The Grand Mesa is famous for Powderhorn Mountain Resort and its extensive trail network for winter sports, but this Colorado gem is also home to a more clandestine form of the sport. Backcountry skiing has quickly become the fastest-growing segment in the ski and snowboarding industry, making it a popular activity on the largest flat-top mountain in the world, the Grand Mesa.
But what exactly is backcountry skiing, where are the best places to go on the Grand Mesa, and where can you unwind after carving some serious lines in the snow? Check out this guide below.
What is Backcountry Skiing?
Sometimes called ‘off piste’ skiing or ‘alpine touring’, backcountry skiing is pretty much what it sounds like – skiing in unmarked areas. It’s also affectionately described as “earn your turns.” At a resort, backcountry skiing will be outside of the boundaries of the general public, thus the terrain is ungroomed. You can snowshoe or skin up on skis, as these wilderness areas are typically separate from the chair lifts. At Powderhorn Mountain Resort, backcountry beginners often take the chair lift up to access other areas of the Grand Mesa; consider it a head start for quicker access to the backcountry.
Backcountry skiing has become particularly popular recently, as resorts and ski lifts closed during the pandemic, limiting where and when people could do winter sports. Rather than missing out on an opportunity to hit the slopes, adventurous skiers have been exploring beyond traditional ski resorts and into fresh powder where they choose their own path. On the Grand Mesa, the abundance of snow, wooded areas, and cliffs make for perfect backcountry skiing.
Preparing to Backcountry Ski on the Grand Mesa
Before heading out to backcountry ski on the Grand Mesa, you’ll want to prepare accordingly. First, it’s highly recommended to take an avalanche safety course. The American Institute for Avalanche Research & Education (AIARE) is based in Telluride, CO. They offer instruction, as does Colorado Mountain School. Prior to setting foot on the snow, you’ll need to do some research about possible threats in the area that you’re exploring. Avalanches are prevalent all over Colorado, including the Grand Mesa, depending on temperature, wind, snowfall and snowpack. You should always reach out to experts in the area for advice and equip yourself with the proper gear including skins, an avalanche beacon, a probe, a shovel and appropriate clothing.
Be realistic about your ski level and physical ability. Are you comfortable skiing in areas that won’t have signs and will be more difficult to navigate? Are you able to get to your designated location, ski, and still have the energy to make the trek back?
Aside from the safety essentials mentioned above, think through what to pack for your backcountry skiing adventure. Pack extra food and water, layers of clothing, a flashlight, navigation gear, and a first aid kit. Of course, you need the basics like poles, goggles, a helmet, boots, and skis. This sport can be rather expensive, but you can save money by visiting used gear shops like The Gear Junction. Other popular outdoor recreation shops in Grand Junction include: Board & Buckle, Loki Gear & Outdoor Shop, Summit Canyon Mountaineering, and Colorado Mesa University Outdoor Program.
Luckily, the Grand Mesa is only 45 minutes from Grand Junction by car. When leaving Grand Junction, follow signs for I-70E, then at exit 49, merge onto CO-65. Don’t forget to charge your phone or bring a camera, as the drive is stunning, offering epic views of Colorado's lush nature and majestic overlooks.
Rest and Refuel in Grand Junction
After an exhilarating day in the great outdoors, backcountry skiers head back to Grand Junction to recuperate and reflect on the adrenaline-filled experience while sipping on a refreshing après craft beverage and enjoying the local cuisine. Sharing stories with locals is always part of the scene, and you can bet that residents will also give some quick tips of where to find other lesser-known trails to check out.
Inspired to go backcountry skiing in Grand Mesa? Grab your equipment, a sense of adventure and be prepared to make many return visits!
Where to Eat in Grand Junction
Before you head out on your backcountry skiing adventure, fuel up with some complex carbs. Lucky for you, Cafe Sol and Dream Cafe are both conveniently located in Downtown Grand Junction. These two local favorites are must-haves before scaling the side of Grand Mesa, and they offer gluten-free and vegetarian options.
After shredding the gnar all day, you’ll have a monstrous appetite worked up. Grand Junction has plenty of unique cuisine to satisfy your cravings. Tacoparty works with local ranchers, farmers, and brewers, to create its diverse menu. The restaurant’s chef, who also owns Bin 707 Foodbar, has been nominated several times by the James Beard foundation. While at Tacoparty, save room for their homemade gourmet soft-serve ice cream. Yes, we said gourmet, you’ll thank us later. The flavors rotate, but right now it’s meyer lemon marshmallow and coffee toffee hazelnut. Another trendy establishment is 626 on Rood. Described as a “polished urban setting”, this modern restaurant serves up culinary delights which are inspired from local ingredients. Rood features an impressive wine list, including many wine flights if you prefer to taste a variety, with an educated staff who helps you pair your menu choices. They also take their mocktails very seriously here. A local favorite is the miso marinated Chilean sea bass.
We understand, sometimes you just want nachos, a burger and a pile of fries. The Rockslide Brew Pub is the go-to place and is the original brewery in Grand Junction, founded in 1994.
Where to Stay in Grand Junction
Finding somewhere to rest up before your next outdoor adventure is easy because Grand Junction has a broad range of places to stay, so you’re likely to find something that suits your budget and preferences.
Searching for a place that has all the comforts of home? Check out Castle Creek Manor. This cozy bed and breakfast offers warm home-cooked meals each morning and more privacy than most other bed and breakfasts. Each room has a jacuzzi, fireplace, and private entrances.
If you’re looking for something in the heart of Grand Junction, consider staying at the SpringHill Suites by Mariott. This hotel is within walking distance to local restaurants and boutique shops, so if you want to trade the slopes in for a day in the city, you won’t be bored.
Interested in turning your backcountry adventure into a romantic getaway? Then book a stay at Two Rivers Winery and Chateau. This French-inspired inn is nestled in the Redlands area of Grand Junction at the base of the Colorado National Monument. Along with having an elegant place to rest, guests can also enjoy views of the vineyards and sample award-winning wines in their cozy wine tasting chateau, complete with couches.
For more ways to experience Grand Junction, check out the Official Grand Junction Visitor Guide.