I’ve skied every major ski resort in Colorado, from Aspen to Wolf Creek. Checked off my list so far? Telluride, Crested Butte, Steamboat, Winter Park, Keystone, Vail, Purgatory, Loveland, Breckenridge, Aspen Highlands and Snowmass.
During last week’s trip to the Colorado mountains, though, I traded expansive resorts with fancy hotels and mid-mountain lodges for smaller destinations without all the bells and whistles.
My first stop was Monarch Mountain, a 20-minute drive from historic old mining town of Salida, where I stayed three nights.
I’d always skipped Monarch, assuming it didn’t have enough terrain to keep me interested. I was wrong.
“No frills, no fuss, no Prada store,” says Allie Stevens, marketing manager for the ski area. “Here it’s just fun turns and everybody gets to know each other.”
Monarch, which opened in 1938, is celebrating its 80thseason this year. We attended a history presentation led by Dr. Duane Vanderbusche in Salida, which provided some historical context (and a bunch of laughs, because he’s really funny) for the ski area. He told us Monarch started as a Works Progress Administration project (as did the hot springs pool in Salida, which I also visited).
- The lack of crowds. Monarch is off the beaten path for most visitors.
- Easy access to tree runs, my favorite, off main lifts like Panorama and Breezeway.
- The High Anxiety run – a steep, bumped swathe that lured me back again and again.
- The historic Gunbarrel run, originally accessible by what must have been the world’s steepest rope tow. Today that tow is long gone (although some of the old machinery is still visible at the top), and you have to hike up a short but steep incline to get there. Totally worth it.
- The ski area’s manageable size – 800 skiable acres, including 130 acres of hike-to terrain, and six lifts.
- That hike-to terrain! Mirkwood Basin, the best part of the entire ski area, offers 130 acres of double-black diamond expert terrain – the second steepest inbound terrain in Colorado, according to Monarch officials. You either have to hike there or buy a seat on a snowcat for the day. Either way, you’ll find amazing gladed runs, none of it groomed, all of it delicious.
- A sack lunch room, so you don’t have to spend money at the cafeteria at the base if you don’t want to.
- Lift tickets cost about half as much as the bigger resorts. Buy online the day before you ski and a pass costs about $79 per adult.
- The ski patrol dog-in-training, Fawkes. We met him near Mirkwood, where he couldn’t stop rolling on his back and grooving in the snow.
- The Monarch Throwback Red Ale brewed by Elevation Beer Co. to mark the 80thanniversary of Monarch. Beer is tasty after a full day of skiing!