Frolic and play the Montrose way
Snowflakes piled up one memorable morning during our first season in the 81401 zip code. It’s rare for a storm to bring Montrose to a standstill, but the accumulation was deep. Our garage holds a quiver of skis, a selection of ice axes, snowshoes, avalanche beacons, boots galore — winter is our season, and this was a snow day. We played a round of activity roulette as the sun broke through the clouds and began the melt cycle almost as quickly as the storm peeled away. Our decision landed on taking the cross-country skis to Black Canyon National Park for a trip down South Rim Road. Our goal: beat others to the powder and have the fondant-draped canyon all to ourselves.
The road to the Black Canyon Visitor Center was plowed before the storm hightailed it east, and we had first tracks. The groomer would not make it out until we were heading for home. We slid gleefully along the edge of the earth on clouds of snow to midshin. Ice crystals hung above the canyon and splintered sunbeams into shimmering spears pointing towards the Gunnison River far below, flowing past icy boulders buried with the fresh blanket of snow. The walls at Pulpit Rock rose with extra exaltation and in deeper contrast against a world turned white and scattered with diamonds. The best part was that only two pilgrims were present for the sermon. This is my favorite way to experience Black Canyon: just as no two snowflakes are the same, each day at the park is different than any other — especially in winter.
Before the toy chest included skis, we had snowshoes. The downhill skiing at Telluride Ski Resort deserves praise for its diversity of terrain to match all skill levels, and for scenery that does not disappoint, even on cloudy days. Our first trip to Telluride, however, involved walking around with claws under our feet. The TopAten Snowshoe and Nordic Area is, appropriately, at the top of lift 10, and provides a slower-paced and intimate way to enjoy a long stare at snow-capped Wilson Peak or a wistful look down the red cliffs of the San Miguel Valley and beyond to the La Sal Mountains in Utah.
That first time to traipse through these woods was a rest day from ice climbing and an introduction to riding a chairlift. The freshly fallen snow sparkled beside the groomed trail. After a few laps we found a quiet spot and set out our Spam sandwich picnic in the snow with a view beyond the reaches of Galloping Goose and other classic ski trails. Snowshoeing is a fantastic way to get a taste of the Telluride scene without having to ski and a way to spend a day out of lift lines (other than the trip up and back). Just be sure to pack a picnic (Spam optional) and a thermos full of a steaming hot beverage for sharing. You will want to linger.
Winter adventures based out of Montrose have endless permutations. You can wake up and get a few back-country ski turns in fresh powder at Red Mountain Pass; then head down to Ouray to spend the afternoon in one of the world’s best ice climbing venues, whether you observe from viewing stands or kick crampons into the blue; and cap off an extraordinary day with a soak in one of the area’s hot springs. You can head to Crested Butte to ski glorious groomers or epic lines, grab a quick après snack, and then toss a line in the water at Roaring Judy Fish Hatchery on the way back to Montrose. If you want to ski a resort consistently rated the most scenic in North America, Telluride is a hop over Dallas Divide and skip up the gorgeous San Miguel River Canyon. If downhill skiing is not your speed, there are phenomenal areas of groomed terrain to take your cross-country skis and snowshoes for a tour through the woods or around a ghost town. Ice fishing or skating on Blue Mesa Reservoir, snowmobiling on Grand Mesa or the Uncompahgre Plateau — the options are abundant. Should the whole notion of snow get on your nerves, don’t worry: desert hikes are close by for a change of scenery.
Here is the hidden winter wonderland of Colorado, where everything is possible, and calling it home for a while or a lifetime is equal bliss.