Skiing Sunset Loop at Skyway perfect way to avoid unbearable gusts


Skyway Cross Country Ski Trail

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

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

I was ready to race. I was psyched up, pumped up, watered up, proteined-up. But when I reached Skyway, I was blown off the hill — not only by the Mesa State Nordic ski team, but by gusting wind.

The wind forced postponement of the Grand Mesa Nordic Council’s WinterStart Citizens Ski Race on top of Grand Mesa last Sunday. The ski team raced anyway.

Meanwhile, I wandered into the trees and kept out of the wind for an easy trip around Sunset Loop at Skyway.

The racers went the other way and into the wind.


The citizens race has been re-scheduled for today at Skyway. There will actually be two races — a 5-kilometer classic ski race set to begin at 11 a.m. and a 5-kilometer freestyle race at 12:30 p.m. You’ve got time. After you read this, put the coffee down and gear up. Both races are open to the public. The ski team will probably be there, too, so root them on!

According to Nordic Council President Christie Aschwanden, it’s a bummer they couldn’t have raced last week, when there was also a gear demo displaying all the latest cross-country ski equipment from Boulder Mountain Sports.

With WinterStart postponed and a bunch of enthusiastic skiers ready to brave the wind, however, the group staged an impromptu 2K classic race into the wind, won by Mesa State Nordic ski team captain Tre Anastasia.

“The race this week allows racers to catch the best snow of the season, thanks to recent snow storms,” Christie noted on the GMNC Web site,

To reach Skyway from Grand Junction, take I-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 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 Grand Mesa Nordic Council does a fabulous job of grooming Skyway and numerous other ski trails on Grand Mesa. It’s a community-based nonprofit organization composed of cross country skiers from around the region. It is funded by membership fees, business sponsors, fund raising events and grants.

The standard groomed trail here is a 14- to 16-foot wide recreational skate and classic trail. Part of the trail is set for classic track skiing, with an 8-foot-wide skate lane in the center and a 2-to 4-foot wide section on the other side for snowshoers.

Not every trail in the area is completely groomed this way yet — but give those trail groomers a chance. They are the best, and now there’s enough snow.

The grooming plan was laid out last week: “In light of the blizzard warnings, no grooming for the next two days is planned. Beginning on Wed., we will open up additional trails as conditions allow. We will move the grooming crew around all three trail systems and with luck will have most of the trails skiable by the end of the week. Depending on the availability of transport, we should have the snowcat up by mid-week.”

Love that modern technology! I can catch a current snow and grooming report straight from the Internet, and straight from the groomers’ frozen fingers.

The three trail systems mentioned are Skyway, County Line and Ward Lake cross country ski complexes — all located along Highway 65 on top of the mesa, where the aforementioned Mesa State College Nordic ski team works out.

My colleague, Dave Buchanan, featured them in Wednesday’s Daily Sentinel sports section. The club sport team is funded through the Mesa State athletic department as part of its “emerging sports” program.

The team’s coach just happens to be GMNC President Aschwanden, a former Team Rossignol international ski racer disguised as a Cedaredge writer/editor. She told Dave that being a club sport doesn’t lessen the grueling competition of Nordic racing or the demands of intercollegiate athletics.

I soon discovered she was right. I’d finished my leisurely Sunset Loop trek before their “impromptu” race began, so I watched them start.

All of a sudden, I wasn’t as pumped up. I wasn’t as psyched up.

I hobbled to the truck in search of my inhaler. I then wobbled to the greeter’s table where old buddy Tom Ela, another board member of the Nordic Council, plied me with warm lentil soup.

The racers had already returned and were cooling down.


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