by: Bryon Dorr
The Gems & Brews Tour was a 2-week (2/11-25/2013) ski pilgrimage devoted to sampling some of the best small mountain resorts, fine craft beers, spirits and food across Colorado. Over those 2-weeks I visited 5 Colorado Gem mountain resorts, 13 breweries, 3 distilleries, 1 hot spring, 5 bars, 4 hotels, spent 3 nights with friends, Sportsmobile camped 4 nights, went cat skiing and had my first proper snowmobile adventure. A very packed schedule full of awesome! The tour was a collaboration between CO Ski Country USA and Exploring Elements. The idea is to give you a small taste of what you can expect when you explore these spectacular Colorado locations. Don’t overlook the Gems!
MOUNTAIN: 1,600 acres of skiable terrain with 1,650’ of vertical (8,200’-9,850’) consisting of 20% Green/50% Blue/30% Black trails getting 250” of average annual snowfall accessed by 5 lifts (1 fixed quad, 2 fixed doubles, 2 surface) with the longest run being 1.8 miles and operations from mid December through late March.
Adult Full Day Regular Season Lift Ticket: $59
Powderhorn sits just outside, and high above, Grand Junction, CO, in the Grand Mesa, a unique and spectacular setting! The views on a clear day from this Gem resort are one of a kind. The terrain at Powderhorn truly has something to offer snow riders of all ability, and offers up that terrain with value priced lift tickets that will keep you coming back for more, time and time again.
The mountain is known for its glade skiing. The volume, diversity of difficulty and quality of which are second to none. Probably my favorite snow riding area in Colorado is the Mad Dog Glades, which are steep, well spaced and seem to collect any snow that gets near the mountain. Powderhorn also offers two freestyle terrain parks that are well sorted, featuring quality small jumps and complex creative rails. The MANY long quality groomers spread across the mountain are also sure to please all snow riders.
In the end, Powderhorn really does offer something for everyone. They offer LOTS of school programs to get kids on the slopes, and encourage the active mountain lifestyle from a young age. Along the same lines the resort offers the Powdercats program, which is a skills based course to give the little ones, ages 5-7, a solid riding foundation in a fun and safe environment. Powderhorn is known for their high quality adaptive center, which gets people with disabilities out on the slopes through private lessons and specialized equipment. Learning also extends to safety at Powderhorn with their beacon training park, which offers free training beacons and some great quality instruction by the experienced ski patrol. Besides all the serious learning stuff, the mountain also knows how to have fun, with things like a 4-stage multi geo-cache and events like the pudding slalom race. Yep, pudding and skis, actually a great combo!
If you get tired or worn out on the mountain, you can always kick back with family and friends in the tubing area or on the bungee trampoline, both of which are sure to put a smile on your face. You can also pony up to the Sunset Bar, in the main lodge, and enjoy a local brew or spirit to relax and unwind with after a day of riding hard. The bar is also a great place to hangout with all the passionate Powderhorn employees and locals at the end of the day, recounting stories about those pow stashes that you discovered all over the mountain. Powderhorn is sure to please in so many ways! Go ski Powderhorn.
LOCAL BREWERIES & DISTILLARIES:
As you walk up to the Kannah Creek brewery you’ll first notice the inviting outside patio area, with propane fire pit surrounded by lots of folks enjoying a fine brew. Their beer is distributed locally by keg and growler, and they have a large selection at the pub with 9 beers on tap. Kannah Creek is known for their Lands End Amber and you can’t go wrong with the fruity and refreshing Highside Hefeweizen. For you stout lovers the Blacks Bridge Stout is a heavy, strong and an extremely smooth brew. My favorite beer was the Bourbon Barrel Aged Brown Ale with its amazing heavy bourbon flavor. Besides the quality beer, Kannah Creek offers a full menu and specializes in quality pizza and calzones. I highly recommend getting the brownie sundae, a huge hot quality brownie smothered in 2 scoops of Breyer’s vanilla ice cream, a desert meant to be shared. Free wifi is a nice bonus to the quality grub and brews. Be sure to check out the new bigger pub and brewery opening soon.
Palisade offers the closest micro brew experience to Powderhorn and is just across the street from Peach Street Distillers, which can make for an exceptional evening. The brewery offers lots of live music and free freshly popped popcorn. It is located in a pretty standard high ceiling steel beamed warehouse space, and while this sounds like a bad thing, Palisade makes it work with a very cool little bar area that spills out into a larger dining/music venue area that is situated next to all the brewing tanks and stacks of kegs. If you love beer and brewing, you’re going to love this place! The Dirty Hippy is a fruity unfiltered wheat amber that is Palisade’s best seller, and the only beer canned for distribution. If you love strong hops, you will LOVE the Off Belay IPA. My pick is the Porter of Love, which is 10.45% strong and plucks all my heartstrings. Besides the amazing beer, you’re sure to enjoy the expansive BBQ menu that features local fruit wood smoked meats.
While you might not have heard of these guys yet, I’m sure that will change as they offer a wide selection of fine spirits and were named the 2012 Distiller of the Yr. They have only had distribution in CO, but have recently started to get out to the rest of the country. They offer: Colorado straight bourbon, agave, Jack & Jenny peach brandy, pear brandy, plum brandy, grappa, Jackalope gin and Artisan Goat vodka. Three owners, two of which were from SKA Brewing, started the distillery in 2005. The tasting room was recently expanded and offers up lots of live music, and shares the space with the still. You really can’t get any closer to the distilling action! I highly suggest trying an old fashion with straight bourbon or the Whiskey Ginga, which is kinda like a dark and stormy. I also suggest that you arrange for a designated driver or take a cab, as the drinks are strong and you’re going to want more than one!
If your looking for high-class affordable lodging with accesses to all the local attractions the Wine Country Inn is your place. They are located in Palisade, just off the highway and the Inn is nestled directly in the middle of a vineyard. They offer nightly free wine receptions and a full hot breakfast. The on premises casual dining room and bar, as well as fine dining facilities, allow you to relax after a long day of riding at Powderhorn. Big comfy beds and an outdoor hot tub will let you rest and take care of those sore skiing muscles. Besides the great amenities, you will also appreciate the spectacular views of the surrounding Palisades.
TIP: Palisade Brewing and Peach Street Distillers are just around the corner. Take a taxi and thank me later.
A HUGE thanks goes out to Colorado Ski Country USA for putting this tour together and supporting these awesome Gem resorts. Thanks also to the quality staff at Powderhorn Mountain Resort for sharing their incredible resort and local hospitality. Of course the Gems & Brews tour wouldn’t have been the same without the amazing local Colorado beers, spirits and food to enjoy and refuel with after a long day on the mountain. Colorado is full of fascinating people, places and businesses. Get out there and explore them!