Early snowstorms allow cross-country skiers to explore untouched trails
A couple of weeks ago, I rode my bicycle up the side of Grand Mesa on Highway 65, the Grand Mesa Scenic and Historic Byway. The glorious aspen were still turning from shimmering lime green to blazing yellow.
A couple of days ago, I had to put the truck into four-wheel-drive to make it up that same highway after a recent storm iced the pavement and covered the trees in a fresh blanket of snow.
Fresh snow and prospects of Nordic skiing brought forth strange feelings of calm, peacefulness, tranquility and serenity.
A white-knuckle drive up the hill did not.
Nonetheless, between these last couple of snowstorms, I had to cut some tracks at Skyway.
Some wintertime outdoor enthusiasts revel in the aerobic aspects associated with skiing in set tracks. Others enjoy the tranquility of exploring untracked terrain.
We found both at Skyway last week. The Grand Mesa Nordic Council does a fabulous job of grooming Skyway, as well as numerous other ski trails on Grand Mesa. The Nordic Council is a community based nonprofit organization composed of cross country skiers from around the Grand Mesa region. It is funded by membership fees, business sponsors, fundraising events and grants.
Normally, the standard groomed trail here is a 14- to 16-foot wide recreational skate and classic trail. Four feet on one side of the trail is set for classic track skiing, with an eight-foot-wide skate lane set in the center and the remaining two to four feet on the other side for snowshoers.
It’s early in the year, though. We experienced one snowstorm on Oct. 25-26, then nothing until this past week.
Right now, you’ll find only a few inches of snow and a narrow track on some trails at Skyway that are normally groomed. On other trails, you’ll find that “tranquility of exploring untracked terrain.”
There hasn’t been enough snow to crank up the old PistenBully 100 Nordic Snowcat Grooming Machine. There’s barely enough snow for a couple of skiers, but that’s changing. With two storms this past week, the Nordic Council was hoping to begin grooming operations on the Dog Loop at the Mesa/Delta County Line cross country ski complex, and to re-set and continue to widen the Scales Lake Trail at Skyway.
To reach Skyway from Grand Junction, take I-70 east for 20 miles to the Grand Mesa/Powderhorn exit (Exit 49). That’s Colorado Highway 65, the National Scenic and Historic Byway. It will take you directly to the top of Grand Mesa. Go through the town of Mesa and past Powderhorn Ski Area for 10 miles to the Skyway parking area. It’ll be on your left, or east of the highway, just after you travel up the last major hill and reach the top of the mesa. There’s a brown highway sign on your right that points to the cross-country ski trail head.
The Mesa/Delta County Line Ski complex is another two miles past Skyway on Highway 65. A third area that is expertly groomed by the Nordic Council is the Ward Lake Cross-Country Ski Complex. That trail head is five miles past County Line.
Although most trails in this area are not completely groomed yet, give those trail groomers a chance. They are the best, but they need snow to work with.
Thanks to modern technology, you can catch a current snow and grooming report straight from the Internet, and straight from the groomers’ frozen fingers. Glide on over to http://www.gmnc.org for the grooming reports, as well as up-to-date information on ski racing, ski racers, trail maps, conditions reports, and a place to donate and help support your favorite nordic council.
You should also know that Skyway is the official training area for the nationally-ranked Mesa State College Nordic ski team. The team’s coach just happens to be GMNC President Christie Aschwanden, a former Team Rossignol international ski racer disguised as a Cedaredge writer/editor.
If you’d like to see these world-class athletes practice, show up at Skyway almost any day from now until next spring. They’ll be the ones whizzing by you like you’re standing still.
In the latest GMAC newsletter, Christie wrote about something new coming to Skyway: “We are trying an experiment this year. At the end of last season, we marked and flagged a new trail at Skyway just for snowshoers. The trail leads out to a beautiful overlook and is appropriate for beginners and experts alike. It will not be groomed, just packed down by snowshoers. We encourage snowshoers to give it a try. We hope it will become your trail of choice at Skyway.”
Let the season begin.
Make sure you’ve got the snow tires on, though.