Overview of Monarch Mountain, Colorado
Written by Jack Lee
Monarch Mountain, located in South Central Colorado, offers 800 acres of pristine skiing along the Continental Divide in the Sawatch Range within the San Isabel National Forest. Monarch Mountain is a real Colorado ski area, no fancy real estate developments or high-end shopping (in fact no slope side lodging since its national forest), just a history of monarch butterflies migrating from Mexico - hence the name. It's a secret place, but it makes our Top 10 Colorado Ski Resorts.
Monarch is homespun - dating back to 1939, but heaven on a powder day as they just don’t get many advanced skiers. Not many skiers and riders have made it to Monarch on their Colorado ski trips - which makes this place a bit of a powder secret. The Panorama (at 11,952') and Pioneer lifts deliver you to plenty of un-altered terrains, glades and fun soft snow trails with clever names like Dire Straits and Examiner. You will feel like a local butterfly as you flit from trail to bowls to untouched snow on its 63 trails served by 5 lifts, one of which - Pioneer is a fixed grip quad, the rest are old school doubles. Monarch has awesome double black diamond extreme terrain in Southbound and Mirkwood Bowl which is accessed with a short 10-minute hike from the top of the Breezeway lift, through patrol gates.
Monarch Mountain also offers Cat Skiing in the backcountry of Mirkwood Basin to score you backcountry snow on 1,200 acres of steeps and glades. Monarch snow cat tours are like an all day ski limo for 12 skiers that gives you private access to powdery bowls and tree skiing with your two guides for under $300 a day, including morning safety protocol, cat rides and skiing, lunch at the base and more freshies in the afternoon.
Monarch is reputed for its friendly locals and abundant natural snow, over 350 inches annually, they don't' make snow, they get it. You can park your car and walk right to the lifts, lift tickets are affordable and you can't get lost as all trails flow back to the base. Monarch's beginner area right at the base is convenient for beginners, including a covered magic carpet.
Monarch's recently expanded base lodge is warm and welcoming and happens to get high marks for its elevation, the highest base in North America at 10,790' (ten feet above Arapahoe Basin's base). Monarch is also home to the highest Starbucks in the world. The Sidewinder Saloon in Monarch's Lodge is a great spot for a sit-down table service lunch or an après ski beer. The nachos are not to be missed - with lots of Colorado beef. Good news for Monarch maniacs, the leather strap bar at Sidewinder Saloon is still intact, along with plenty of local Colorado micro brew beer taps.
Monarch has big plans for expansion to add an additional chairlift on the backside, but being on US Forest Service land, this development could take time - must work with the tree huggers and some bureaucracy. For now, Monarch offers an unhurried pace, untouched powder days after a storm and fun trail skiing as well. B's Bash is one of the steepest homologated FIS Slalom race trails in Colorado.
Monarch Mountain is three hours from Denver, closer to Colorado Springs where their day skiers come from. For lodging, stay in the great nearby town of Salida, just 18 miles away when you are skiing Monarch Mountain. On your Colorado ski tour, you could combine skiing at Crested Butte, an hour and a half from Monarch.
The Palace Hotel in downtown Salida is the best place to stay when skiing Monarch - a beautifully restored 1909 boutique hotel in this cutesy cowboy town that attracts outdoor enthusiasts as much in summer for fishing and boating on the Arkansas River as it does in winter for skiing. The Palace Hotel has 14 spacious suites with views of the river and surrounding mountains, some with kitchens and all with modern amenities and an old world Western feel. The Palace Hotel location is steps from some great Salida dining, bars, shops and art galleries on F Street for your après ski enjoyment.