It's winter on the Grand Mesa and while much of Colorado's high country may seem inaccessible, for hardy folks, this is a playground. One of the more popular activities is cross country skiing.
I spent some time visiting with skiers and with Carolyn Emanuel, a member of the Grand Mesa Nordic Council. She told me why the Mesa in the winter is such a wonderful place. IS SUCH A WONDERFUL PLACE.
“Great snow— champagne powder. Lots of wildlife— weasels, deer, snowshoe hare. Wonderful opportunities to spot all of those creatures when you’re up here skiing," said Emanuel, also a member of the Colorado Mountain Club and owner of Back Story Tours.
“There are very few people; there is no trail pass fee, unlike many other areas in the state of Colorado that I’ve skied at," she continued.
(Grand Mesa Nordic) Council board member Dave Knutson says that they cooperate with the forest service and work hard to manage the trails in winter.
“We spend about fifty thousand dollars a year on equipment and repairs and labor and insurance and workers comp every year to keep this group," said Knutson. "So, a lot of people come up here and our philosophy is to keep the trails free for everyone. And so, it’s through the generosity of our members and donors and grants.”
In all, they have around 55km of trails on the Mesa, a fact which the council says should be promoted more by nearby cities.
I also met up with Doug Underhill, cross country skier and geologist. We talked about how this unique land form was created.
“What really is responsible for the Grand Mesa, which is the basalt, thick basalt. It’s that dark blue-black rock that you see as you’re driving along, all those big boulders. So, that is the tough rock that protects the top of the Grand Mesa," explained Underhill
The thick basalt protects the underlying earth from erosion and makes it what many call the "world's largest flat-topped mountain."
With elevations at ten to eleven thousand feet, the weather in the winter can be "bad"... but also good.
“Because it stays pretty cool up here, the snow’s almost always good," explained Underhill.
“This year was a very tight snow year and in December, we were the only ski area in the state that had groomed trails," said Knutson.
Not a cross country skier? There are plenty of other activities including snow shoeing and snowmobiling or you can just take in the incredible views from Colorado 65.
"Absolutely one of the Wonders of the Western Slope," said Emanuel of the Mesa. "One of the wonders of the entire state of Colorado!”
The Grand Mesa can be accessed by Colorado Highway 65 during the winter. Most of the Grand Mesa is forest service land.
According to council members, the typical cross country skiing season lasts from the end of November through March.
For more information, you can check out the GMNC's website here: http://www.gmnc.org/