Reveling in the beauty of snow on the first sleigh ride of the year reminds us that simple winter pleasures should not be overlooked.
LEAVENWORTH, Chelan County — Steam rises from the horses’ flanks as they jingle leather harnesses and give a mighty tug, breaking trail on their first sleigh ride of the season.
“Hope! Tuck!” says Ross Frank, calling his draft horses by name as they heave the sleigh through a sparkling wonderland.
Claiming bragging rights to the longest continuously operating sleigh ride in the Leavenworth area, Wednesday was Frank’s 33rd year captivating tourists — a Leavenworth specialty. Frank makes the sleighs himself, mostly from wood cut and milled on the family ranch. He mounts the sleighs on old runners, some from local homesteads.
After all, some things never change: The pleasure of the horses’ trot, easing the sleigh runners through the snow. The groaning good fun of a truly bad pun — Frank keeps them coming as he urges the horses on. Holiday spirit rung true from the horses’ jingle bells.
Even the trip over from Western Washington is part of the fun, a magical passage from the gray, wet, rainy lowlands to the shining mountains and snowy east side of the Cascades.
Snow falls at Red Tail Canyon Farm outside of Leavenworth. (Erika Schultz / The Seattle Times)
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It starts on Highway 2, with the appetizer of Mount Index, wound in scarves of cloud glowing in sun.Then comes the Wenatchee River, with river rocks sporting tall snow hats, midstream in the silvershine current. An old burn alongside the river has a spare, stickpin geometry best seen in winter, the black charred trees pricking fresh snow.
It is the therapy that works every time, clean, sparkling, fresh, delightful: That snow-day feeling. The hard edges of the city recede, and soggy drear of our winter rainworld are blitzed by gleaming powder.
At Red Tail Canyon Farm, the 7 to 8 inches of fresh snow overnight was just the thing needed to inaugurate the sleighing season. The Frank family works with draft horses year-round at their ranch, whether for logging, hay rides in summer, or sleigh rides all winter. It’s their way of getting the land to pay for itself — with the horses’ help.
Gus, the border collie, and Cache, the husky mix, led the way as the horses headed out in three teams of two, each leading a sleigh full of guests.
Sun sparkled on spindrift easing from Ponderosa pines, as the horses cruised, slow and steady, into the forest. The dogs raced ahead, churning through the snow to make the first tracks.
The scent of pine and horses was in the air, the wooden sleighs creaked, and runners shushed through the sparkling snowfall. The jingle of the horses’ bells announced quickening speed. “Shall we try for a dash?” Frank said, as Hope and Tuck entered a long, downhill stretch.
“Giddy-up Hope! Tuck!” Frank called. And sure enough, dash they did.
So of course we all sang, bursting out with you know just what: “Jingle Bells.” With the “dashing through the snow in a one horse open sleigh” part altered to two, in honor of Hope and Tuck.
Ross Frank leads Red Tail Canyon Farm’s first snowy sleigh ride of the year outside of Leavenworth, Chelan County, on Wednesday. The family-run farm has offered winter sleigh rides for more than 30 years. (Erika Schultz / The Seattle Times)
As the horses slid the sleighs to the end of the mile-or-so ride, Frank helped everyone out from under snug wool blankets, and off to a nearby teepee, where a fire in a wood stove and hot cocoa were waiting.
“It feels like you are in a Christmas card, and everyone smiling,” Frank said, and he was right.
The kids made the most of it, the teenagers too. “It’s a good time to spend with my family, throwing snow balls,” said Nate Friese, 13, of the Tri-Cities, as his brother Aaron, 4, plunged into the snow drifts. “I like kicking it!” was Aaron’s emphatic verdict on snow.
That was just one of many great options.
Zoe Field, 13, of Seattle, flopped on her back, arms and legs swishing akimbo, knocking out a perfect snow angel. “I love snow, it’s crunchy and so white and sparkly,” Field said. Then she was up on her feet and running, just for the joy of it.
“Roar!” she said, in honor of her bear’s head hat.
“I love, LOVE running through the snow!”