With my 40th birthday looming in front of me, I knew exactly what I wanted to do to soften the blow of entering a new decade. Some people celebrate with a party or perhaps a tropical vacation. Thank goodness I have a February birthday because what I wanted required snow—and preferably lots of it.
PLANNING THE ADVENTURE
I told my husband that I wanted to go cat skiing—with 11 of my good ski buddies. Oh, and it’ll have to be a family-friendly ski area because our 7-year-old would come, too. Without hesitation, he suggested Monarch Mountain. It sounded great to me. We could have an awesome family adventure weekend together by getting our adult adrenaline fix one day and some proud ski parenting time the next.
With a little luck we’d be sampling some of the 350" of annual snowfall that accumulate around this unique central Colorado ski area—where the runs cascade down off the Continental Divide.
Cat skiing with friends is like having your own forest and your own limo driver.
Copyright: Linda Guerrette
The first day of our family ski adventure really started the day before, when my friends, family and I checked into our full size cabin at Mt. Princeton Hot Springs in Nathrop, Colorado. Adults and kids alike thoroughly enjoyed the rustic setting and the 105-degree soaking pool.
Our first morning at Monarch went remarkably well: Thanks to the capable Monarch instructors, the ski school drop off happened without drama. Since we were allowed to drop the kids off as early as 8:00 a.m., we had time to grab a quick coffee at the Java Stop and breakfast at the Gunbarrel Cafeteria before we made our way to the cat skiing room by 8:30 a.m.
There, we met our guides, watched a safety video and received our safety gear, including an avalanche beacon and a BCA Float pack. Then we were out the door and up the Breezeway lift to board the new Bombardier 350 snowcat, a fast-moving, 12-person cat with plush seats and a killer stereo.
“Cat skiing to me is like having your own forest and your own limo driver,” said Greg Ralph, Monarch’s marketing director. He was right: You have access to 1,200 acres that only 12 people get to track up each day. The cat dropped us off at the top of the run and picked us up at the bottom—over and over again—as we skied in bowls, glades and chutes.
It was just as I imagined it would be, sharing my birthday with friends who love skiing as much as I do. I didn’t even lament that fact that I was now four decades old. Cat skiing was a wonderful diversion. We whooped and hollered all morning until the cat took us back to the ski area boundary so we could grab a quick lunch.
At that point, we went to check in with the kids, which always creates some trepidation and maybe a little guilt because we were having so much fun without them. But the kids were also having a blast, happily chatting with their instructor as they ate lunch and recalled stories about Pinball, a winding gulley perfectly suited for 4-foot-tall skiers, and the magical trees in the fairy forest. So we said goodbye and high-tailed it back out to our magical mountain for the afternoon session.
My favorite run of the day was in No Name bowl, accessed by a steep climb to the highest point that the cat travels. It was 1,200 vertical feet of pure fun as we surfed the powder in the steep bowl off the backside of the Divide into the Gunnison National Forest. By 4:00 p.m., everyone was pleasantly tired after our double-digit number of runs. We picked up the kids and ended the day at the Sidewinder Saloon, recapping our adventures over some brews and hot chocolates.
Getting ready to jump off a ridge in the terrain accessed by Monarch Cat Skiing.
Copyright: Linda Guerrette
Still basking in the glow of our cat skiing trip, my husband and I started our second day at Monarch with mellow expectations. But Monarch’s 54 trails are filled with wide-open tree ski runs, steep terrain and 100 percent natural snow. The lift lines are minimal so we lapped up the mountain.
The younger kids in the group started on the covered Caterpillar surface lift while we headed for the Garfield Lift to ski some powdery glades with our daughter. Some of the adults even snuck off to ski the newly opened hike-to terrain called Mirkwood, located next to the cat skiing terrain. Wherever we went, it was easy to meet up since all runs filter down to one easy-to-navigate base area.
“Monarch is awesome,” exclaimed my daughter. “The tree runs were so fun because they had bumps and jumps and tiny hills. My instructor was awesome, too.” We felt the same way she did during our family adventure weekend. Monarch’s laidback atmosphere (read: we love dirt parking lots and pulling up to the lodge to unload the family’s gear) plus the friendly staff passed our parental checklist.
There was enough diversity in terrain to keep all ability levels and ages interested. And the game-on cat skiing and untracked wilderness experience satiated our adult adventurous ski spirit. After saying goodbye to our friends, we drove down the serpentine mountain pass and decided that we wouldn’t wait another decade to have another great family ski adventure at Monarch.
Kids have mini adventures on the covered Caterpillar lift at Monarch Mountain.
Copyright: Eleanor Williamson
Monarch Cat Skiing Tour Cost: High season, $300/per person, $3,300 for full cat (12 people). Late season (March 24-April 13, 2014), $225 per person, $2,475 for full cat. Call 719-530-5105 to check for availability, or visit www.skimonarch.com.
Junior Mountain Ski or Snowboard Package (ages 7-12): $156, includes all day lift ticket, 4 hours of instruction, equipment rental, lunch and snack. Call 888-996-7669 to speak to a reservationist.
Mt. Princeton Hot Springs: A full size cabin for 6-8 people starts at $300/night, pool access included. For more information, visit www.mtprinceton.com.