I skied at Monarch just three days ago and while the official base was only 32 inches, I found conditions outstanding. Three days after a big storm (and with a nice dusting of two inches the previous night), my son Travis and I found powder all over the mountain--from tree runs like Geno's Meadow (which I did not expect we'd even dare enter) to wide-open slopes like Ajax and Examiner. This is in line with what I've found on previous trips here --lots and lots of powder days after a storm. This is due, I guess, to the fact it is not near any major population center--perhaps a drag to its local owners but a bonus for its patrons!
While Monarch may not rack up big stats in terms of vertical (1162 feet) or area (800 acres or so), it skies much bigger than it appears on paper. This is due to the variety of exposures it has, and a nice span of run types--narrow bumpers, huge bowls, twisty little tracks though the trees, glens and two terrrain parks, with a balanced range of difficulty--and the fact that lift lines are almost never encountered (save holidays). Toss in the ungroomed bowls, trees and glades of the Mirkwood area, accessible with a 20-minute hike (which used to be open only to the resort's cat-skiing operation) and you have one fine ski or snow boarding experience.
Sitting atop the Continental Divide, with a summit elevation just shy of 12,000 feet, Monarch also has excellent snowfall--averaging 350 inches. Its high perch also offers up stunning views of the surrounding Sawatch mountains, Colorado's mighest but largely unknown range containing 15 peaks over 14,000 feet.
The area also exudes an old-fashioned charm--from the cool old black and white photos showing its founding in 1939 (it is one one of the state's oldest ski areas!) to the easy-goiung pace and the genuinely friendly vibe its staff displays. And the price is old-fashioned as well--$49 for an adult lift ticket is hard to beat anywhere in the nation.
But its not resting on its laurels. This season finds a new locker room, new rental shop and ski school center, new restrooms, a new magic carpet for beginner skiers and other improvements.
The food is not exceptional but it too is priced well below the typical resort rates, and includes a cafeteria and sit down service in the Sidewinder Saloon.
There are no on-slope accommodations, but excellent stay/ski packages can be found in Salida (about 30 minutes away), Poncha Springs or just minutes from the skiing at the Monarch Mountain Lodge.
For those that are looking for an exceptional ski or boardign experience (and have the cash to pursue it), I'd really recommend Monarch's snowcat tours. I spent a heavenly morning in the resort's backcountry sampling its delights a few years ago and am itching to return! The runs offered cornice drops and cliffs (for those in the mood), large bowls and delightful tree sking. The runs are not exhaustively long, and between descents you get to warm up in the cat as it churns back up the mountain.
Access to Monarch is also quite good, as it sits just off U.S Highway 50, which is plowed and sanded ona regular basis. As a precaution, I'd suggest you also carry chains to make sure snowfall doesn't deny you from reaching the goods.