There are a lot of things you won’t find at Monarch. High-speed lifts, noisy snowmaking machines, endless terrain, braggin’-rights vertical, swish condos, a hoppin’ après scene, great shopping, gourmet dining, lift lines, surly staff, pushy guests. If any of those top your list of must-haves for a great place to ski, well, better try someplace else.
On the other hand, if bottomless light powder, uncrowded runs, fresh tracks all day, stunning mountaintop views, great glades, a challenging walk-to bowl, outgoing staff and friendly guests sound like the elements of a perfect ski day, Monarch is most definitely a place you’ve just gotta check out.
Located right on the Continental Divide, in the San Isabel National Forest, Monarch is a stealth ski resort. My apologies to the locals I met for helping out the place but, sorry guys, you can’t keep a secret like this to yourself. Three hours southwest of Denver and about half that from Colorado Springs, the tiny, perfect ski hill is another of those Wayback Machine experiences where skiers and boarders seem to live in peaceful harmony and simply indulge their jones for all-natural powder skiing.
People come to Monarch to ride the fluff. Period. The nearest lodging is five minutes down the road but the nearest choice of lodging, restaurants, shopping and other amenities is half-an-hour down the mountain at Salida, one of those places you pass through and say to yourself, “Nice little town; I could see myself living here.”
Salida offers a choice of reasonably priced everything, a town rec centre with soothing waters fed by a natural hot springs, and a drive spiked by high anticipation as you climb up to the ski area.
With almost 60% of its runs rated advanced and expert, Monarch may seem daunting when you’re reading about it on its website or checking out the area map. Indeed, they almost seem to relish scaring the pants off skiers with the lung capacity to make the 10-30 minute hike up to Mirkwood Basin, the 130 acre EXTREME bowl they opened up a couple of years ago. Baloney!
Yes, there are steeps. Yes, there are plenty of bumps to keep your knees pumping. Trees? You bet, plenty of them mostly all nicely spaced and skier-friendly. And while all of them may throw a scare in you on the rare ain’t-snowed-forever-and-things-are-getting-sketchy days, any day like the days I was there those scary places are nothing but full-time, face-shot fun.
Monarch packs more thrills into 800 acres and 1,162 feet of vertical than most upscale resorts manage to wring out of two or three times those numbers. On a lazy Tuesday morning, with the sun shining in Salida, the mountain was sucking snow out of passing clouds and offering thigh-deep fluff. A 9:00am start offered first tracks down High Anxiety, Frazzle and Zipper, three runs skier’s right off Panorama chair. It also dished up fresh tracks — still — by the end of the day.
The day at Monarch ends at 4:00pm… cocktail hour. But don’t dally. Grab a window seat in the baselodge Sidewinder Saloon & Lounge and order a refreshing bevie and snack from the friendly servers because the whole place shuts down at 5:30… earlier if mountain staff are going to blow the slopes above the highway for avalanche control.
Monarch has everything you want for a perfect ski experience and nothing you don’t need. It’s another one of those gems you owe it to yourself to visit if for no other reason than to rekindle your love affair with simply sliding down snowy mountains. There are plenty of places offering the rest of the trappings… just no one quite like Monarch.
Check it out
Stay : The Super 8 in Salida, Colorado. salidasuper8.com
Eat : Gunbarrel Café or Starbucks Snack Bar in the baselodge
Après : Sidewinder Saloon & Lounge. No choice but who cares, this local’s packed place is a definite don’t miss
Dine : Salida Yellow Pages. Great wood-fired pizzas at Animas restaurant, good selection at The Twisted Cork
Hiking to Mirkwood.
Perfect partner face shots.