After a great day last winter to Powderhorn in Grand Mesa, Colorado, my wife and I vowed to get our ticket punched in 2011 and to stay overnight for two days of weekend skiing.
A particular pleasure for me at Powderhorn is the ubiquitous presence of my old high school pal Steve Adams, who raised his sons down the hill in Mesa and lives there still. Steve not only knows every stump and dump on the mountain, but he also loves it to death.
When we arrived Saturday morning, the wind was growling and the snow was blowing every which way from Sunday. The good news is the weather was relatively mild and the roads were all-clear until we got within five minutes of the resort. But the weather on top was forbidding.
I texted our arrival to Steve and he texted back and I quote: “Untracked. Deep”—meaning he wasn’t about to rush back to the base just because his old running buddy had arrived. The snow was just too good.
Steve Adams, you see, is a Powderhorn powderhound.
That really says it all for Powderhorn. The snow, invariably, is incredible, and the tree skiing is as diverse and forgiving as any resort in Colorado. When I joined Steve after lunch the weather had abated and there was plenty of pow to be partaken of. Steve and his friend George from Grand Junction introduced me to the trees which I typically regard as animate creatures. But there’s plenty of room betwixt and between the aspens, and my fat skis made me feel reasonably pfat.
Steve explained to me that Powderhorn gets storms both from the north and the south, and when the systems hit the mountain they tend to stay right there, dumping like there’s no tomorrow until tomorrow. The next day the problematical weather had left for its journey across Colorado and my wife had saddled up her Dynastars at the one resort she says she “loves.” Instead of Steve’s steep and deep trees, we went on long gentle blues across the mountain and back in conditions that were pretty near perfect for her. Again.
If you’re looking for the chi-chi up here you are going to be chi’t out of luck. Powderhorn is old school Colorado through and through, and one should not expect (a) nightlife or (b) shopping. We stayed at the Inn at Wildwood—a ski on/ski off destination—but the accommodations were more Spartan than Athenian. We ate at the Union Station Restaurant and the establishment was energized Saturday night by the appearance of a band. This was not to be confused with Belly Up Aspen—the drummer ate a burger while he played the traps—but people don’t come to Powderhorn to eat or shop or even listen to music.
People come here surrounded by mesas in Grand Mesa for the snow, the skiing, the snowboarding, and the vibe of a gentle group of people who keep it real on a quiet mountain. At the end of the day—or on the first chair at first light—what could be better than that?
“Within one hour of skiing Powderhorn in Grand Mesa, Colorado, my wife said: ‘I love this place,’” writes Post blogger Michael Conniff. “This revelation is no small thing in our little world because my new bride—we married in May 2009—had lost her mojo when it came to skiing and I’m the one to blame…. After a year or two in Colorado, she stopped getting a pass and literally stopped skiing, with me shouldering plenty of blame for same. I won’t say I had to drag her to Powderhorn but what’s the point when you live just outside Aspen, with Ajax, Highlands, Buttermilk, and the massive Snowmass all reachable within the time it takes to listen to a long-play single?”
Within one hour of skiing Powderhorn in Grand Mesa, Colorado, my wife said: “I love this place.”
This revelation is no small thing in our little world because my new bride—we married in May 2009—had lost her mojo when it came to skiing and I’m the one to blame. She had learned in Ohio before skiing Vermont, and she used to love it, and do it better than well, but as I grew slightly better and much more aggressive I would take her through ungroomed terrain that became the height of her misery and perhaps even a metaphor for our marriage.
After a year or two in Colorado, she stopped getting a pass and literally stopped skiing, with me shouldering plenty of blame for same.
I won’t say I had to drag her to Powderhorn but what’s the point when you live just outside Aspen, with Ajax, Highlands, Buttermilk, and the massive Snowmass all reachable within the time it takes to listen to a long-play single? Still I persisted on my mission this winter to get to as many unskied Colorado resorts as we can. Powderhorn, just off Inter-state 70, is just about as close as it gets.
Plus there was Steve Adams to consider, my close friend from high school, he and I being the only sophomores on the varsity football team at Canterbury School, circa 1969. Steve lives in tiny Grand Mesa and has skied Powderhorn for 28 years. Nobody knows Powderhorn better than the old fullback on the football team.
To cut to the chase: we had a miraculous, sunny day in the mid-thirties, with plentiful snow—one of those days when you instantly re-connect with what you loved about skiing in the first place: the swoosh of acceleration, the views to die for, the companionship of people you really care about, and the vibe of mutual respect and dumb luck between everyone sharing the experience.
Now I’ve been to smallish resorts in the East and in the West and you can often walk away saying: “This place could be great, if only….” But there’s no “if only” with Powderhorn other than a sluggish lift system. The buildings and the physical plant are well cared for and clean, with two microwaves in the Picnic Area ready for all comers. The lifts are on the slow side, for sure, but the ride up is beautiful and unexpected, and once you get to the top you might as well be reading the Book of Revelations. The “reveal” here is you swing around to realize the slopes of Powderhorn face across a wide-open valley to the spectacular mesas of the Bookcliffs to the West by Grand Junction, and Battlement Mesa to the east toward Glenwood Springs. Amazing.
As for the trails, there is an easy beginner’s area to go with plenty of groomed blues and mucho blacks and double-blacks. But that’s not the whole story, according to my friend Steve, who showed me drop-in spots all over the mountain that widen out into glorious glades, with massive amounts of snow on the multiple powder days Powderhorn enjoys.
About that snow. Steve has two sons, extreme skiers both, who come back to Powderhorn from towns like Breckenridge because of the snow. This past week we were told that people had journeyed from Arapahoe and Telluride both just to find better snow. On powder days there may be no better place to be in Colorado than Powderhorn.
As for the wife, she was glowing even more than usual when we were done. Her skiing mojo was back and she was happily talking about Colorado ski trips to come. And she definitely, unequivocally wanted to come back to Powderhorn (and soon) to ski with Steve again. She had re-connected with what she had once loved about skiing in the first place. I’ll always be grateful to Powderhorn for getting me off the look—and for much much more.
P.S. The drive to the resort off I-70 from the Grand Mesa exit should not be missed, but if you’re coming from the Front Range, Vail, Aspen, or Glenwood Springs, consider the Debeque exit on I-70 as a beautiful shortcut that will save you at least 30 minutes.