If we were asked to summarize the snow conditions during our
snowmobile ride on the Grand Mesa last February, we wouldn’t even need a full
sentence. Just two words.
Maybe even a little too epic.
We endured (okay, it wasn’t that tough) moderate to heavy
snowfall our first day of riding … after waking up to several inches that had
fallen overnight. On day two the sun broke through the clouds after morning
So it was already epic snow. Then when the sun came out, it
was “I’ve-died-and-gone-to-heaven” epic.
Or as one of the locals described the snow, “This is kickass
It doesn’t really matter how the snowmobiling on western
Colorado’s Grand Mesa is described but chances are when you hear that
description, these will be mixed in somewhere along the way: awesome, great, really good, spectacular, phenomenal and, yea, epic.
We’ve got dibs on “epic” this time around.
Not Your Typical Mountain
As with most mountain ranges in the West, the Grand Mesa is hard
to miss, but for different reasons than your typical reach-to-the-sky mountains.
One of the differences? The Grand Mesa appears to be flat on
the top—in fact, it’s the largest flattop mountain in the world. The Grand Mesa
is vast, too, with its roughly 500-square-miles or 320,000 acres of trees,
lakes, mountains, valleys, creeks and cliffs.
The Grand Mesa is especially impressive if you approach it
from the west. It’s big and large and dominates the horizon. For the record and
according to the dictionary a mesa is a flat top area with steep walls or
cliffs. That’s what the Grand Mesa so dramatic—it’s like any big mountain range
famous for, except this one looks like God gave it a flat top crew cut.
Snowmobiling a flattop might not seem too appealing to those
who thrive on boondocking, hillclimbing, sidehilling and busting powder (no
matter how deep it is). Then you’re skepticism meter starts to rise when you’re
driving through Grand Junction, which sits at 4,700 feet and where you can just
about golf year round. Floating around somewhere in the back of your mind is
something to the effect of, “How good can the snow really be if they’re golfing
here and it’s close to 50 degrees F?”
Yes, Grand Junction is on the shy side of 5,000 feet in
elevation and barely gets two feet of snow every winter, but when you turn off
Interstate 70 and head south on Colorado State Highway 65, you start to gain
elevation in a hurry. In fact, you gain 6,000 feet by the time you reach the Flattops,
the temperature has dropped at least 20 degrees F and the snow depth grows by
That’s what we experienced when left Grand Junction and climbed the Grand Mesa.
And the snow just got deeper during our stay—about 38 inches
over just a few days in what we would label as “Storm Week.” Not so good for
pictures but great for riding.
The falling snow was light and dry and was perfect powder … but
sure, it can snow that much just about anywhere and the riding be fun. We all
heard about the major blizzards that blitzed eastern Colorado’s plains last winter. That might
have been a fun time for oh, 15 minutes until you got bored riding an area that
was as flat as a pancake.
But this snow was falling on the Grand Mesa, appearing
perhaps to be as flat as eastern Colorado’s
plains until you throw the Grand Mesa’s lofty heights of 10,000 feet into the
mix. Don’t let the flattop part fake you out. Once you get up on it and start
riding around you’ll see firsthand this area is anything but flat.
There are places to climb in the Grand Mesa, but it might be
after you drop down in elevation and then climb back out. Riding here takes
place between 8,000 and 11,236 feet. We started our rides both days at 10,500
feet (at the Grand Mesa Lodge), which means we didn’t have to go much higher to
top out the Grand Mesa, but we did drop in elevation several times and climbed
back out, whether through the trees or on the trails. Because of the weather
conditions and avalanche danger, we didn’t hit the Grand Mesa’s biggest hills,
but boys with big toys won’t be disappointed with what’s there to climb.
Instead, we busied ourselves boondocking through the trees
(partly due to better visibility), tracking up parks (that’s what folks in
Colorado call big wide open play areas or meadows), racing across lakes and
thoroughly enjoying the powder that was so lacking in other areas of the West
last winter. We pushed snow all two days as powder flowed over the hoods of our
sleds—even on the groomed trails. And when the sun came out—well, we just
stopped to soak it all in, the sun, the powder, the scenery.
We rode some of the 200-plus miles of groomed trails to
quickly access some backcountry spots that we had all to ourselves.
On both days, we loosely followed the SP Trail, the main
thread through the Grand Mesa. S and P stand for Sunlight and Powderhorn, two
ski resorts on the Grand Mesa, although we’re willing to wrangle about that one
and change it to Stupendous Powder.
Even though we spent the entire first day riding and rarely
stopping, we barely scratched the surface of the thousands of acres of
available riding. We discussed heading to Lands End, a popular overlook spot
that affords great views to the west, south and north of Grand Mesa, but the heavy
snowfall thwarted that. We did go to Land O Lakes overlook and caught brief
glimpses of some drainages and mountains, but not much. However, on a clear day
The groomer worked all night and by the next morning, the
trails that we were busting powder on the day before were now smooth, smooth,
This day, we went to what one of the locals calls “the
spot.” That’s it, no descriptive details on where exactly it is or how to get
there—it’s just one of those secret locations every local has for his area; an
area we’re sworn not to divulge. We will say it’s in the vicinity of Leon Peak
(elevation 11,236 feet).
But what a sweet spot it was. It was about the time we were
getting close to the spot that the sun was working hard to break through the
clouds. It succeeded and the area was bathed in bright sunlight.
Died and gone to heaven epic.
A powder day western riders live for. Powder laden parks,
trees heavy laden with snow, the sun sparkling off the flakes. And we had it
all to ourselves. We didn’t have to search for powder or soft snow in the trees
or on north facing slopes—it was epic everywhere. The end of the day came far too fast and
after we headed back to the lodge, the clouds rolled back in and it started to
Elevation 8,000 to
Miles of Groomed
Trails 236 miles
Carbondale (pop. 6,013), Cedaredge (2,215), Glenwood
Springs (8,765), Grand Junction
Nearest Airport Grand Junction (45 miles)
Getting Started Carbondale (970) 963-1890, Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort
Association (888) 4-GLENWOOD, Grand Junction
Visitor & Convention Bureau (800) 962-2547, Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison
National Forests (970) 874-6600
Getting There The
Grand Mesa is easy to get to and can be accessed from just about every
direction. Colorado State Highway 65 runs north and south along the west side
of the Grand Mesa while Colorado State Highway 133 is on the east side. Highway
65 can be accessed from Interstate 70 to the north and Highway 92 and U.S.
Highway 50 from the south. Highway 92 also provides access to Highway 133 from
the south. To the north, Highway 133 meets Colorado State Highway 82 near Carbondale and then it’s
on to Interstate 70 at Glenwood Springs. The nearest commercial airport is in Grand Junction. Several
parking areas scattered all over the Grand Mesa provide easy access to the main trails.
Getting Around Contact
Grand Mesa Lodge (800) 551-6372 for sled rental/guided tour options. All major
snowmobile manufacturers have dealers in Grand
Junction. Some, but not all, brands have dealers in
and Glenwood Springs as well.
Bedding Down We
stayed at the Grand Mesa Lodge (800-551-6372 or www.coloradodirectory.com/grandmesalodge),
located just off Colorado State Highway 65 in the Grand Mesa National Forest. The lodge sits at
10,500 feet and is right on the SP snowmobile trail, which means you can ride
right from your cabin. There are several cabins to choose from at Grand Mesa,
from one-room cabins to one- and two-bedroom units. The cabins have a kitchen,
living room, bathroom and the kitchens are equipped with all the utensils you
need to cook. The housekeeping cabins sleep anywhere from 2-8 people and come
with bedding and towels. There are no TVs or phones in the cabins, although
there is a pay phone at the lodge. The cabins are cozy, warm and quiet. And
surrounded by lots of snow.
The lodge itself has an on-site store for groceries,
souvenirs and gas. Hosts Ken and Conne Simpson are the ideal hosts and go way
out of their way to make sure your trip is what you want it to be. One of the
things to make sure you see in the lodge is the Snow Board, which keeps you up
to date on the snowfall. For example, during our stay at Grand Mesa, it snowed
just about 38 inches (12 of which fell overnight), bringing the season total to
197 inches (through the end of February).
There are a few other lodges and resorts in the area.
Eating Out As
mentioned, we stayed at the Grand Mesa Lodge, where we cooked our own meals.
The Simpsons (at the Grand Mesa Lodge) can offer other dining suggestions.