I woke up to a snow report of 3” and drove up Monarch pass into a snow globe, it was dumping. While they only reported 3” overnight, the storm had only begun. It snowed all day, maybe the best powder day so far that season. By the time the lifts closed, it had snowed another foot.
Snow was in the forecast. Most of the Colorado resorts were expecting 2-4 inches with some areas possibly getting more. I was checking he forecasts on OpenSnow daily (www.opensnow.com) Joel wrote a post that suggested that Monarch pass might be one of those spots that receive more. I was initially planning on going to Crested Butte that weekend, but as I was driving out there I decided to stop at Monarch instead. (http://www.skimonarch.com) I’d skied there once a few years prior, and with the potential for some additional snow, I thought that it would be in my interest to see what happened.
I arrived in Salida on the evening of January 20th and stopped into Soulcraft brewing https://soulcraftbeer.com for a beer before finding a place to camp for the night. I’m still new to the idea of winter car camping and finding places to stay can be challenging. I found some public land just south of town, just far enough from the main road that it was quiet, but a short drive to downtown.
One of the best things about Monarch is that it’s a bit under the radar for a Colorado Ski area. No high speed quad chairs, no fancy village hotels, not on the Epic Pass. A local ski area with all natural snow, 6 double chair lifts, and little to no lift lines. Located about 3 hours outside of Denver, it’s also a bit farther than most weekend warriors like to travel.
After the lifts closed, I drove back down to Salida and stopped into Elevation brewing http://elevationbeerco.com. I usually keep to myself, but a nice couple who are regulars there stopped in and we spoke for a bit. We spoke about the house they are building there, and he told me about his years of experience practicing meditation. (I only started practicing meditation a few months prior, so when he brought it up I was interested in hearing more about his experience)
Most of my day was spent on the “Panorama lift” and skiing runs like “high anxiety” “JRs” “Zipper” and “Dire straits.” Every run I was getting fresh turns and the snow was great. I was skiing right onto the chair, there were almost no lines. And for a weekend in Colorado, that’s hard to find.
It was still snowing when the lifts closed, and I had a good feeling about the next morning. I did what I could to get a good nights sleep. Part way though the night I woke up to find that I’d parked on a slightly uneven surface, I slid off of my camping mat and was pretty uncomfortable. I didn’t want to get out of the car to move it because it felt much colder than the night before. I was doing all I could to stay warm in my sleeping bag. Turns out, it had dropped below zero Fahrenheit. Another lesson learned, park on an even surface and keep your sleeping bag warm.
Although my nights sleep was less than ideal, the skiing the following morning was fantastic. First chair, bluebird skies, and many trails that were still untouched from the day before.
After a couple of runs, I caught a lift with one of the locals from Salida. She said that she was there for the morning and planned to ski a few runs on Mirkwood. I knew that if it was opened, I should head there too.
The skiing on Mirkwood requires a short hike (15 minutes) that brings you to some of the steepest and least touched runs on the mountain. I also knew that it was closed the day before so it would have plenty of fresh snow.
When I first got to the gates, it was still closed. Patrol was checking the conditions to see if it would open. Further down the pass you could hear an avalanche blast. I remained hopeful and went to ski a run called “Outback”. More fresh turns, more great snow. I went right back to the Mirkwood gate, this time it was opened.
After the short hike, I reached the summit and skied a run called “Orcs.” The snow was deep and steep but wind blown. I should have stayed towards the south side. Knowing that there was a lot of snow up there, I quickly made the hike again, this time to ski the Mirkwood trees to the southeast. It turned out to be a great call. More deep, fresh turns, and this was halfway into a bluebird day. Incredible.
I left Monarch that afternoon to get back to Denver. On my way back, near Buena Vista, I turned off of 285 to check out a ghost town I’d heard about near Mount Princeton. The 14er range out there is spectacular. Even if you never hike them, the views are stunning.
After driving over 10 miles down a dirt road, I reached a ghost town called St. Elmo. It’s as deserted as you’d expect. A few buildings that have likely been abandoned for years, surrounded by mountains. After driving past some campsites miles before that, I was the only car that I’d seen for at least the last few miles. It’s a sight worth checking out, especially if you plan on making the trip out there to hike any of the collegiate peaks.
My recommendation, ski at Monarch. But keep it a secret, it’s nice to be able to avoid the crowds.