Monarch ’14

Completing CO – Fall phase: Monarch Mountain review
(1st in the string “Competing CO” @ end of ’14-15 ski season)

Colorado is a the capstone in the arch of Western skiing. It is the rooftop of the Rockies. It has the most 1k’ers of all the states in the union. So to complete the state, to ski all 17 resorts in the state is a major accomplishment, a milestone in the bucket list quest. And now I’ve done it! It has taken several years, but with Monarch Mountain , Purgatory at Durango and finally Telluride visits in the 14-15 season this formidable task was done,  I chalked off Colorado.  That’s not saying I won’t return when even I can. I will, I did … ’cause I love CO!

But this circle route took two trips to accomplish. The late fall attempt was called; incomplete, left standing due to paucity of snow. Not to fret; I was back in the spring. With coverage, mission accomplished. The CO bucket is full.

Monarch Mountain Review

I visited Monarch not once, but several times in two separate CO visits: first in December on a solo swing, and again in March as part of our annual “Spring in the Mountains” family pilgrimage. I had intended to inspect Monarch in my Greatest Circle route of 12-13 (but that’s another story). In a nut-shell, I had to reschedule my original plans and this was the hour.  Erik my oldest son suggested a “men of the mountain” trip in December so as to set the ski-hook in Sawyer my #3 grandson.

So after skiing Loveland and stopping at a friend’s house in Colorado springs, I made it to Monarch, and fell in love. I enthusiastically include Monarch in my “top picks” list. Now that’s based in the mountain plus the “down-home” atmosphere I seek and cherish. For instance: Monarch offers a few passes daily for super seniors (age 69! at Monarch, the most generous offer in the country). I opted to “purchase” a season’s pass for an administration fee of $20.00.

The mountain has no base housing so Salida is the major center about 20 miles down the canyon. There are some accommodations along the way. A remodeled hotel is on the main road 5 miles down, and there is a little hamlet with some houses to rent on Air B&B or linked off the Monarch Mountain website.

A second draw back – no snowmaking – is offset but the frequent, natural dumps is well known on the continental divide. It was December in a year that proved “sparse” for most Western resorts, but I found the conditions adequate, especially considering my Eastern worldview, The main runs were covered, but the cat-run system was not operating, and the moguls were small or non-existent. The woods were dangerous not so much for bodily threats to an old, experienced “woody” like me, but more for the integrity of my ski bottoms. My Fisher Motives were still on the newer side. I had only petexed one gouge to date.

What impressed me at Monarch was the friendly atmosphere. I was immediately comfortable. It was all about the staff and the clientele. Well, maybe the facilities too.  The lodge was huge and new. The main room of the lodge was large with plenty of windows offering views and light. A generous deck overlooks the beginners area.  All the lifts funnel toward the base, but empty out in a broad sweep that keep the base area uncrowned and moving along. One older  run, Gun Barrel is out of the way , requiring some skating and duck-walk to return to the lodge.

The brown bag area is large with an “tucked” under the main public room without windows or a view. But there is an elevator (especially appreciated  by yours truly and all seniors I trust) that takes you up to the watering hole and the cafeteria room. This room is easily acceptable by parking at the end of the lot, making it so easy to reach and by-passing the crowd. The brown bag room with it’s semi-private ret rooms are positioned off an open lobby, almost” tunnel” approach” that is well designed and ever to convenient to the knowledgeable locals, in which I now include my self.

On with the story

Now, about the characters I befriended: Remember, I’m flying solo. So this young lady glides  gracefully beside my as I’m just about to catch the Garfield high speed up for another run. “Got room to share?” she asks politely and appropriately.

“Of course, com ‘on.”

“Hey, It’s my first day here,” I continued. “Are you familiar with the area?

Well that opened up an afternoon of fun! Turns out she’s an a retired Instructor in my vintage and approaching my age. well actually she’s got me but 1 season or so. I didn’t inform her of much about myself. I just listened. As I would soon learn, she is a real pro, not a part-timer or weekend warrior like me.

“Ok,  follow me … if you can”, she challenged, “I’m won’t have you dragging down the rest of the day. As mentioned, I didn’t “present” any of my ski background and I suspect her take on my age led to questions if not total skepticism on my ability to keep up. To my delight, I was able to shadow and mirror along. At the few instances she did glance back, I do feel she was surprised to find someone was right on her tail, awkwardly perchance, but delightfully mirroring her every turn.

But it was just as much fun listening and absorbing her story. She has a bit of history.  And I’m confident those few vignettes she shared, only scratched the surface of career. She invested her early years in Aspen teaching and then went on to France where she taught several seasons.

I tried my French, (or should I say, I say butchered?), but she immediately confessed to very learning  “la langue” en France, because most of her students were English speaking tourists.  Ahhhh, this fact would preclude any ridiculous thought to impress her with my pathetic high school “French”.

She learned to ski in her native state of Michigan, where her father rigged a rope tow and opened a knoll the public. I regret, I didn’t note the name, and she quickly added it went all went “down hill”.  Returning to Aspen, she married and was able to buy a house before the prices climbed to levels affordable to only the rich and famous. She neighbors included a few names we lackeys might categorize as “celebrities. Now I did take a stand in Aspen, (but that’s another story.) so I really did identify with her tales.

I enjoyed her lead, her tales and her time. I sprang for a après in the public room eager to hear more. Her son has become a recognized builder in Aspen, and he has “mastered” the construction of her retirement home down the canyon a piece.  She had to get home, But I still had half my pint to finish, so I invited myself to join a table of young folk.  I recognized one of the four as the lift employee with whom I chatted and joked as she “checked proof” by shooting” passes at the main lift. They graciously encouraged me to join ‘m.

They I’d like to feel enjoyed my tales as I now opened up to spill my aspirations and story upon them.  Yea, “Ski 1k” and “Ski With Me!”  And I do emphasize … they were young! And they were fun. I think they found the bucket list stories amusing. I appreciated their encouragement and tried to buy their support with another round.

Three of the four were employees at Monarch employees who were working to more meet their love of the sport than provide an income. The fourth a very attractive young lady was employed at the Salida herbal center. She generously offer me a sample chocolate –chip cookie the likes of which were now legal to distribute in Colorado and a handful of other liberated states. Wow, that’s so generous! I respectfully declined, but so recognize her sincere belief in Colorado’s intrepid experiment.

So pleasant of day, that I over-nighted in town, to ski a second day at Monarch. My original plans were to move on to Durango and finally visit Telluride, but Purgatory was closed for want of snow and Telluride was offering only 10 percent of their total trails and then man made only. This update validated and necessitated my Salida extension

My selection of accommodations proved to unearth yet another diamond in the rough: The Simple Lodge & Hostel  in Salida. In this, historic structure one block off the Arkansas that flows through the center of town, I found comfort, camaraderie,  and choice local knowledge. I made new friends with the owner, his then new hired manager, and a new “ski-nut” friend from Texas with whom I skied the next day, An oilman skilled in injecting the chemicals for fracking, he was making the best of a layoff in his volatile filed. (No pun intended.) It was another fine day. I was fascinated in the skill level of a skier from Texas. He was amused in the ski level of an old fart like me. Great day!

Such are all my tales and takes on Monarch.  I’ll go back anytime. I did. (But that’s another story.)

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Skier, rider (of sorts), wanderer, teacher, coach, blogger (wannabe), perpetual child, ...