Deep on the mesa |

Deep on the mesa

GRAND JUNCTION Years ago, there was talk of creating a groomed nordic system on Richmond Ridge, off the top of Aspen Mountain. But nothing ever came of it, for one reason or another.Atop the Grand Mesa outside of Grand Junction, a cross-country enthusiast can sample the kind of terrain Aspen might have had, or maybe, the sort of trail system Aspen will have someday.The Grand Mesa Nordic Council maintains several separate cross-country skiing areas atop the mesa – a sprawling, flat-topped mountain roughly between Grand Junction and Cedaredge. All together, the council maintains about 56 kilometers of groomed trails spread out across the Grand Mesa. All of them are free to use. The largest is a series of loops dubbed Skyway, about an hour’s drive off Interstate 70. A friend and I spent three hours exploring almost every inch of the nearly 19 kilometers at Skyway and then sampled the skiing at County Line, a separate series of loops, a day later.Since the mesa is essentially flat, the terrain ranges from flat to rolling, without much in the way of steep pitches. On Saturday, all of the system was freshly groomed and the conditions sublime. We lucked into perfect blue skies and, but for the trails themselves, huge expanses of unbroken snow. It’s easy to understand why neither man nor beast was making tracks across the windswept landscape. My companion stuck her ski pole into the deep snow beside the trail and buried it up to the hilt.The mesa is windy, but dense stands of evergreens provide windbreaks and, much of the time, the stiff breeze was barely noticeable.The Skyway loop offers an overlook of the sweeping canyon country below the mesa and a glimpse of the La Salle Mountains of Utah, far to the west.From the trails accessed at the County Line trailhead – connected to Skyway by a long, groomed traverse – an overlook offers views of the West Elk Mountains near Aspen, and farther south, the San Juans.A groomed loop on Richmond Ridge could rival the mesa’s terrain, plentiful powder and views, but for now, the trip west is worth it.

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