Riding the lift at Wolf Creek on Friday morning, we talked to two guys from Texas who had driven 6 hours that morning to ski (it was 9am!!). They mentioned also skiing at Monarch, which perked my interest as I’d never heard of it. Two hours north, on the way to Summit County, good snow and trees – all the ingredients we needed for the next day. At 9am the Saturday we were riding the Garfield lift at Monarch on a beautiful, cold Rocky Mountains morning.
While only an hour or so south of the mega resorts in Summit County, Monarch couldn’t be farther away in concept. This is a place that represents the soul of skiing. There’s no fast lifts, luxury condos, fancy restaurants, furry jackets and white designer ski pants at Monarch. This is where locals ski, chatting happily with strangers on the old two seat lifts, and indulging in some excellent, varied terrain that encircles the base lodge. Each lift serves less than 1000ft vertical, but with multiple runs – groomers, bumps, trees – served by every lift, and no lift lines (the locals complained it was a busy day!), it’s not hard to have a good time.
The weather started sunny, which helped us do a quick mountain exploration to familiarize ourselves with the terrain. By 10.30 though, the snow had moved in, and it just kept dumping. By 2.30pm we declared a powder day, ripping a good 4 inches of fresh in the unmarked trees (follow traverse line by the patrol hut) off the right of Garfield, and floating through at least 6 inches pow-on-groomed on Tele Alley. It was a shame the lifts stopped at 4pm.
We snagged a hotel room in the evocatively named Leadville Saturday night. It turns out Copper is a mere 30 minutes or so from Leadville, so in the interest of getting first lift, that was our Sunday destination. Uncharacteristically quiet for a weekend, we spent the first hour on the superb groomers off the front side and down to Super Bee. Good vertical, tasty fall lines and corduroy that was effortless to turn on made for some great skiing. And cold skiing. The remedy of course was to hit bumps, steeps and trees, all of which were in plentiful supply.
Spaulding and Resolution Bowls were good, but not great. There’s some steep, short pitches which were fun, but also a lot of cruddy bumps – I get the impression this side of the mountain gets some sun. We soon discovered much better snow off the Triple Treat chair. The long marked bump runs were huge, and Black Bear and Freefall Glades were truly epic. I could have lapped those two all day, but a flight home beckoned and we were done by 1.30pm.
We need to spend more time at Copper to figure out the mountain better. There’s a lot of terrain and variety, which I like. In Fact I could hang out in a condo there for a week any time.
Monarch 6100m, Copper 8000m vert
Season totals: 13 days, 91,800m vert, 3 powder days