When Grand Mesa's alpine high country disappears beneath a thick blanket of snow, the area's winter recreation fun really kicks into high gear in Grand Junction, Colorado.
The 10,000-foot-high mountain east of Grand Junction features a family-style ski and snowboard resort with terrain to please everyone from beginners to experts. Elsewhere on Grand Mesa, rustic Colorado lodges offer snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and snowmobiling. And for those who want to explore expansive backcountry, the mesa has a well-maintained network of ski and snowshoe trails.
Black-Diamond Runs at Powderhorn Resort
Local favorites at Powderhorn Resort are two ski runs dubbed "Hooligan" and "Bear Claw". The trails are about 2,400 feet long and represent a significant expansion of Powderhorn's expert terrain.
"They're both black-diamond runs, and they're both located over on the west side of our mountain," says Sarah Allen, Powderhorn's marketing and communications director. The new trails are served by a double chairlift and are big draws for those seeking more challenging terrain.
Although Powderhorn expanded its expert terrain options a couple of years ago, the ski resort remains an affordable, family-friendly getaway in Western Colorado. Almost three-fourths of Powderhorn's terrain is geared toward beginners and intermediates, and there's a full-service ski and snowboard school that provides lessons to children as young age 3. A rental shop can fit guests with equipment for snowboarding, downhill skiing, cross-country skiing or snowshoeing.
Four lifts -- including one quad, two doubles and a new "magic carpet" ride that slides along the surface like a moving sidewalk in an airport -- carry guests to various parts of the mountain. Skiers and snowboarders flock to Powderhorn in fairly equal numbers and both happily coexist on the slopes.
Powderhorn Resort also has about 10 miles of snowshoe trails, and for snowshoers who want more, the resort is only a short drive from a vast network of cross-country ski and snowshoe trails on top of Grand Mesa.
When you need a break to refuel, Powderhorn offers two restaurants: Wildewood Restaurant offers sit-down dining, and Sunset Grille and Bar is a convenient lunch stop.
Winter fun at Mesa Lakes Resort
A popular fishing spot by summer, Mesa Lakes Resort becomes a family-friendly winter recreation destination when it's buried under heavy snowfall. Cross-country skiers and snowshoers can wander the Mesa Lakes area for a few hours or a few days, depending on their preference, says Ann Stiers, co-owner of the rustic resort.
"There are a lot of really good trails right out of here," Stiers says. "From here, you can do a half-hour loop or a four- or five-hour loop."
A series of interconnected trails wind among the lakes around the resort, and the longer West Bench Trail takes skiers and snowshoers from Mesa Lakes to the top of Powderhorn. Mesa Lakes Resort also rents cross-country and snowshoe equipment, as well as snowmobiles. (Although snowmobiles aren't allowed in the skiing and snowshoeing areas, the resort grooms a snowmobile trail to the top of Grand Mesa, where snowmobilers can find miles of fun.)
"Once you're on top, you can go all the way to Glenwood Springs," Stiers says. "There's tons and tons of riding up here."
Mesa Lakes Resort operates a restaurant open daily from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Backcountry ski experience
A network of groomed cross-country ski trails maintained by the nonprofit Grand Mesa Nordic Council (GMNC website) winds across the rolling terrain atop the mountain. Trails are suitable for both track skiing and skating, and skiers of all skill levels can have a blast. Skyway trails are geared toward everyone, County Line trails are best for beginners and intermediates, and Ward Lake trails are suitable for intermediate to advanced users.
Ski trails atop Grand Mesa are great fun anytime, but for a special experience try a night excursion during a full moon. The glow of bright moonlight off the undisturbed snow gives the mountaintop an otherworldly feel that won't soon be forgotten.