Monarch Mountain, CO 4-3-16

Yesterday I skied Monarch Mountain, one of the “gems” of central Colorado.

View of the Sawatch Range from the Sidewinder Trail at Monarch Mountain

View of the Sawatch Range from the Sidewinder Trail at Monarch Mountain

It was an old-fashioned experience. Most of my prior Colorado skiing has been at the big, swanky resorts. Monarch is retro in a very positive way.

Due to its location, entirely on property of the San Isabel National Forest, there’s no base area development. Just a nice lodge plus a few ancillary structures. In that sense it reminds me of New Hampshire’s Wildcat Mountain.

Although skiing at Monarch pre-dates World War II, the present-day development occurred mostly in the 1960s and 1970s, as detailed in the Monarch history page in coloradoskihistory.com.

I was particularly charmed by the trio of Hall chairlifts, which form the backbone of Monarch’s operations. (Click here for a history of this interesting New York company that was so important in developing the American ski industry in the period 1954-1982.)

Sturdiness and simplicity were hallmarks of the Halls. Many survive today, half a century after installation. No other manufacturer of this period has so many lifts still in operation. Three pix of the Panorama lift are included below. Let’s start with two view so the base area. First is a distance shot, setting the scene. Second is a closer view.

The bottom station of the Panorama double chairlift at Monarch Mountain with the Sawatch Range in the background

The bottom station of the Panorama double chairlift at Monarch Mountain with the Sawatch Range in the background

Closer view of the bottom station of the Panorama double chairlift at Monarch Mountain

Closer view of the bottom station of the Panorama double chairlift at Monarch Mountain

Third is the classic unloading scene, which shows the lifts simplicity of design and its signature concrete pillar.

Top station of the Panorama double chairlift at Monarch Mountain

Top station of the Panorama double chairlift at Monarch Mountain

Snow conditions were great, with a reported 76 inches at the base. Being located so high up in Monarch Pass, the mountain relies entirely on natural snowfall. Another retro feature.

One really curious feature is this: Monarch sits on the Continental Divide, with the vast bulk of acreage lying on the Gulf/Atlantic side. The upper terminal of the Panorama lift is located about a dozen feet on the Gulf/Atlantic side. Trails that leave left and right actually straddle the divide.

Snowboarding along the Continental Divide

Snowboarding along the Continental Divide

In the photo above, the little tree island sits astride the Continental Divide. The snowboarder on the left is in the Gulf/Atlantic watershed, while the guy on the right is on the Pacific.