issues – “doesn’t do complacency well. He can’t stand anything boring. He needs some risk to get him up in the morning.”

One of Ogilby’s bigger and more recent gambles is paying off, as Avalanche Ranch, the property along the Crystal River the Ogilby family has owned since 2006, has struck … water. Natural, hot, mineral-rich water. Abundant enough to fill three pools that have been built into the hillside at Avalanche Ranch.

Since opening this past spring, the pools – two small hot ones on the upper deck and a larger one below with somewhat lower temperatures but boasting a waterfall – have given the public greater reason besides Avalanche Ranch’s 15 cozy guest cabins to make a stop along Highway 133. The pools are open to overnight guests and to day users, and all have been soaking it up.

“We’ve seen so many people pull off the highway because of the hot springs. Weekends are a madhouse up here,” said Jacober, who has managed the property since the family bought it. “The goal was to bring traffic in for the winter months. In the summer we’ve always kept people happy with fishing and canoeing in the pond, the animals” – Avalanche Ranch is home to chickens, sheep, dogs and horses – “and the trails. In the past, winter just tanked.”

Those rewards were preceded by considerable risk: nearly two years of planning and getting permits, an investment of nearly $200,000 simply to ascertain if the project was viable – and the very real possibility that the water would not be warm enough, or in sufficient quantity, for their needs. In fact, several years ago, a geologist hired to evaluate the potential for hot-springs pools said there was just a 50-50 chance that the underground vents that existed in the area could supply enough water.

“And that was just too much of a gamble,” Jacober said.

In November 2010, Jacober’s brother Kayo, a teacher at Carbondale’s Colorado Rocky Mountain School, brought his geology class to Avalanche Ranch to map the property. Nearby, at a spot along the highway, the students noticed substantial melt-off from a recent snowfall – a sign of significant geothermal energy. At a presentation at the school, the class said the odds of having adequate water were more than 70 percent, and the Ogilby family was persuaded, by a group of high school juniors, to take the plunge.

“That was the key moment,” Jacober said. “They felt it was a true indication of geothermal activity under the ground. They gave us a 70 percent chance of having enough water. And they were right. We drilled, and there was water.”

At the first test, the water was not super hot, just 93 degrees. But with the Ogilbys preparing to move forward, the universe seemed to line up behind them. When they did a pump test just two weeks later, to make sure that they were not going to deplete the rights of other water users, the temperature had inexplicably shot up to 96. Over time, the temperature has continued to rise; it now stands at just more than 100 degrees.

“We theorized it was runoff pushing the pressure,” Jacober said. “But then the runoff was gone, and it was still going up. It’s magical – the idea of geothermal water and what’s going on under the ground is a mystery.”

Optimistic about the available water, the family set out to make sure that the man-made components matched the natural ones. The pool decking, made of sandstone found on the property, is as attractive as any hot-spring pools to be found in Colorado. The pool bottoms are made of pebbles, providing maximum comfort to the feet. The waterfall was added to mask any sound from the highway, so soakers can take in the water (raised to about 104 degrees in the small pools) and the views of Mount Sopris and Elephant Mountain in near silence. In a move that could prove both environmentally and economically friendly, the Ogilbys are applying for public funds to create a system that uses the geothermal energy to heat some of the cabins.

The initial risk required is one that Jacober is pretty sure she wouldn’t have been comfortable with.

“This was a huge gamble,” she said. “I’d never have had the courage. I’d have lost all my hair, I think.”

But then Jacober mentions the tentative plan to add more pools at select cabins, allowing guests the option of a more private soaking experience. The prospect doesn’t seem to faze her; she has seen how taking a chance has transformed her little patch of the world.

“The pools have changed the character of the place enormously,” she said. “It gives the property the feel of a resort. There’s a new reason to come up to this valley.”

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