On the trail: A grand day of nordic skiing
GRAND MESA, Colo. – Cross-country skiing on Grand Mesa west of Palisade last weekend was like looking up a long-lost friend.
I haven’t been there for at least five years, probably more like eight. (Why does time get foggy as a person gets older?) That prior trip was bittersweet. A group of about six of us “Torped” two others – leaving them behind in the confusing maze of trails without discussing a destination. We eventually met up, but it left a bad taste in the mouths of all involved.
(If you need a definition of “Torped,” ask somebody who was around for the “Miracle in the Mountains” episode of February 1993.)
I took a midwinter escape to Grand Junction last weekend with my wife and daughter. The Hampton Inn downtown was excellent and inexpensive. Dinner was fabulous at a restaurant and winebar call 626 on Rood.
The real highlight was the skiing. I dropped off my wife and daughter downtown Saturday, then backtracked to Highway 65 for the interesting drive up Grand Mesa. You travel through the canyon gouged into sandstone along Plateau Creek and steadily climb through snow-covered sagebrush and eventually the high country around Powderhorn Resort. The snow seemed deep in the naked aspen forests and thick groves of spruce that dot the high, flat mesa.
The official snowpack measurement on the mesa top was only 70 percent of average, but because of the terrain on Grand Mesa, it appeared a lot snowier. There are long tracks of untracked, virgin-white powder coating the gently rolling terrain.
My destination was the Skyway trailhead and nearly 20 kilometers of trails. There are endless possibilities for loops in the terrain that is at 10,600 feet in elevation. The trails are immaculately groomed for skate and classic skiing. It’s also easy to link into the County Line trail system a couple of miles farther south on the mesa. I did that via the appropriately named Vista Trail.
There were about 12 vehicles in the parking lot when I pulled in at 1 p.m. Saturday. I ran into a few skiers coming and going when I first took off, but soon that vast expanse gobbled me up. I couldn’t help but grin from feeling that I had the place all to my own.
It won’t be five to eight years before my next return.
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Friends of Colorado Avalanche Information Center has contributed to the state’s avalanche center for several years to help with forecasting for backcountry visitors. It cannot hold in-person fundraisers this year so its asking supporters to sign up for an annual membership.