MONARCH SKI RESORT: AN OFF-THE-BEATEN-PATH GEM

It was either going to be my best idea ever for a mother-son weekend, or a complete failure. That’s the way I thought about my decision to by-pass the big Colorado ski resorts on I-70 for the lesser-known Monarch Ski Resort in central Colorado along the Continental Divide.

Monarch Ski Resort :
Mirkwood is Monarch Ski Resorts expert terrain.

Monarch Mountain Ski Resort attracted me for its affordable rates and local flavor. It is located 128 miles west of Colorado Springs and about three hours from Denver International airport.

You’ll need to rent a car, and initially the drive concerned me. Coming from Atlanta, I’d rather take a shuttle and let someone else navigate the winter weather.  But we traded the traffic on I-70 for more bucolic vistas and plenty of passing lanes so I could take it slow on the mountain roads without feeling pushed. 

MONARCH SKI RESORT

MONARCH SKI RESORT: AN OFF-THE-BEATEN-PATH GEM
The views from the Panorama lift are some of the best.

Monarch Mountain is nestled within the San Isabel National Forest off Highway 50 at Monarch Pass, and is blessed with abundant natural snow (about 350 inches a year), stunning scenery and varied terrain that is suitable for beginner to expert skiers of all ages.

It’s also locally owned and operated by a team that has invested more than $9 million in recent years to upgrade the experience and facilities, and they aren’t done yet.

FOR THE EXPERTS

There are 67 trails, two ski and snowboard terrain parks and an expert area called Mirkwood. Mirkwood’s expert terrain is quite a bit above our ski level, but if you want something challenging, take the 10-minute hike to Mirkwood Bowl, or for true powder hounds, check out Monarch’s cat skiing tours.

FIRST TIMERS AND BEGINNERS

Since we only ski about once a year, we warmed up on the beginner slopes, working our way from left to right. Snowflake and Butterfly are two nice bunny slopes accessible by a moving sidewalk. Roundabout is a long flat green that, at times, will have you using your polls to move forward. Sleepy Hollow is a bit steeper and gives the option to stay green or try a lower level blue.

PLENTY OF BLUE RUNS

We moved fairly quickly to the intermediate slopes, they offered a good variety of terrain. While I stayed a solid blue skier on the wide-open runs, my teenage son became a bit more adventurous, trying the moguls and tree skiing through the ever-present powder. A beetle infestation several years ago killed several trees, which were then cleared via helicopters and ground working, making this skiable terrain and an easy way to flip back and forth between black and blue runs.

TAKE ON THE TUBE PARK

MONARCH SKI RESORT: AN OFF-THE-BEATEN-PATH GEM
Take a break from the slopes and have some fun at our tubing park! Riders must be at least 36” tall and able to ride alone in a tube. Children age 6 and under must be accompanied by a participating adult (in a separate tube).

BEST PHOTO SPOT ON THE MOUNTAIN

For the best views (and Instagram shots), head up the aptly named Panorama lift to the top of the Continental Divide. From the top you can ski greens, blues or blacks back down. All runs, from beginner to advanced flow naturally back to the Monarch Mountain Lodge ski area, making it easy to meet up even if your group has a wide variety of ski level.

LIFT LINES AT MONARCH MOUNTAIN SKI RESORT

MONARCH SKI RESORT: AN OFF-THE-BEATEN-PATH GEM
Lifts can be a little unnerving. Don’t hesitate to ask the attendant to slow it down so you can get on safely.

As an independent ski resort, Monarch isn’t as well known as the Epic or Ikon resorts, which means you get a real Rocky Mountain ski experience with smaller crowds. We visited on a Thursday and Friday before a holiday weekend and rarely had more than five people in front of us for the lifts.

Note on the lifts, other than Tumbelina and nearby Pioneer, none of the lifts at Monarch have pull-down bars. Not gonna lie, that made me a little nervous with my teen, not sure how I’d feel with little ones.

MONARCH MOUNTAIN SKI RESORT LODGE

MONARCH SKI RESORT: AN OFF-THE-BEATEN-PATH GEM
Renting from Monarch? Let the valet keep your skis and poles overnight for free!

The Monarch Mountain Lodge is the base for all activity. Book lessons or drop the kids off at the children’s center while you ski.

SKI RENTALS

For those who don’t have skis, you can rent whatever you need to ski or snowboard, including clothing from the rental shop. There are lockers in the rental area for your stuff and one especially nice feature – a ski valet is located at the base of the mountain.

OVERNIGHT SKI VALET

If you rent from Monarch, the ski valet, which is literally steps from the bottom of the mountain, stores your skis and poles for pick up the next day. Love the option to skip lugging skis and poles to the hotel and back.

ON-SITE RESTAURANTS

When hunger strikes you have a few options. The Sidewinder Saloon is the place for a sit down meal. The Gunbarrel cafeteria offers grab and go fair or you can pick up something at the food truck off the outdoor patio. Elmo’s is a full service bar with slope-side views. And if you forget any essentials, Elation Sports has what you need.

LODGING OPTIONS NEAR MONARCH

MONARCH SKI RESORT: AN OFF-THE-BEATEN-PATH GEM
Mt. Princeton Hot Springs is the perfect resort stay after a day on the slopes at Monarch Mountain.

The closest lodging options near Monarch Mountain are in nearby Salida Colorado, but if you want more of a resort experience, stay at the Mount Princeton Hot Springs. Mt. Princeton is an easy 40 minutes door-to-door. Accommodations range from hotel rooms to roomy mountain cabins – all with access to the historic hot springs.

Note: The closest hotel to Monarch Mountain Ski Resort is the Monarch Mountain Lodge. It is not affiliated with the ski resort and although it is a fine option for a bed close to the slopes, could use updating according to a local we spoke with.

WINTER FUN OFF THE SLOPES

MONARCH SKI RESORT: AN OFF-THE-BEATEN-PATH GEM
There are plenty of fun off the slopes too!

If skiing isn’t your thing, or you need a break, there is plenty of winter fun off the slopes.

SNOWMOBILE TOURS

Explore San Isabel National Forest by snowmobile with Monarch Snowmobile Tours. The guides here are clearly having fun and the tour is a mix of riding through the forest, gorgeous mountain views, and an opportunity to let it rip in a wide-open glade.

DOG SLEDDING

If you’d rather natural power to machines, Monarch Mountain Dog Sledding is the way to go. Learn dog sledding history, meet the 10th generation Alaskan huskies, help harness them up and then take a ride through the forest. We got lucky and had the opportunity to meet two new pups as well!

CHOOSE BETWEEN TWO HISTORIC WESTERN TOWNS FOR EVENING FUN

Monarch Mountain closes at 4 pm and doesn’t have the nightlife like some other Colorado ski resorts. What it does have are two authentic Western towns nearby chock full of restaurant options, unique shopping and fun activities for everyone in the family. So much so that we devoted a full post to things to do in nearby Salida, Colorado, as well as the slightly further Buena Vista, Colorado. Both towns are well worth a visit, or even just a stop for dinner.

In the end, we had a picture perfect trip to Monarch Ski Resort. I’m glad we took a chance, got off the beaten path and explored an area of Colorado that I can’t wait to visit again – winter or summer!

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