On a clear day…

Cross-country skiers flocking to Grand Mesa

The Skyway Nordic Ski Area will see plenty of activity this weekend with a U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association sanctioned race that brings Colorado’s top junior racers to the area, as well as a citizen’s race today, there are plenty of groomed trails just 2.4 miles down the road at the County Line Nordic Area.

While a gloomy gray haze hovered over the Grand Valley prior to Wednesday’s snow storm, the sky was bright and beautiful at Skyway Nordic Ski Area above it all on Grand Mesa.


XC skiing on Grand Mesa

Drive time and distance to Skyway: 1 hour, 5 minutes; 49.8 miles

Elevation: 10,628 feet at Skyway, 10,839 on top

Length: Various loops from 2.3 K (1.43 miles) to 9.3 K (5.78 miles); combined total of 19.6 K (12.18 miles)

Skiing Time: 2-4 hours.

Difficulty: Beginner to advanced on regularly groomed trails

Dogs OK everywhere on the mesa except Skyway

We broke through a gloomy gray haze hovering over the Grand Valley last week (prior to Wednesday’s snow storm), and found bright blue skies and fabulous Nordic skiing on Grand Mesa.

Once again, thanks to the great work of the Grand Mesa Nordic Council (GMNC) and a little help from mother nature, us locals have enjoyed better early season cross-country skiing than anywhere in Colorado.

Groomers with the Nordic Council have been doing their thing, grooming trails on the mesa, since Nov. 6.

They’ve been grooming with the PistenBully 100Nordic Snowcat Grooming Machine since Nov. 20.

The PistenBully has an 11-foot plow and 10-foot tiller, double independent track setters, and an internal heater to pre-warm the engine and hydraulics.

I love that kind of talk! More importantly, I love how it sets track.

The GMNC is a volunteer, not-for-profit organization of people who love to cross-country ski. The council grooms 54 kilometers (32.4 miles) of trails on Grand Mesa with funds donated from skiers and snowshoers, as well as business sponsors like REI, fundraising events and grants.

In fact, the PistenBully was a gift to the council, made possible by a very generous grant from the Jean Thomas Lambert Foundation back in 2006.

Costs of running this machine, however, has a big impact on the council’s miniscule budget, so make sure you sign up for your yearly membership at http://www.GMNC.org, or drop a Jackson in the donation box at the trail head every time you’re there.

Saturday and continuing today, GMNC is hosting the First Snow NRL race at Skyway. The event is sanctioned by the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association and brings Colorado’s top junior racers to Skyway.

The race features events for racers in 11 age categories, from age six to college, and includes separate citizen races this morning, open to all ages and abilities.

“Last year, GMNC agreed to host this race at the last minute,” according the GMNC website, “when the original venue did not have sufficient snow. More than 150 skiers turned out, and GMNC raised more than $4,000, making this event the single biggest fundraiser of the year.”

To reach Skyway from Grand Junction, take Interstate 70 east for 20 miles to the Grand Mesa/Powderhorn 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.

While Skyway will be full of racers this morning, you won’t believe the new SAFE parking area at County Line Cross-Country Ski Area, 2.4 miles past Skyway. It’s on your left (northeast side of the highway) if you’re heading up from Grand Junction, on your right if you’re heading up from Cedaredge.

Watch carefully. You might pass it because it’s not in the middle of the road any more.

This wonderful Nordic wonderland isn’t just for cross-country skiers. It’s also a haven for snowshoers. In fact, last year the Nordic Council laid out a new trail between Skyway and County Line called the Summit Trail, designed specifically for snowshoers.

No matter where you go, tell someone where you’ll be, when you’re expected back, and go prepared. Weather in Colorado’s high country can change without warning.

Colorado’s search and rescue teams are incredible, performing more than 1,000 missions helping those caught in emergency situations in the backcountry each year.

But you’ve got to give them a chance. If you’re not sure of your own backcountry abilities, stick to established trails, go prepared, and go with someone more experienced than you.

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 Colorado Outdoor Recreation Search and Rescue (CORSAR) Cards. The fund is not insurance and does not reimburse individuals, nor does it pay for medical transport.

Like a buddy of mine says, “You get lost, they rescue you. That’s it. You’re on your own from there.”

Considering a backcountry rescue can cost thousands of dollars, with one of those licenses or the card, at least you’re covered for the cost of the rescue. At $3 for one year and $12 for five years, get the card at your local ski shop.

Remember, it’s cold and snowy up there on our Grand Mesa, and the weather can change. But if it’s like it was last week, you’ll be in nirvana, nordically speaking.

Email Bill Haggerty at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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