Epic Snow

That says it all

October 2007 Feature LANE LINDSTROM

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.

Epic snow.

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 snow showers.

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 snow."

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 Colorado is 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 feet-not inches.

That's what we experienced when left Grand Junction and climbed the Grand Mesa.

Storm Week

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.

Busy Boondocking

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, smooth.

The Spot

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 snow again.



Grand Mesa

Elevation 8,000 to 11,236 feet

Snowfall 300-420 inches

Miles of Groomed Trails 236 miles

Full-Service Town Carbondale (pop. 6,013), Cedaredge (2,215), Glenwood Springs (8,765), Grand Junction (46,898)

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 Delta, Carbondale 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.

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