The light of the moon

Get away from glare of the city, enjoy cross-country skiing on Grand Mesa

A bundled-up skier with a headlamp and a pack full of survival gear enjoys a beautiful evening on the trails at the Skyway Nordic Ski Area on Grand Mesa, just 45 minutes from downtown GJ.

The moon was bright over Grand Mesa on Jan. 16. The next full moon will rise around sunset on Valentine’s Day, Feb.14. It will rise about 50 minutes later each night after the full moon.

The light and shadows of a full moon on Grand Mesa, here streaking through the aspen along the Waterdog Ski Trail, are mesmerizing. As long as you’re well-prepared, a moonlight ski can be mystical on a number of well-marked trails across the mesa.

Using the light of the moon to cross country ski can be a rewarding experience. Away from the glow of the city, the moon can provide ample light for enjoying a night ride.


Moonlight skiing 
on Grand Mesa

■ Drive time and distance: 1 hour, 45.5 miles to Waterdog/West Bench; 65 minutes, 49.8 miles to Skyway; 70 minutes, 52.2 miles to County Line.

■ Elevation: 9,760 feet at Waterdog/West Bench; 10,628 feet at Skyway; 10,839 feet at County Line.

■ Length: As much as you need.

■ Skiing time: Don’t stay out more than 1.5 to 2 hours.

■ Difficulty: Not for beginners!

Moonbeams streaked through the deep, dark pines, then dashed and played over broad snowfields across the undulating mounds on top of Grand Mesa the other night.

We grinned like kids and shouted, “Weeeeeeee,” all the way down the hill, then up the next, then down and around the corner on the next.

It was a wild, exhilarating ride that left us breathless and grinning from ear to ear.

We witnessed a couple great sunsets and spectacular moonrises in the Grand Valley around the 15th of January. High on the ridges of Grand Mesa, away from the light of the city, they were even more magical.

Moonlight skiing isn’t for everyone. It’s a little dark, a little scary and a little different, but it’s a mystical experience. It is not for those who are scared of the dark, nor is it for those who want a strenuous workout. You need to take your time, travel slowly and watch carefully.

Yet, as you’re tense every slippery step of the way, it’s a physically draining experience, and if you’re prepared and if your heart can handle a little thrill, moonlight Nordic skiing is a gas.

There are numerous places to enjoy this activity around here, but the top of the mesa is the best because that’s where most of the snow is. Liberty Cap on top of Colorado National Monument was just a bit slick, and the snow depth a bit thin, for a nighttime ski this month. It may be fine next month on the full moon, if we get a little more snow.

We chose Skyway on Grand Mesa for our moonlight ski because we know that track so well, but there are dozens of other places to trek off in the snow and enjoy a moonlight ski or snowshoe trip. In particular, there are three other areas that are well-marked and would make great moonlight ski/snowshoe adventures: the Waterdog/West Bench area near Mesa Lakes; County Line Nordic Ski Area on the top of the mesa; and Ward Lake Nordic Ski Area, toward the Forest Service Visitor Center on the south end of Island Lake.

Take Colorado Highway 65, the Grand Mesa Scenic Byway, to reach all of them. Keep in mind, however, the road is not plowed between 7 p.m. and 
5 a.m. Don’t get stuck.

Also, go well prepared, and be aware of what you’re getting yourself into. The temperature was about 13 degrees Fahrenheit when we started our ski the other night. It gets much colder, and the weather can change. Carry extra clothes, extra food, extra water, extra everything.

If the weather is bad, don’t go here at night. Actually, if the weather is bad, don’t ski anywhere at night. It’s disorienting and risky enough under a cloudless sky.

Moonlight skiing, even under ideal conditions, is inherently more dangerous than skiing during the day. Trails look different at night than during the day. Familiar landmarks may not be visible.

Colder temperatures can be a major issue. Wearing additional clothing may be a hindrance. You should also wear a head lamp for those dark corners and drops and carry survival gear, just in case you cannot return to your vehicle.

Time is also a factor. Any of the five days leading to a full moon should be great for skiing as long as the weather is nice. On the night of a full moon, it will begin to rise around sunset. You must wait a little while after that, so the moon is high enough in the sky to negotiate any wooded, shaded areas. The moon rises about 50 minutes later each night after the full moon, so trails will be pitch-black well into the night.

Whether you ski under the moon or under the sun, if you get lost, a backcountry rescue can cost thousands of dollars. The Colorado Outdoor Recreation Search & Rescue Card helps cover that cost. The Rescue Card costs $3 for one year, $12 for five years.

If you’re a licensed hunter or angler, carry your license with you, and you’re covered. If not, go to your nearest sporting goods store and buy the card.

Be safe, go slow and travel with someone else. Make sure someone knows where you went and when you’ll be back. Then, check out some nighttime Nordic skiing.

Create your own magical mystery tour. It’s truly mystical in the moonlight.


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