Plenty of smiles on the Skyway
Close to two-dozen competitors take part in Skyway Skuffle 10K
Blue skies and warm sunshine greeted cross-country skiers at the starting line.
About 35 smiling faces shoved off for the Skyway Skuffle 10-kilometer race on Saturday on Grand Mesa. After 30-plus minutes, skiers straggled across the finish line, and those smiling faces were replaced by tired grimaces. But as the muscles relaxed and the lungs returned to normal, those smiles returned.
The Grand Mesa Nordic Council race series and the groomed Skyway trails, make for a popular destination for cross-country ski enthusiasts from around the Western Slope.
“I love the area,” said Helen Carlsen, 56, of Basalt. “It’s the best area I’ve ever skied at. The grooming makes for some amazing skiing.”
As the race started, Colorado Mesa University skiers broke from the starting line like they were on a prison break.
Slicing along the groomed snow with polished ease, the top two pulled away.
Mesa used the race as a training session and Andrew James, 22, cruised to victory from start to finish in a time of 33 minutes, 28 seconds. The Grand Junction High School graduate loves coming to Skyway.
“We come up here almost every day to practice,” he said. “It’s a great place to ski, under beautiful blue skies, great snow, it’s one of the best places to ski in the country.”
Mesa teammate Connor Timms placed second.
The field was a mix of ages and skill levels from competitors to participants enjoying a fabulous winter day on Grand Mesa. The consensus was unanimous: Skyway is an awesome place to ski.
Sara Ballantyne, 56, came up from Ridgway and was the first woman to cross the finish line, sixth overall. She said the grooming at Skyway makes for great skiing.
“I love skiing up here and they have the most phenomenal track system,” she said. “It’s by far the most beautiful and best tracks on the Western Slope.
“I love supporting their efforts and it’s pretty exciting to see this brand new machine here,” she said about GMNC.
The machine she referred to was one of the stars of Saturday’s race. The new red grooming machine was recently purchased by GMNC.
At a cost of $280,000, the machine was paid for by a matching grant from the Lambert Family Foundation, the council’s capital equipment fund, donations and a trade-in of the old machine.
Tom Ela, GMNC board member, offered a huge smile when talking about the new machine.
“It’s a much more powerful machine. It’s wider, it packs the snow much better so you get a really nice surface, and it can power through big drifts a lot better, so it’s a lot more efficient than our old machine,” he said. “It’s just a great thing to have.”
With the new machine on display, a number of skiers took advantage of the day to take selfies beside the massive groomer.
The GMNC maintains the Skyway trails and Ela encourages skiers to get a GMNC membership but the area is open to everyone.
All money raised “goes into the grooming fund,” he added. A small group of junior skiers raced a 2K course.
Kate Rizzo, 11, has been skiing for 2 to 3 years now.
“It took me about a year to get good at it,” she said about the more difficult task of skate skiing. “It’s just fun to be out, fun to feel that you can push yourself and do things you couldn’t imagine that you could do before.”
The GMNC race series is a fun social gathering that supports the nonprofit’s cause with the slogan “cross country skiing for fitness and fun.”
Skyway is renown among cross-country skiers for its great skiing.
“We’re really known here at Skyway for fabulous terrain, great snow conditions,” Ela said. “We start early and ski late in the season. At this altitude (10,000-plus) the snow holds up nicely.”
At the finish, competitors offered congratulatory clicks of ski poles, bumped fists, took selfies, and smiled and laughed under the brilliant blue, sunny skies.
It was a splendid day at Skyway.