What was once accessible only by Monarch Snowcat Tours is now a quick 15-minute hike, and well worth the jaunt. Open in 2005, Mirkwood Basin is another addition to some of southern Colorado's finest terrain at [R240R, Monarch Mountain].

Long known for its all-natural powder, short lift lines, and small-town friendly crew, Monarch adds another dimension with Mirkwood Basin. Ride the Breezeway lift and hike along a groomed cat-track to explore 1,100 vertical feet and over 130 acres of steep chutes, bowls, glades, rock cliffs, and excellent tree skiing. Lapping around is as effortless as taking the egress road back to the run, K2, which ends up at the main base lodge.

"It (Mirkwood Basin) has all types of skiing," Monarch's Greg Ralph told OnTheSnow. "The bowl has east, north, and west facing slopes, so depending on which direction the storm comes in, new snow deposits accordingly." Monarch had received over 100 inches of seasonal snowfall as of Dec. 20 and was planning on opening the basin as soon as patrol could get there to blast and deem it safe for skiing and riding.

Mirkwood opens around 9:30 a.m. daily with gates closing and ski patrol sweeping at 2:30 p.m. Monarch's Snowcat Tours will occasionally do their first run in Mirkwood before moving beyond the basin to access more terrain on both sides of the Continental Divide.

New for the 2010-11 season is the Mirkwood Tour. Offered every Saturday at 11 a.m., a just-under two-hour tour will take you through an orientation and information lap of Mirkwood Basin for $55. For skiers and riders ages 13-plus, and skier/rider levels 8-plus, the Mirkwood Tour allows you to familiarize yourself with the area and terrain for future exploration with friends or family.

"We're getting pounded with snow," Ralph said. "We just got three feet in three days, so Mirkwood is in great condition."

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