Powderhorn lived up to its name...

I was so excited for our weekend trip to Powderhorn, but I honestly didn't know what to expect.  We live in Evergreen, so we're used to skiing Summit County resorts - miles of back bowls at Vail, crammed in the free shuttle bus at Breckenridge so that we don't have pay to park, you get the idea. Big! Big mountains, big resorts, big crowds - big everything!

Let me preface all of this by saying that my husband loves to ski.  He's made it his goal to ski in every month of the calendar year.  He tacks two extra hours onto a business trip so that he can take one run at Alyeska just so he can check Alaska off of his skiing bucket list.

When I told him that we were going to Powderhorn, I wasn't sure how he would react.  In all of his hours spent dreaming about skiing, I didn't think that this little resort atop a mesa just outside of Grand Junction had ever floated through his mind. But as the weekend got closer, we both knew how exciting it would be to share another set of ski experiences with our burgeoning skiers, Alex (4 1/2) and Ben (2 1/2).

We drove from Evergreen to Palisade on Friday afternoon. The drive was easy - a total of four hours with potty stops for the kiddos. We've always loved the wineries in Palisade, and knew we'd be cutting it close to get in a couple of tastings, but we arrived ahead of schedule. St. Kathryn Cellars is just off the highway as you drive into town.  I'm not usually one for fruit wines - I'll take my wine made with grapes only please - but I have to admit that I'm kicking myself for not buying a bottle of their Confre Cellars Pomegranate Wine.  It sure would make a great Pome-tini if it was mixed right. They also had a great selection of good 'ole grape wines, too.  And plenty of pretzels to keep the car-weary kiddos happy while we sipped.

Next stop was Plum Creek Winery just down the road.  Their tasting room is beautiful and because it was ten minutes before closing, we were the only ones in the place.  We got to enjoy a sip of wine and a chat with the winery's owner, Sue Phillips.  She even took us on a tour of the art outside crafted by a local artist with junkyard finds.  My kids are still talking about "the giant rusty chicken" that we saw.

Photo courtesy of Plum Creek

Sue was kind enough to recommend a spot for dinner in town, but as the sun was setting, we didn't want to miss the views driving up the canyon to Powderhorn.

And we weren't sorry.  We spent a lot of time over the weekend talking to Powderhorn employees about working at the resort.  Many of them live in Grand Junction and commute the 45 minutes everyday.  I can tell you that I would never get tired of the views up that canyon road.

We were all starving by the time we arrived, so we checked in to our condo (more on that later), and scouted out a place for dinner. Powderhorn is a small resort and since it was after 6 p.m., our options were to drive back to Mesa (about 10 miles away) or eat at the Skiers Union Cafe & Bar.  We'd made plans to meet our Powderhorn host, Sarah Allen, at the same restaurant for lunch on Saturday, and were a bit concerned that we might be eating the same thing twice. But the minute our waitress set the menus in front of us, our worries disappeared.

The menu has so many choices.  I had the Chicken Marsala (very tasty!) and Kevin had the Italian Sausage Pasta dish. However, the happiest diners, by far, were Alex and Ben.  Before the waitress even took our drink orders, she arrived at the table with Saltine crackers to curb the "why-is-my-food-taking-so-long" kid hunger, and she'd taken their dinner orders even before they were fully settled in their seats.  Needless to say, we were happy parents in the hands of a wait staff who knew that with the slightest bit of extra attention, little people can be great dining companions too. In between bites of his grilled cheese sandwich, Alex leaned over and said, "Look. They even have a fireplace in the restaurant, Mommy." Grilled cheese by the fireplace - I can foresee having to move dinners into the living room at home to compete.

With our tummies full, we walked back to our room at Goldenwood Condominiums. Want to hear my favorite thing about Powderhorn? Everything is within walking distance of everything else. They can't technically bill these condos as ski-in/ski-out because you have to cross a short parking lot, but take a look at this picture:

Photo (c) Colorado Ski History.com with my own added touches of color

Orange=Goldenwood Condos.  Green=Inn at Wildewood and Union Jack Cafe. Blue=Take Four Quad Lift. Yellow=Walking bridge to huge outdoor deck and Powderhorn Day Lodge.

Kevin and I flipped a coin to see who got to keep skiing and who would pick the kids up from ski school on Satuday.  I lost! But after schlepping two kiddos (one in ski boots), skis, boots, helmet, and exhausted toddler across the very short parking lot, I felt like I was in heaven.

Our condo at Goldenwood was spacious - one bedroom, one bath with a full kitchen.  Although the boys share a room at home, this was the first time they would be sharing a bed.  I have to admit, I was predicting cries coming from the living room when the two-year old took a foot to face from his incredibly twitchy older brother.  But the boys were thrilled with their "couch bed!" (a pull-out couch) and we didn't hear a peep all night. 

We toured the Inn at Wildewood the next day (circled in green above), and their rooms are perfect for a family who wants to be on-mountain and doesn't need an in-room kitchen. They also have great ski season deals like rooms at $119/night with two half price lift tickets included in the price:

Photo courtesy of Powderhorn's website

We awoke Saturday morning to at least four inches of fresh powder and there was no sign of the snow stopping.  We checked Alex in at the Children's Learning Center for his first whole-day ski lesson.  He's had several half-day lessons at Arapahoe Basin and loved the Mini-Mountaineers 3-week program at Echo Mountain, but he'd never spent all day on skis.  He was beside himself with excitement.  The staff whisked him away behind the counter, stashed his helmet and and gloves in a cubby with his name and assured us that he would have a wonderful day.

Kevin and I skied over to the EZ Rider beginner's area to take a peek. Alex loves to ski, but he's cautious (like his mother).  Most kids have a hard time getting their legs into the "pizza" position (snowplowing). My kid has a hard time getting his cautious brain to get his legs OUT of the "pizza" position. There are very few french fries (parallel skis) in Alex's world of skiing. It's all Pizza Hut and no MickyD's with our kiddo.

Because of this, we expected to see him trekking up the magic carpet and slowly skiing down. But, no Alex in sight... We caught a glimpse of a conga-line of four tiny students S-curving their way down a gentle slope behind their teacher.  Surely, this would be him. But no Alex in sight... Finally we saw this little person with his SpongeBob helmet come cruising down the Bottom's Up slope side by side with his instructor, Holden.  I'm not sure what kind of switch Holden's teaching turned on, but my kid was definitely rocking the french fries!

Little Ben had an adventurous day, too.  When you grow up in a family with parents who love to ski, being a two and half year old is hard.  You're too young to take lessons, but old enough to understand that you're tired of watching your older brother have all the fun on skis. Powderhorn had arranged for Ben to have a day of fun at their Children's Learning Center.  However, not being 3 and not being fully potty-trained, Ben was a little young to meet the official requirements for the Learning Center.  Miss Lindi and Miss Camille at the Center were understanding, though, and offered to let him take a lesson like his brother.  Ben was up for it and spent an hour with Savannah.  I wish I had taken my camera to capture my little boy plodding along in ski boots for the first time and screaming all the way down the tiny run while safely embraced by a hula-hoop that Savannah was holding. 

Meanwhile, Kevin and I ventured out to see what Powderhorn had to offer in the way of terrain.  The snow was still coming down by the bucketfuls, and this is what the Take Four lift looked like:

This was a Saturday afternoon during prime ski season, and we felt as though we had the place to ourselves. The lines were short and although the lifts weren't fast (10-15 minutes per ride), it gave us a chance to take in the scenery and enjoy the Legend of Sleepy Hollow feel that the glades had with the fog settled into the trees. And the price was just right:

The terrain was fabulous.  Although, Powderhorn is small (1600 skiable acres) compared to many places that we've skied, the diversity of terrain more than made up for it.  There were long lazy blue runs that seemed to go on for miles, there were runs that took us through trees more tightly placed than I care to remember, and there were boulders! Amazing fields of boulders.

From everything that I've read, we were there on just the right day to enjoy this area - without a lot of snow, many of the these boulder fields are tough to ski. As I followed Kevin (who was following some anonymous teenager) through the trees it opened up to a field filled with these Volkswagen-sized suckers.  I immediately decided that this would be the pefect place to eat my lunch on a sunny day of spring skiing.  Although given my directionally-challenged ski tendencies, I don't know that I could find my way back to this magical off-trail spot.  For those who are curious, I think that we were somewhere in the red circled area:

Regardless of exactly where we were, it was fun trying to piece it together with the staff when we picked the kids up at ski school.  Each instructor within earshot chimed in with their own favorite trail or hidden glade somewhere just off trail. And the personalized attention wasn't just for the parents either.  Every kid who walked out the doors of the Children's Learning Center received a hand-written report card:

Alex is so proud that he is officially a "Linkin' Lynx" and Ben doesn't quite understand that he's still a little too young.  Even after his scream-filled slide down the hill, he was still asking to ski some more.

The rest of our weekend was spent skiing - we loved the West Side lift and the crowd-free terrain that it accessed - and exploring. I pride myself on finding the most kid-friendly ways to negotiate ski resorts, so I peeked around every nook and cranny in search of a kid-friendly plan. Here's how I would do a second trip:

Alex loved his instructors both days at the ski school, and I wouldn't hesitate to enroll him again.  The beginners terrain is also gentle enough that with parental guidance on the quad lift (Take Four), an intermediate four-year old could easily enjoy a day of skiing with Mom and Dad.  Two-and-a-half was a little young (at least for my kiddo), but that doesn't mean he should be left out of the fun.  At the top of the Take Four lift is a flat open space which probably has great views on a sunny day.  (My only regret is not getting to see the world-class views that everyone talks about because we were socked in with fog and snow - not that I'm complaining though.) Powderhorn rents cross-country skis and snow shoes and provides inexpensive one-time lift rides up to the top. A toddler could enjoy a morning of trekking through the snow in snowshoes or winter boots and enjoy the ride back down the lift at lunchtime.

Because Powderhorn is laid out well, families could easily meet in the Day Lodge at mid-day to enjoy lunch together or to switch parental duties and put the tired toddler down for at nap at the condo just a stone's throw away. The Day Lodge serves breakfast and lunch in the Sunset Grille and Bar.  Hang out at just the right time (later afternoon) and you might snag a free piece of pizza (like Ben and I did) when they're shutting down the food counters. The Day Lodge also has a family-friendly area downstairs.  Families on a budget could easily bring their own lunch, camp out at a picnic table and enjoy a day of skiing with the older kids and playing Uno with the little guy(s).  At the end of the day, the whole family could reconvene on the slopeside deck to enjoy a snack or to hand off the sleeping toddler who passed out (still chewing on his second grilled cheese sandwich from Union Jack) and still smiling after his first on-mountain adventure!

As a day trip from Grand Junction or surrounding areas, Powderhorn is the perfect place to ski.  As a destination resort (for the weekend or a week), Powderhorn is set up perfectly for people who want to enjoy reasonably-priced, winter fun as a family. We'll definitely be back!

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