This is the second installment of Three Days Skiing on The Great Divide. Return to the first page here.
Day Two: Monarch Mountain
Monarch is a short 30-minute drive from Salida, but it’s worth getting an early start for first chair. There are plenty of places for breakfast in Salida. Or, stop at the Safeway on the way out of town for a coffee and doughnut, and maybe a sandwich for lunch. Don’t be dismayed if there’s no snow in town, or even as you head up toward Monarch Pass—trust the Divide to do its wintery magic.
When parked at the base, take a look at the long slash to the south. That’s the original Gunbarrel run cut by railroaders who lived around here in the 1930s. On the main mountain, four lifts diverge from the base. If it’s a powder day, slide down to Pioneer and head up into Curecanti Bowl. A short sidestep gets you to a hidden Rocky Mountain treasure. Though the run is relatively short, the light, fluffy snow will never disappoint, and there’s plenty of secret routes through the trees to track. The runout to the bottom is modest, though the pitch steepens in the trees between North Forty and Tele Alley.
Monarch's abundant powder and small crowds can make for fresh tracks days after a dump. Photo by Eli Reichman. Courtesy of Monarch Mountain.
Hop on Garfield Chair and enjoy the views. Once atop, either side brings outstanding powder runs. Go skier’s right and everything from Tango to Examiner opens up for pick-your-own freshies. Go left for a short hike to the steep chutes of Upper No Name and Lobo.
After a few cycles there, traverse all the way left to Christmas Tree, a steep shot into the ravine. Stay left near the bottom and you can hit Beeline to the Panorama Chair. A favorite old school ride, the two-seater tunnels through the pines and disgorges you right on the Continental Divide. Be prepared to pause for some rubbernecking off either side—the western slopes toward Gunnison and the Sawatch Range to the east.
Monarch's Panorama Chair drops you right onto the Continental Divide. Photo Courtesy of Monarch Mountain.
Catch your breath because there’s plenty of black diamond terrain to be had right off Panorama. Once Mirage, Sheet Rock and High Anxiety get tracked up, they build up Monarch’s best bumps. Go farther down the ridge and you can take off wherever you want, as the trees open up and pitch moderates.
But it’s not over. In recent years, Monarch has opened up massive terrain on its northern rim. Take Breeze Way Chair, slip through the access gate, and feast on Milkwood Bowl. Stay on the Divide and you can hardly go wrong with some of the best bowl skiing in the southern Rockies. Cut off early, and test yourself in the steeply forested Milkwood Trees, Staircase and East Trees. There’s a long runout back to the base.
Or, pay for a snowcat ride into No Name Bowl, where the steep and deep seems to go on forever. The Dog runs right off the east side of the Divide, while Sword Chute and the trio of Repeater runs await on the western side. Either way, you get a ride back on the snowcat and dropped off on a leg-weary goat track to the base.
Head back down U.S. 50 and take a left onto U.S. 285 North for a jaw-dropping drive beneath the Continental Divide as it winds up and over the Fourteeners of the Collegiate Peaks. Pause in Buena Vista for a snack by the Arkansas River, then head north past the highest peaks in North America—Princeton, Yale, Elbert and Massive—into the silver mining boom town of Leadville. Find an inexpensive motel, have a beer at the famous Silver Dollar Saloon and hit the sack.
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