OUT: Haggerty’s Hikes January 24, 2009

SKYWAY SKI TRAILS DOES THE TRICK

Nearly cloudless blue skies were the order of the day on a recent trip to Skyway Cross Country Ski Trails on Grand Mesa.
BILL HAGGERTY/The Daily Sentinel



“Before I leave,” said Bridgette, “let’s go skiing one last time.”

Our daughter was headed for Copenhagen for a semester abroad, and Glenda and I were a bit weepy. So, we donned sunglasses, and off we went to the Skyway Cross County Ski Trails on top of Grand Mesa.

Even with misty-eyed vision, I could see through my polarized lenses that a great day was ahead of us. 

We spied only a wisp of cloud in the sky as we rolled past Mesa Lakes Resort and enjoyed a crystal clear bluebird day. As I plugged the three pin bindings of my old Epoke skis into the bottoms of my ancient leather boots, I knew there was no better place to ski than Skyway.

After all, Bridgette was on rented skies with scales and I could whip her on my waxable skis on these groomed trails.   

To reach this area from Grand Junction, take Interstate 70 east for 20 miles to the Grand Mesa/Powderhorn exit (49). That’s Colorado Highway 65, a National Scenic and Historic Byway. It will take you directly to the top of the 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 trailhead.

The Grand Mesa Nordic Council does a fabulous job of grooming Skyway, as well as numerous other ski trails on the mesa. The Nordic Council is a community-based nonprofit organization composed of cross country skiers from around the mesa region. It is funded by membership fees, business sponsors, fundraising events and grants.

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, while an 8-foot-wide skate lane is set in the center and the remaining 2 to 4 feet on the other side is for snowshoers.

This area will sponsor the third in a series of four citizens cross-country ski races tomorrow.

The 10-kilometer Grand Mesa Classic Ski Race will be at 11 am. A Kids Race for those 13 years of age and younger will precede the big 10K race at 10:30 am. Distance for the kids race will be based on ability.

The series emphasizes ski racing for fun and personal fitness for skiers of all abilities. You can register prior to the races at the Skyway parking area. Registration for each race is on race day only about an hour prior to each race. Entry is $10 for Grand Mesa Nordic Council members, $15 for others.

For information about the races, go to the Nordic Council’s Web site at http://gmnc.info, or ski often on Grand Mesa and the Nordic Council will keep you informed by posting information on kiosks at the trailheads.

If you don’t race, but still need to escape from under a cloud, Skyway is perfect. There are numerous loops here, all guaranteed to blow your senses away. We skied the Sunset Loop until we reached the Vista Loop, then took the long Vista Loop, 2.9 kilometers out and 2.5 kilometers back to Lion’s Loop. Glenda took a header coming down the hill toward Will’s Cuttoff, but her neck didn’t hurt the next day as much as her heart as we watched Bridgette board the plane on her way out of the country.

We pray we prepared her well ... but speaking of being prepared, you need to be prepared in Colorado’s high country. Weather, for example, can change without warning. As much as I’ve written about the Nordic Council, I’ve also pontificated about the virtues of Colorado’s search and rescue teams. They are incredible, performing more than 1,000 missions helping those caught in emergency situations in the backcountry each year.

Colorado’s Search and Rescue Program is funded by surcharges on hunting and fishing licenses, boat registrations, off-highway vehicle registrations, snowmobile registrations and the sale of Colorado Outdoor Recreation Search and Rescue (CORSAR) Cards. At a minimal cost of $3 for one year and $12 for five years, you can get the card at your favorite local ski shop. 

So, you’re covered for weather and rescue, but another consideration before you head up to the high country, is your eyes. A good pair of sunglasses is a must. On a clear day such as the one we enjoyed, you could go snow blind quite easily. 

If, however, you wear polarized lenses for safety reasons, you can see clearly that Skyway is a blindingly beautiful place to ski.


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