See paradise beneath the Colorado peaks

A publishing couple invites you into the process behind their picturesque Vail estate.

  • Lights from Marmot Lodge glowing in the winter twilight.

    Todd Winslow Pierce
  • Frequently observed at bird feeders around Knapp Ranch, the Steller’s jay is known for its flash of vibrant blue and loud raspy call. These birds are often found mimicking other birds, particularly red-tailed hawks, as well as squeaky doors and telephones.

    Todd Winslow Pierce
  • Clearing fog from a late autumn storm reveals fresh snow on New York Mountain above Lake Creek Valley.

    Todd Winslow Pierce
  • Lanterns at Knapp Ranch provide just enough illumination to mark the trail without obscuring the crystalline brilliance of the Milky Way overhead.

    Todd Winslow Pierce
  • Hayden Geological Survey photographer William Henry Jackson captured this view of the Lake Creek Valley and New York Mountain sometime between 1886 and 1890 from a natural bench above the confluence of Lake Creek and the Eagle River.

    Photo courtesy of Denver Public Library
  • Landscape architect Rick Lamb’s site analysis was used to determine a number of potential building sites on the Knapp's new property. After reviewing topographic features, slopes, drainage patterns, solar aspect, predominant wind direction and views, he recommended Site 7 as the best location for building the Main Lodge. Eventually, some of the remaining identified locations became the sites for the sawmill (5), the Farm at Knapp Ranch (6), and the caretaker’s home (4). Photomontage A shows the location of Building Site A. Montage B looks west over the proposed lake. All three photos on this page show what the valley looked like when the Knapps first visited.

    Rick Lamb
  • The cabins were first constructed at a staging area in the lower meadow. The logs were numbered, then disassembled, and hauled to the cabin site. Here, logs set in a saddle-notch construction start to form the walls of Silver Sal Cabin.

    Betsy Knapp
  • This telephone, secured in a box and attached to a post in the middle of the job site, became the project’s unofficial conference room. Despite the constant noise and dust, the Knapps conducted all of their business, both personal and professional, from this station throughout the four-year building project.

    Betsy Knapp
  • High-altitude altocumulus clouds, their swirling bands uplit by the reflective orange and red hues of a setting sun, foretell a change in the weather.

    Todd Winslow Pierce
  • A red fox traverses the boundary between aspen forest and open meadow in winter

    Todd Winslow Pierce
  • Sunset light above the Main Lodge and pond at Knapp Ranch, in summer.

    Todd Winslow Pierce
  • The addition of interior color and light are evident in the ornate craftsmanship found throughout MacPherson Cabin. An imaginative use of log joinery and stone detail abound in the living room, including the truly “gutsy” Colorado sandstone mantle.

    David Marlow
  • Beehives at Knapp Ranch are stacked on platforms and secured from predators by both a framed structure and an electric fence.

    Todd Winslow Pierce
  • Located in the ranch’s lower valley, The Farm at Knapp Ranch is a working seasonal farm that honors and preserves the land upon which it is located. The loamy glacial soil combines a healthy balance of silt, sand and clay topped by a layer of rich organic material, ideal for producing fresh and nutritious leafy greens, root vegetables, squash, tomatoes and microgreens. The crops are protected from animal invaders by a twelve-foot-high fence.

    Todd Winslow Pierce
  • George Lamb paints a landscape at the upper pond at Knapp Ranch 25 years after he introduced Bud and Betsy to the property.

    Todd Winslow Pierce
  • Guests of Knapp Ranch gather with Bud Knapp (at left) around the exterior fireplace at Marmot Lodge.

    Todd Winslow Pierce
  • The ranch’s indoor and outdoor spaces can accommodate a variety of special programs and bring together small, select multidisciplinary groups that are willing to honor the Knapps’ long-term goals for education, culture and the arts, science and technology, the humanities, sustainable agriculture, and place-based learning.

    Todd Winslow Pierce

 

What’s next after you’ve conquered the luxury magazine publishing world and managed major philanthropic endeavors? For Bud and Betsy Knapp, publishers of Bon Appétit and Architectural Digest, the answer was clear: Buy a ranch in the Vail Valley, build an exquisitely crafted lodge and cabins, raise organic vegetables — and then, write a book about it.

Living Beneath the Rockies, written by the Knapps with Sarah Chase Shaw, walks readers through the couple’s vision for their mountain property and determination to develop in concert with the landscape. With stunning imagery from the Colorado Rockies and designs based on legendary alpine lodges, the book is something to drool over.

Most of us mere mortals can never dream of owning this kind of land, but Knapp Ranch has done well by the local community, welcoming artists, encouraging research on conservation, ecology and climate change, and hiring a full crew to tend the grounds and gardens. 

Living Beneath the Colorado Peaks
Betsy and Bud Knapp with Sarah Chase Shaw
288 pages, large-format: $70. Knapp Press, 2018.

Carl Segerstrom is a contributing editor at High Country News, covering Alaska, the Pacific Northwest and the Northern Rockies. Email him at [email protected] or submit a letter to the editor