Skiing to Cliff Palace in Winter – notice the lack of snow. Click for a full size image.
Wondering where to go Nordic skiing this weekend? At just over 2 hours drive from Moab, Mesa Verde National Park offers some fantastic groomed Nordic (cross-country) ski trails, un-groomed backcountry routes, beautiful scenery, and stunning views through time of an ancient culture. As long as there is snow on the ground, skiing is possible.
Of the more than 5,000 sites under protection at the worlds largest archaeological preserve, the main attraction is Cliff Palace without a doubt. Nearly 8 centuries old, Cliff Palace remain a place of solitude in the winter, seeing only a few visitors a day during the winter months.
Surreal landscape of charred pinion and juniper skeletons from a wildfire
Access for the Cliff Palace loop starts at the Museum parking lot, the road does not get groomed but it sees enough traffic that the track is well packed and easy to ski or snowshoe. It’s 1.5 miles from the parking lot to the loop, through the blackened remains of last years devastating fire, truly an enchanting sight now with the contrast of the snow cover. Start the loop any way you want, go left if you want to save Cliff Palace for last! The loop is a total of 2.6miles, so about a 5.5 mile round trip excursion, easily done in a half day.
If fast corduroy and skiing in classic tracks are your thing you are in luck, you don’t have to drive deep into the park at all. Just near the entrance is the Morefield trail system, a total of 6.8 miles of groomed slopes that climb gently and descend fast, you might find yourself making use of the smaller loops in order to maximize your downhill time. The Meadow Bliss trail is the gem of this system, get your skis on early to enjoy this quiet valley, later in the day you are sure to find skiers of all levels having fun in the snow.
When you are done skiing, warm up in the museum and visitors center. They’re packed with pottery, ancient weapons, tools, and information painstakingly gathered over decades. And the visitors center has snowshoes available! The museum’s hours get longer with the days, until February 21st though they close at 4:30.