In a time of hyper-connectivity, social media and 2.0 this-or-that, where life moves at a fantastical rate, we must remember that, snowboarding, is in essence one of the simpler things in life -- and one resort in south central Colorado operates with exactly this in mind. Situated just a few minutes from the outdoor Mecca of Salida, Colorado, Monarch Mountain is a reminder of the old saying that "Doin' good, is good enough!"
Not your Vail or Beaver Creek, this place isn't about the glitz and glam that so many of the state's resorts are known for. In fact, the area prides itself on somewhat of an au naturel ethos. From the absence of snowmaking, to the utilization of the areas abundant natural terrain, at Monarch -- what you see is what you get. This laid back spirit extends to resort employees as well, so don't be alarmed if the friendliest bearded wizard this side of Rivendel greets you with words of encouragement each time you board any of the area's six lifts.
And while the lift-accessed terrain here is worth noting: 800-plus acres of mellow groomers, gladed trees and rolling, open bowls, the real goods lie just beyond the lifts' reach. Says Monarch Ambassador Greg Ralph, "The terrain here suits beginners and pros alike. We like to think of Monarch as a family friendly ski area with a rowdy alter ego." Clever. He goes on to say, "Anyone who has hiked up to Mirkwood Basin and experienced runs like Staircase or Mirkwood Trees knows what I mean!" With a little, and I mean little effort these mellow ridgeline hikes (often on pre-groomed cat tracks) will get you into run after run of powder-filled predicaments.
Speaking of cat tracks...
Last season I was lucky enough to get invited to spend a day riding Monarch's true claim to fame -- its snowcat operation. It wasn't a planned stop on my trip, but it turned out to be the deepest day during the three-week sojourn I spent in Southern Colorado. Photographer Shaun Hughes, and Colorado legends JJ Thomas and Chad Otterstrom joined me for one day of neck deep powder and face-torturing smiles. As we learned, it had been snowing harder than it had all year. Which is to say it was dumping. If there is one thing that sets this small resort apart from the rest it is the copious amount of snow that blankets the region. At upwards of 350 to 400 inches a year, powder days at Monarch are measured in increments of feet, not inches.
JJ Thomas, no stranger to Colorado's famous snowfall, surprisingly had never been here before, exclaiming, "My first time to Monarch was unforgettable ... bottomless powder, no lines and trees with chest deep snow and perfect pitch!" Otterstrom, who made a four-hour drive trough a blizzard on moments notice, to meet us the night before, well ... he didn't need convincing. He had been here before.
About the cat op, Monarch states, "The average number of runs in day will be between 10 and 15 with each averaging about 900 vertical." Our crew must have taken a dozen or so runs through these zones, burying fellow shredders and worries alike, bumping over buried obstacles and floating down gullies. With each run topping the next, we barely had time to get our fits of laughter under control by the time our heated cat ride dropped us off at the top again.
And with some of the nicest guides I have ever had the pleasure of dealing with, this was a no-stress experience on par with catered room service. Monarch explains, "Our guides are super knowledgeable, laid back, and sensitive to snowboarders' needs. They understand that snowboarders don't enjoy unclipping to access or exit a run so they will pay special attention to this by directing snowboarders on where to go and where to keep up the speed."
Though they may not have the extreme terrain and hairball descents of Silverton or the world-class snowboard parks of Summit County, what Monarch does have is pure fun. I mean when it comes down to it, what is better than shredding untracked lines through the forest with a couple buddies? Not much. It doesn't always have to be so complicated, remember?
Location: South Central Colorado
Open: Late November
Close: Early April
Snowcat Riding: $250 peak season $180 Dec 26-Jan 15/Mar 22-April 4
Terrain: 800-plus acres
Total Lifts: 6
Terrain: 800-plus acres
Snow: 350-400 inches annually