If a Colorado ski trip still appeals after Austin’s wintry blast, read on…

If a Colorado ski trip still appeals after Austin’s wintry blast, read on…

Chris LeBlanc skis a run at Copper Mountain in February 2020. Pam LeBlanc photo

The Great Texas Snowpocalypse may have dampened your enthusiasm for a ski trip this season, but just in case, I’m here with an update from my contacts in Colorado.

Ski lifts are still whisking folks up the slopes and skiers are still schussing happily down them, albeit in smaller numbers this year, according to Chris Linsmayer, public affairs director of Colorado Ski Country USA, which represents 22 ski areas in Colorado.

“Largely the season is going well, but business is down due to Covid,” Linsmayer said. “Visitors are grateful to come out and experience some normalcy.”

The good news? Snow sports are, by their nature, less risky than other endeavors during a pandemic. “You’re outside and you have skis or a board on your feet, so it’s naturally socially distant,” Linsmayer said.

The bad news? Outbreaks have been reported at some area ski resorts. Those cases, including a rash of more than 100 reported among employees at Winter Park last week, have been traced to workers who live and socialize together. So far there have been no reports of employees transferring the virus to visitors.

If you do decide to make a trip, keep a few things in mind. Ski Country is still pushing it’s “Know before you go” message, encouraging visitors to check the Colorado Ski Country website at www.coloradoski.com or go to the individual website of the resort they plan to visit for Covid tips and advice.

Most resorts are requiring pre-purchase of lift tickets, and some require pre-purchase of parking.

Resorts are encouraging visitors to eat meals outdoors, on picnic tables or benches. This group enjoys a meal next to the parking lot at Arapaho Basin in February 2020. Pam LeBlanc photo

Dining restrictions vary by county, but some have increased occupancy rates at sit-down restaurants to 50 percent. (Others, like Telluride, are at 25 percent capacity.) Many resorts offer grab-and-go meals on the mountain, and some offer creative solutions, like gondola cars or yurts that serve as dining pods, or tents that allow breezes to flow through.

Under state regulations, masks must be worn – over your nose and mouth – in public spaces, including lift lines. And a single Buff or bandana won’t cut it. Either use a regular face mask or double down on those thin neck gaiters.

“Our state regulations allow you to take off masks while skiing, but you must put them on while in line,” Linsmayer said.

Here are a few more specific updates …

Patrick O’Sullivan skis a run at Arapaho Basin. Pam LeBlanc photo

Aspen Snowmass

Aspen-Snowmass, which incorporates four ski resorts (Aspen, Aspen Highlands, Snowmass and Buttermilk), has a sense of humor – they’re pushing a “Fine Dining on the Lift” theme, encouraging folks to pick up individually wrapped and easily transported food items like sandwiches and salads in containers that are easy to eat from. That way you can eat them outside, on benches, inside heated tents, or while the lift whisks you up the mountain for that next run.

“It’s kind of feeling like we’re a little bit back to normal,” said Xanthe Demas, communications manager at the area.

A new six-person lift is turning at Snowmass, and both Aspen and Snowmass have added snowmaking operations.

Copper Mountain

Copper Mountain, where I skied last February, just started offering six-person group lessons, instead of limiting them to privates. They’ve also added guided uphill tours and expanded uphill routes (a terrific workout best done at dawn!) to the menu, and during the month of February are donating $5 of every lift ticket purchased on Wednesday to a non-profit organization as part of the Play it Forward Wednesday movement, said communications manager Taylor Prather.

Monarch Mountain

I made it to Monarch Mountain last winter too, where marketing director Dan Bender says the resort is enjoying a winter storm cycle (probably more than Austin is enjoying its winter storm cycle.)

“Still, it has been a challenging year,” Bender said.

The mountain has added a food truck that peddle burritos at the base area, and another that serves grab-and-go food at mid-mountain. The trucks will be incorporated permanently, he said. Lodges are instituting social distancing guidelines.

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At Monarch Mountain, steep terrain, a new ski dog and anniversary beer

At Monarch Mountain, steep terrain, a new ski dog and anniversary beer

Fawkes is a ski patrol dog in training at Monarch Mountain. Pam LeBlanc photo

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.

Chris LeBlanc overlooks some black runs at Monarch Mountain. Pam LeBlanc photo

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 Mirkwood section of Monarch offers 130 acres of double black diamond (expert) terrain, but you have to hike (or take a Snowcat) to get there. Pam LeBlanc photo


  1. The lack of crowds. Monarch is off the beaten path for most visitors.
  2. Easy access to tree runs, my favorite, off main lifts like Panorama and Breezeway.
  3. The High Anxiety run – a steep, bumped swathe that lured me back again and again.
  4. 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.
  5. The ski area’s manageable size – 800 skiable acres, including 130 acres of hike-to terrain, and six lifts.
  6. 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.
  7. A sack lunch room, so you don’t have to spend money at the cafeteria at the base if you don’t want to.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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!


Elevation has brewed a special beer to commemorate the 80th anniversary of Monarch Mountain. Pam LeBlanc photo

About Pam

I’m Pam LeBlanc. Follow my blog to keep up with the best in outdoor travel and adventure. Thanks for visiting my site.

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