Cross-Country Ski The Grand Mesa

Grand Mesa is home to some of the finest cross-country ski trails in Western Colorado

Some of Western Colorado's finest groomed cross-country ski trails exist on the Grand Mesa, just east of the Grand Valley and Grand Junction.

To get there, take Interstate 70 east into Debeque Canyon and take exit 49, the turnoff to Powderhorn/Grand Mesa. This is Highway 65, the Mesa's Historic and Scenic Byway. Travel another 28 miles through the town of Mesa, past the Powderhorn Ski Area and up a couple of switchbacks past the sledding hill at the old ski area. Continue up the switchbacks, and after the road flattens out, you'll find a wide spot on the right side of the road at Jumbo Lake.

Despite its name, the lake really isn't that large. In fact, it's quite small, but it's a great starting point for both the West Bench Trail, which travels west, and the Waterdog Ski Trail, which is across the highway and heads north and east.

Follow the West Bench Trail around the north end of the lake, behind the restroom facilities. This trail is very popular and offers a wide single-track ride for mountain bikers when there's no snow on the ground. It's also open to horseback riders, but closed to motorized vehicles. During the winter, the West Bench Trail a great place to cross-country ski or snowshoe. Because it's not a groomed trail like those on top of the Mesa at Skyway, County Line or Ward Lake, dogs are allowed on the West Bench Trail.

The elevation ranges between 9,760 and 9,860 feet. Approximately five miles down the trail, there is a wonderful spot to stop and take in the magnificent views overlooking Powderhorn Ski Area. Once you've snapped your fill of postcard-worthy photos, turn around and head back the way you came in.

Since this is a backcountry ski experience, it's important to take precautions. Make sure you've told someone where you're going and when you'll return. Bring extra food, water and fire-starting capabilities, just in case. Always ski with a partner and remember, the weather can turn nasty quickly, so be prepared for Colorado winter conditions.