You don't know the stillness of winter until you stop to catch your breath on the distant third loop of Grand Mesa's County Line Cross-Country Ski Trail near Grand Junction.
Winter sunlight reflects off tiny ice crystals in the snow-covered meadow you're crossing, creating the impression that the smooth, white Colorado landscape is sprinkled with diamonds. A slow-moving breeze whispers through the spruce trees at your back, and it chills the perspiration on your brow.
At that moment, you might never want to leave the soothing beauty of this 10,000-foot-high Colorado plateau.
Grand Mesa, less than an hour by car from Grand Junction, is home to miles of cross-country ski trails, snowshoeing treks and snowmobile routes. Here's a three-day sampler of what you can find there during the winter.
Powderhorn Resort on the northern flank of Colorado's Grand Mesa, offers downhill skiing and snowboarding, as well as equipment rental, lessons, meals and lodging. The resort, which receives an average of 250 inches of snow each year, usually opens in December, snow conditions permitting, and remains open until late March.
Powderhorn has 600 acres of ski runs, 20 percent of which are beginner-level and half of which are intermediate. Another 15 percent are advanced, and 15 percent are expert-level runs. Full-day adult lift tickets cost $71, although lower prices are available for children, seniors, and young adults, and on non-holiday weekdays. Visitors who have never skied or used a snowboard before will find a school that offers group and private lessons, and a children's learning center is open to kids ages 3 to 7. Rental equipment is also available.
Hungry? Catch lunch and dinner at the Sunset Grille or the Powderhorn Pub. You can extend your stay by taking advantage of a ski-and-stay package that Powderhorn offers in conjunction with several hotels in Grand Junction.
Only a few miles up the highway from Powderhorn is Mesa Lakes Resort, a busy center for snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and snowmobiling. Rent a snowmobile and follow the resort's new trail to the top of Grand Mesa, where you'll find a network of snowmobile trails that wind for miles over and around the mountain.
When you finish exploring, return to the resort and spend the night in one of the rustic cabins available for rent.
Rent a set of cross-country skis, pack a lunch, and drive a few miles to the rolling top of Grand Mesa, where the nonprofit volunteer Grand Mesa Nordic Council grooms and maintains three sets of ski trails, suitable for both track skiing and skating. The Skyway trail system is suitable for all skill levels, County Line is geared toward beginners and intermediate skiers, and Ward Lake is suited best for intermediate to advanced skiers.
At the end of the day, return to Mesa Lakes Resort, and if you timed your trip to coincide with a Friday or Saturday night just before a full moon, you can take part in one of the lodge's most popular activities, a full-moon ski (or snowshoe, if you prefer; you can rent snowshoes at the resort). Have dinner at the lodge, then hit the luminaria-lined trails around the resort for a romantic, moonlit trek you'll remember forever. The full-moon skis happen in December, January, February, and March on the weekends before a full moon.