September 6, 2013 - Film Crews Begin Filming at Monarch Mountain by Casey Kelly
A film crew from Universal Studios arrived at Monarch Mountain Thursday to begin filming scenes for the upcoming film "Fast & Furious 7."
Monarch Marketing Director Greg Ralph said the film crew has booked about 120 hotel rooms in Salida. The majority of the crew consists of stunt doubles and behind the scenes technicians, Ralph said, and the big name actors in the series are not on location. "It's not like Vin Diesel is here," Ralph said.
The film is set to be released in summer 2014, and cast members include Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, Vin Diesel, Jason Statham and Paul Walker, according to IMDb.com.
"They're on the mountain filming some action scenes. They're doing some stuff here and some stuff in the studio, and then they'll edit it all together later," Ralph said.
He said the crew will be using Old Monarch Pass Road during the filming, and the filming should not have any impact for motorists on Monarch Pass. He also said the filming should have a "minimal impact on the terrain."
Ben Lara with the U.S. Forest Service Salida Ranger District confirmed the Forest Service will be issuing a special-use permit to Universal Studios for filming at the location.
Ralph said the film company will be "quarantined" with security at the Monarch Mountain gate and asks that people do not disrupt the process. "There's really nothlng to see," Ralph said.
The Universal Studios crew will be filming in the area for about a month, according to Ralph. "I think it will be an economic boon for our economy this time of year," Ralph said.
August 19, 2013 - Forest Service OK's Ski Area Parking by James Redmond
About three years after starting the process, Monarch Mountain received approval from the U.S. Forest Service to expand its parking lot, Greg Ralph, Monarch Mountain marketing director, said Friday.
Monarch received approval Thursday and already has surveyors out on the site working, Ralph said. The expansion will add 1 acre of parking, which will mean about 80 additional spots for the ski resort.
In the years leading up to the approval, Ralph said Monarch went through mapping and scope of the project, followed by public feedback and comment periods required for the process.
With surveying already started, Ralph said he thinks that cutting trees and moving dirt will start within the next few weeks.
Ralph said M<onarch intends to finish the parking lot expansion before the resort opens. While Monarch does not have an official opening date, the resort usually opens in late November.
The additional parking spots "will help on busy days," Ralph said. However, the main reason for expanding the parking lot is safety."
On some of Monarch's busier days the parking lot would fill up, and people would park along U.S. 50 and walk to the resort from their vehicles, Ralph said.
With the larger parking lot, more people can park right next to the trails , "which is what we want," he said.
|July 14, 2012 - Monarch Invests $2.6 million In Improvements by Tracy Harmon|
MONARCH — Even though last winter wasn't the greatest of ski seasons, Monarch Mountain's owners are going ahead with expansion following U.S.
Forest Service approval of a master plan last November.
"We were down 17 percent from last year because the only good consistent snow we had was in February," said Greg Ralph, Monarch marketing manager. "We usually get 350 inches of snow and last winter we did not even get 200," Ralph said.
So how is it that Monarch's owners can go ahead with more than $2.6 million in expansions?
"This ownership group is a bunch of skiers. They feel it is better to go into debt so they don't loose customers — they are concerned that skiers have a good experience," Ralph explained.
Right now Monarch is becoming a year-round employer by offering construction jobs in the summer.
"The largest contracting company in town is out here working and that means a bunch of people are working," Ralph said.
"We have a lot going on this summer, including doubling the size of our day lodge. The 16,000 square-foot expansion adds 500 new chairs," Ralph said.
The base lodge expansion and remodel is the first project of the new master plan and will cost more than $2.3 million, Ralph explained. "The building is being expanded towards the south, making it closer to ski patrol and the mountain. The improvements include rejuvenation of the entire lodge including inside stairs to all levels, a handicap elevator, a fire suppression system and more seating throughout the lodge," Ralph said.
A state-of-the art entrance will be included.
The walk-through entrance will allow visitors to pass under the cafeteria level and head right to group ticketing, lockers, restrooms and other amenities.
The lodge will continue to have its deli, a larger Sidewinder Saloon, a much larger Gunbarrel cafeteria where seating will increase from 67 seats to 520 seats and a larger family picnic room for those who bring their own lunch.
"Monarch also is investing an additional $300,000 to improve the guest experience. An expansion of the rental and demo fleet of skis, snowboards and boots leads this list," according to Ralph.
In addition, ski school instructors will have new green uniforms and ski patrol will have new snowmobiles for quick response in case of an injured skier.
|March 31, 2011 - Monarch Mountain Cat Tour Mission With Never Summer Snowboards
|You could call it a golden ticket (or 20) to Monarch Mountain's legendary
backcountry, because every year Never Summer pimps out their
customers by raffling off a two day pow shredding cat mission to anyone who bought one of their boards. Awesome? Our thoughts exactly. So, when we got the call to go for a day we dropped everything we were doing, which wasn't much, and drove three hours from Boulder for one hell of a day.
Monarch has quite possibly the best cat tours in the great state of Colorado. With over 1,000 acres of rideable terrain and a vertical drop of 900+ feet per run, this place could be one of our favorites. Only 12 people are allowed in the cat per day, so you never feel like you're dodging kooks while dropping in on some serious powder. Outfitted with BCA Tracker beacons, we headed out.
You never really know what you're going to get when you head out into the backcountry after a huge storm and high winds hit the area. But, Monarch's guides crushed it as we rode some intense terrain. The snow was variable in spots but the majority of the runs had some deep pow. Once we hit the trees we were convinced we were in heaven. All the snow from the previous day's storm had blown into the trees making for pillow-like conditions as you cruised through perfectly spaced trees.
The day couldn't have been more perfect as every rider was charging. Kids were jumping off of anything they could find. Huge cornice drops made for a fun start to the runs as you gained speed down the ridge and snapped off the top to a steep pow landing. Shit, we could do that all day!
If you're ever looking for an solid cat tour in Colorado you should head to Monarch.
A huge thanks to both Never Summer and Monarch for a killer time. We will definitely be back next year. If you want to get in on the action for next year, look out for the raffle ticket, accompanied by every Never Summer snowboard purchase.
|March 3, 2011 - Monarch finds Groove Under New Ownership by Tracy Harmon
MONARCH — Monarch Mountain continues to draw more skiers after a 2002 ownership change that also brought upgrades.
Going forward, the resort hopes to further boost visitation by making additional improvements en route to pushing for a major expansion of runs and lifts in 2015.
Power Monarch LLC, made up of Parker real estate investor Bob Nicolls and partners that include local business owners and Monarch employees, took over the resort in November 2002.
Skier visits are up 20- to 25 percent since.
"When we bought Monarch, there were about 140,000 skier visits a year and it was nearly 185,000 last year," Nicolls said. "The last five years have averaged around 170,000.
"We just need more space," Nicolls said.
The ownership group has already spent nearly $6 million on improvements.
The spending includes a recent upgrade to the Garfield chairlift that has been "very well received," according to Greg Ralph, the resort's marketing manager.
Next, the resort is looking to expand its parking area. "We still need more parking. There are about 30 days of the season where cars are right out to U.S. 50," Nicolls explained.
Monarch is awaiting approval of the project from the U.S. Forest Service.
Nicolls foresees more chairlift upgrades and an expansion of the current day lodge building, which is crowded on busy days.
"We would like to make those improvements over the next three years before we put a listing in (to develop) the No Name area and, of course, it will need U.S. Forest Service approval," Nichols said.
The No Name bowl, located on the west side of the Continental Divide, already is used for snowcat skiing.
If Monarch officials get approval to develop that site with runs and lifts, it would add about 300 acres to the 850-acre ski area.
"We added 130 acres of snowcat terrain, called Mirkwood Basin, six or seven years ago," Nicolls said of Monarch's only expansion in recent history.
"If we can do these things to accommodate more visitors, we estimate the skier visits would go up to 200,000 to 225,000," Nicolls said.
Part of Monarch's growth comes from budget-minded skiers.
"During this time (of recession) it is a challenge and people want to be economical. They look at what they can afford: one day at a big ski area or three to four days at Monarch," Nicolls said.
Ralph attributes the consistent skier visits to good snow conditions and good deals. "We have special offers like $10 off a ticket and two for one tickets that have been popular," Ralph said.
The ski area also offers a season pass that is a "real good value" at $289, Nicolls said.
Nicolls shuns taking personal credit for the ski area's success. "The staff does a great job and Ralph, our marketing manager, really knows how to put a marketing plan together," Nicolls said.
So far this year, skier numbers are "several percent off" of last year's record, but "revenue-wise, we are right there. So we are doing good," Nicolls said.
The dip in visitor numbers can be attributed to two factors, the executives said.
"We had six brutally cold days on weekends," Ralph said.
Also, noted Nicolls, "the (U.S. 50) highway closure for most of President's Day weekend also knocked off a little bit." The highway was closed by a rock slide.
Ralph estimates the five and a half days of highway closure led to a 30 percent dip in visits when compared with the same time period last year.
In spite of the setbacks, Nicolls rated the season as "real good" and said he looks forward to what the future will bring for the 72-year-old resort.
|The Denver Post|
|February 20, 2011- Savvy Owner's of Family-Friendly Monarch Ski Area Enjoy Profitable Reign by Jason Blevins|
MONARCH — The grins are wide and the laughter loud as the Sno-Cat releases a swarm of skiers eager for yet another powdery descent. This is not a typical shareholder meeting.
The ski-shod owners of Monarch ski area — four principals who own 75 percent and 10 locals who share the other quarter — have little to discuss and lots to celebrate.
Since they took over the 800-acre hill in 2002, Monarch has thrived. Thanks to about $6 million in cash-flowed investment, visitation has climbed 32 percent — from nearly 140,000 in 2002 to a record 185,000 skier visits last year — and revenue has doubled, delivering the ownership team handsome and unexpected dividends during an economic downturn that has pinched most other resorts. Plans for another $8.5 million in expansion and upgrades are set for the next five years.
So, with the slow-and-steady, debt-free strategy intact, really there's little left to do but ski, which is what the diverse but powder-hungry ownership team had in mind when it scraped together $5.1 million to buy the storied 71-year-old ski area from Chinese investors nine years ago. The only business banter during the annual owners meeting is giddy praise for Monarch's general manager Rich Moorhead and his team.
"Best investment I've ever made," says Liz Mumm Meier, a principal owner who develops real estate in San Francisco. "It's so much better than we ever anticipated. We knew it'd be fun. We didn't know it would be this much fun."
"We are living the dream," says Bill Block, a 40-year Monarch skier and owner of a local snowmobile tour company. Block describes his ownership slice of Monarch ski area as "a mere mogul."
"But that doesn't matter," he says. "Big investors, small investors, we are a family that is focused on the skiing and making Monarch the very best ski area it can be."
Keeping it about family skiing is a mantra at Monarch. While corporately owned hills focused on developing high-end real estate that fueled the resort industry's spectacular growth through the early 2000s, Monarch plowed money — almost $6 million in the last nine years — into the skiing. New rental gear in a new ski school shop. Expanded food and retail. Aggressive marketing plans that have seen the area's season-pass sales reach into neighboring states and even countries.
And every year the area's net operating income climbs (reaching more than $2 million last year, twice what it was in 2002) and owners harvest about $800,000 in dividends. All while keeping lift ticket prices below $60."A family can come here and spend four days for the price of one day at Vail," says principal Bob Nicolls, a commercial real estate mogul.
Downstairs in the old-school base-area lodge, families sprawl out with grocery sacks and coolers. Novel-reading grandmothers guard bubbling crock pots plugged into the wall. Kids are everywhere.
"A lot of ski areas frown on this, you know," says Susan Castelli as she unpacks sack lunches for her two daughters who are skiing Monarch on a twice-a-season school trip from Pueblo. Dad Joe buys sodas and chips from the cafeteria in the corner.
"Other places, you pay to park and it's so expensive to ski," she says. "Eating lunch at Breckenridge is like eating a really nice dinner out. Monarch is just the best choice for us."
Nicolls and his ownership team — which he organized — have big plans to keep the area's visits and revenue climbing. A $1.2 million lodge expansion is scheduled for 2012. And a $1.7 million terrain expansion — that would require expanding the area's Forest Service special-use permit — is planned for 2014.
That terrain growth — about 377 acres with 139 acres of new trails and a single chair climbing 900 vertical feet in an area already used by Monarch's 21-year-old Sno-Cat operation — would swell Monarch's advanced-intermediate terrain and potentially draw another 20,000 visits, according to the area's projections.
But it will require an environmental review by the supervisor of Gunnison National Forest, who in November 2009 controversially nixed further study of a long-planned expansion at Crested Butte Mountain Resort. Forest Service officials asked Monarch's operators to slow down their expansion efforts last year as the Crested Butte decision stirred industry ire. Even though Forest Service leaders who denied Crested Butte Mountain Resort's appeals of the expansion-rejecting decision said each future ski-area expansion project would be reviewed on its own merit, Monarch is girding for a fight with its federal landlord.
"This isn't 'If we build it, they'll come.' They're already coming. People are telling us they want to ski here," said Nicolls, who plans to garner support for the expansion from all the state's politicians who rode to office on promises of economic growth. "You want economic development, here we are."
Monarch stands out from other areas in Colorado with its passionately supportive community. Down the road in Salida — a riverside hamlet of 5,000 — business is booming between November and April.
"For a long time, Salida wasn't a ski town and it struggled in winter," said Moorhead, Monarch's longtime manager who first started working at the area in 1976 and owns a stake in the hill. "They've seen us come in and make a huge difference, and they appreciate that. Now, winter has a substantial impact."
Don Jackson said his Salida Super 8 hotel saw its best winters ever in 2008-09 and 2009-10, years that the tourism industry was weathering declines. Jackson, another owner of Monarch, credits the hill's growing attraction with budget-minded skiers as fuel for the wintertime fire in Salida.
"We jumped at the chance for ownership," he said. "It's not that often you get a chance to really impact your off-season."
Along with investment and upgrades, a heavy marketing push has elevated Monarch. Much of that credit lies with the mountain's marketing chief, Greg Ralph. His often- mimicked season-pass program delivers passholders free or half-price ski days at 18 resorts, including Silverton Mountain, British Columbia's vast Revelstoke and several areas in New Mexico.
"I've got people in Albuquerque who buy our pass, but they never ski here," said Ralph, who ranks as the only one of 14 owners of Monarch invited to join the group after the 2002 purchase.
Brett Ziehmke can see the extra traffic in Salida, where he and chef Grant Prill recently opened The Fritz, a popular gastropub.
"More are coming every weekend, it seems," Ziehmke said. "The winter business is better than we anticipated, and Monarch has definitely fed that."
| February 28, 2010 - Walker's Wonderful Winter by Tracy Harmon
MONARCH — Relying on the use of just one eye hasn't slowed down the daring and drive of one teen who now teaches others the sport of snowboarding.
Walker Mehess, 14, of Rye, started snowboarding when he was 5. Now he helps his instructor, Drew Middlemiss, teach newcomers to the sport as an apprentice snowboard instructor at Monarch Mountain.
"He told me, 'Every instructor built a piece of me, Mom,' and he's come a long way," said Alis Stockton, Walker's mother.
Walker was born blind in his left eye, which means he has none of the depth perception that others rely on to get around in day-to-day life. But Walker didn't want people to underestimate him, so he set goals for himself and worked to do things that even the nay-sayers can't do.
Even as a snowboarding student, he knew he wanted to be a teacher by the time he was 14. He reached that goal this year and is the only eighth-grade apprentice at Monarch. The others are freshmen in high school. At times he thinks about aiming for new snowboarding goals, like the halfpipe event that two-time gold-medal Olympian Shaun White demonstrates so well. Or perhaps he could try a speed race like two-time gold medal winner Seth Wescott's snowboardcross, but for now he's content to teach the basics to younger boarders.
The first time he taught lessons at Monarch, he told his mom about a "reward" he got.
"He worked with a kid with muscular dystrophy and said, 'I taught that boy to snowboard. Do you know how that feels? He'll always remember me.' And that really touched my heart," Stockton said.
"It is a privilege to teach," Walker said. "I get to teach disabled kids. One had been shot in the head and lived, and another had a spinal injury."
Right off the bat, Walker will tell his disabled students about his vision.
"I tell them to make them feel comfortable, and they realize, 'He has a problem like me.' Then I see them a few days later and they are doing runs I didn't think they could do that quickly, so I learn something new from these kids every day," Walker said.
"He is very patient. He's taught seven of his friends and even his mom how to snowboard," Stockton said.
"He loves to glide through the trees, and that's is pretty amazing because he has no depth perception. He just figures out the timing on his own," Stockton said.
Sometimes if lessons are slow, Walker will work in the children's center, help load lifts or do whatever he can to contribute. Stockton, a single mother who works 65-hour weeks for Express Scripts, also works at Monarch's ticketing office so she can afford to take Walker to Monarch every weekend.
Saturday mornings start at 4 a.m. so the two can get a jump on the three-hour drive to Monarch.
"It is hard at first, but you get used to it when you realize you are teaching kids and having fun. And when I have fun, I know they are having fun, and it makes them want to come back to learn more. It feels good to make a difference," Walker said.
"It is phenomenal that Monarch has this apprentice program, and I am so thankful to Monarch for a lot of the opportunities Walker has had. It is pretty decent of that company to offer the apprenticeship program," Stockton said.
The eighth-grader doesn't concentrate all his attention on the winter sport he loves so much. He's on the honor roll at Craver Middle School, plays left tackle for the football team, runs track, kayaks and water boards, is a member of the Boy Scouts and even hunts.
He got a huge thrill this year when he bagged his first deer with his father, Bill Mehess, and grandfather, Jack Stockton, 82, at his side.
At home he cuts wood and feeds the livestock, serving as, "the man of the house," his mom said. The only things he found he really can't do well are basketball and baseball.
His dream is to go to college to study engineering. He likes it most of all when he can work with his hands.
"He's a good enough instructor that he could probably walk into any ski resort and get a job so that could be a means of financing to get himself through college," Stockton said.
Walker said he is grateful to his mother for her support, as well as Monarch's Jack Sciacca and Pat Waldron for guiding him to different programs at the ski area. Bobby Walker at The Edge Ski, Paddle and Pack in Pueblo has helped him get his snowboard and boots.
"I like to live every day like it is your last — don't let a day go to waste," Walker said.
|Monarch Hosts Fort Carson Day by Pfc. Andrew Ingram, 4th Infantry Division Public Affairs Office|
|February 17, 2010|
MONARCH MOUNTAIN SKI RESORT, Colo. - As the sun rose above the Rocky Mountain peaks, three buses full of Mountain Post Soldiers and Families weaved their way through the serpentine mountain passes of Colorado Jan. 15.
Some passengers slept, trying to gain a few more minutes of rest before a tiring day, while others watched the rugged terrain in anticipation of the rush of sweeping down the mountainside on skis and snowboards.
The travelers' arrived at their destination, Fort Carson Day, a directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation and Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers program-sponsored event held at Monarch Mountain Ski Resort providing an exciting and inexpensive opportunity for Soldiers and Families to have fun on the slopes.
Eric Ramsey, marketing coordinator for Monarch Mountain, said the resort hopes to host more Fort Carson and military days in the future.
"With the huge military presence at our back door, it is our pleasure to have days like today," he said. "We are very proud of our military and having military discounts is our way of showing our appreciation to the men and women who protect this country."
By noon, many of the group found the trip had surpassed their expectations. "This trip is the most fun I have had in a long time," said Spc. Bradley Kelso, a medic assigned to Company B, 10th Combat Support Hospital.
"This was a really good deal, the rentals and tickets were cheap and I am having a blast.
" Kelso's battle buddy, Spc. Mike Cohen, also a medic with Company B, said the BOSS and DFMWR programs should sponsor more events like the ski trip. "
It is really cool; we got to come out for such a low price," he said. "If we had events like this every weekend, it would get single Soldiers out of the barracks and out of the bars and doing something different and exciting."
U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Robert Oury, joint terminal attack controller, 13th Air Support Operations Squadron, stationed at Fort Carson in support of the 2nd and 4th Brigade Combat Teams, 4th Infantry Division, and 10th Special Forces Group, said he believes the BOSS program did a great job getting the word out to the Mountain Post community. "
A lot of us have never been to the mountains before," said Oury. "BOSS events like this are a great chance for us to see the Rockies."
|November 18, 2009 article titled "The resort next door"|
|MONARCH -Unemployment figures are in the double digits.
People are wanting to save rather than spend.
So how can a winter resort convince potential visitors that it's OK to have fun and take a day or two to ski or snowboard?
"We have continued to align ourselves with the budget-minded traveler," Monarch Mountain marketing coordinator Eric Ramsey said. "We focus our marketing efforts on regional (cities) - Colorado Springs, Pueblo, Gunnison, Alamosa, South Denver - as well as drive markets in Lubbock, Texas; Wichita, Kan.; Albuquerque; and Oklahoma City."
Lift ticket prices are among the lowest in Colorado.
For adults, a season pass costs $419 and a one-day pass $54. For students, depending on their ages, a season pass ranges from $119 to $349 and a one-day pass costs $20 to $32.
Last year, Monarch received a lesson of what to expect from today's down market. The economy was starting to crumble and the ski area could not open on time due to lack of snow.
"People were losing jobs left and right, so we braced for the impact by reducing staff hours and having everyone pitch in where necessary," Ramsey said.
Still, "When it did start to snow, the people came out in droves. We even had our busiest January of all time," Ramsey said.
By the end of the season in early April, Monarch's total revenue was down about 5 percent, which was good news considering some resorts were tallying double-digit losses.
"We actually ended up with the third best season as far as skier visits were concerned. If it snows, the people will come, especially when there is a perceived value to the product," Ramsey said.
"It's hard to say what kind of season we can expect this year, but in our industry, the weather trumps all," Ramsey said.
Early indicators are showing promise.
"We currently have a mid-mountain base of 17 inches after having 39 inches of snowfall so far this season," Ramsey said.
However, if Mother Nature does not continue to cooperate, "Our numbers likely will reflect that, no matter what efforts we make to attract skiers," Ramsey said.
Monarch continues to try promotions that will attract visitors.
"We have positioned our season pass to be one of the best values in the whole country. By partnering with 10 other ski areas in four states, the Monarch season pass has become a tremendous value," Ramsey said.
Monarch's marketing department also has put together a new value-added coupon book for season pass holders which will encourage them to spend more money at Monarch through discounts on rentals, lessons, sports shop gear and food and beverages.
Another marketing move will offer skiers two-for-one tickets when they buy $10 or more of gas from selected Shells stations starting in January.
Opening day for Monarch is slated for Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving. For information or snow report updates, log onto www.skimonarch.com
|March 30, 2009 article titled "Southern Comfort: Snowboard Mag hits the other Colorado"|
We all know Summit County, what do you know about San Juan, Gunnison or Sauguche County?
|KRDO.com NewsChannel 13
|March 16, 2009 article titled "How are ski resorts handling the economy?"|
|MONARCH - Many of you are cutting your budgets when it comes to entertainment. But is skiing included?
NEWSCHANNEL 13 went to Monarch Mountain to find out how the slopes have been affected by the economy. It's the busiest week of the year for the resort, as just over 2,000 spring breakers hit the slopes Monday, and even more are expected through the week.
Conditions Monday were almost perfect, plenty of snow and plenty of sun. The problem is, there's not enough money.
"The economy has hurt us, definitely," explained Greg Ralph, the Director of Marketing for Monarch Mountain.
Ralph knew the resort had to get creative this season to bring people to the slopes despite the economy.
"We knew with a tight economy, people were going to be tightening their boots, and their belt straps. We wanted to have a lot of deals and offers out there so people could find a way to afford to come skiing, and it seems to be paying off," he explained.
Sure enough, it did pay off...Monarch Mountain only saw a slight decrease in the amount of skiers this season. Much less than they had expected
"Were only about 5% off in volume from last year, which was our record year," said Ralph.
But the mountain is still feeling the pinch in other areas.
"Were down about 15% in revenue, so people are still coming, but they aren't spending the money they used to spend," he added.
That trend would explain why the larger ski resorts in Colorado are hurting even more.
"The larger areas, where you have air-fare, more expensive lodging, more expensive lift tickets, those are the one's who are hurting," said Ralph.
As far as the rest of the season, workers at Monarch Mountain hope a little
|February 2009 feature in an article titled "Budget Ski Trips 2009-The next best thing to a heli-ski trip"|
|Santa Fe New Mexican|
|February 26th, 2009 article titled "Cat Trax:Cat Scratch Fever at Monarch"
On my third turn, with half our group below me looking up the treeless bowl and half the party above me standing on the cornice I'd just dropped off, my ski tips broke through the crusty wind slab into the soft powder below, and I did a head-first roll. I came up shaking snow out of my collar, my pants and sunglasses. Welcome to Monarch Snowcat Tours.
Laying down the snow "roads" — they actually have names — is one of his most challenging tasks. He explained that they begin compacting the roadways as soon as possible — sometimes in September. As some of the exposed ridges have fierce winds that strip away the snow, he has to move downslope and "farm" snow from banks and push it up to the intended roads. So far, he's never tipped over, though once in preseason he got mired in some tractionless sugar snow and had to be pulled out by other cats. So what drew him to his work? "I was looking for something different after nine years of grooming."
- Daniel Gibson
|February 2nd, 2009 K2 News article titled, "Monarch Mountain's K2 Organic Terrain Park"|
Leave it to the crew at Monarch to keep it Green. Check out the details on thier new terrain park:
|RealVail.com's February 3rd, 2009 blog titled, "Ski Lesson of Love at Monarch Mountain"|
Skiing was not at the forefront of Luis Lopez' mind when he struck up a conversation with a young Colorado girl at a coffee shop one fateful day in 2007. Lopez was the kind of guy who thought 55 degrees was "freezing," who had only seen snow once, in Canada, and who spent most of his life in or near the small, tropical city of Tapachula in southern Mexico.
Luis Lopez and Petrina Crockford get some pointers from Rick Boucher on the bunny hill.
Meet Rick Boucher:
Lopez expected to feel relieved at the end of the day, but he didn't expect to find that skiing can be relaxing and social ... even warm on a sunny day.
"It was much better than I expected," Lopez said. "Anybody will think that the first time is really hard, but it wasn't that hard because of the instructor – he was very good."
And Crockford already feels like one of the gang – so much so that she is determined, "to become a ski bum," and spend untold days riding the Colorado Rockies with Sage, who proposed to her only a few weeks before their first ski day together.
"It's kind of an exclusive sport, it has the air of a more exclusive sport," she said. "But it feels more welcome now."
She agreed that it was also due to Boucher's expertise, but added that Monarch – a small, family-friendly resort with a low-key atmosphere – helped make her feel all the more comfortable. And since she and Sage live nearby, a season pass is the next item on her birthday/Christmas wish list.
And that's how it happens ... it starts with a cup of coffee or a conversation over a book, and next thing you know it's a budding romance - not only for the person you love, but for the sport they love as well.
- Tom Boyd
|RealVail.com's February 3, 2009 blog titled, "Monarch Mountain, Mirkwood, and Poaching Powder"|
|Of all the many different forms of the face plant, my favorite is the windowshade wipeout.
This is the one where the skis come to a dead stop and the body propels forward and downhill, pushing the mouth and face forward, into the snow and, if you're a telemarkers and the timing's just right, onto and over the tip of the ski.
The face leaves a perfect imprint in the snow while the arse – not normally known for its flying abilities – traces an aerial maneuver at about mach 3 bass-ackwards over topwise, thereby yanking the ski tips out of the mouth, preferably with no teeth attached, then up through the air and miraculously back under the feet of the skier.
All this happens so quickly that the body is quite often still in skiing position upon landing, so that if no one is watching you can keep about your business and make a few turns before wiping the snow out of your goggles.
I must report that my most recent windowshade was, sadly, a direct result of my lack of experience skiing three-day-old powder.
I've heard tell of such remarkable snow (Untouched!? For three days?!) whenever dad gets to telling about the early days of the Back Bowls in Vail, when he was a ski patrolman here. All these stories start with something happening in '68 or 70-something, and old Chuck Malloy and the Sandman and Jake the Snake did this or that and at the end everyone ended up at the Copper Bar.
- Tom Boyd
|The Gazette, Colorado Springs
|Colorado Springs Gazette's January 14th, 2009 article titled, "Snowcat Drivers Smooth Out Slopes All Night, Enjoy
MONARCH MOUNTAIN - It's not quite 5 a.m. The wind is howling. The snow is blowing. And atop Monarch Mountain, Vance Burgess cannot get a thousand feet of half-inch-thick steel cable to spool neatly onto the drum on the rear of his Prinoth winch cat.
"Come on baby, feed for me," Burgess says to the machine.
If the cable misfeeds, it'll bind and the $315,000 snowcat will be stuck in the middle of one of Monarch's more popular runs. That, in turn, means a lot of other slopes will not be groomed by the time the lifts open at 9 a.m. - and the $5,000 cable will have to be replaced.
"It's like when your fishing line gets all messed up," Burgess explains.
He backs up, unspooling the line, goes forward, then repeats the maneuver. Eventually, he gets the line to snap in place by putting more tension on the cable - essentially letting the winch pull the 24,000-pound snowcat up the hill without help from the tracks.
It's a minor setback in the nightly struggle to tame the moguls, drifts and debris left on the mountain after a busy day of skiing and a windy night. Burgess and two other cat drivers begin their job at 11 p.m. and drive through the night to make sure the resort is in good shape when the lifts start turning.
Corduroy gets short shrift among serious skiers.
Yeah, Texans love it and Beaver Creek spends a bazillion dollars advertising it, but to a lot of hard-core skiers and snowboarders, the corduroy furrows the groomers lay down are simply something you endure between trips into the powder and through the bumps.
Without grooming, however, the powder and the bumps would grow as big on the bunny slopes as they are on the double-black chutes - and that would turn the learning curve into a cliff and leave experts and newbies alike floundering on the flats. Snow grooming was introduced in the 1940s, and while there are many ski areas that don't have snowmaking (including Monarch), vanishingly few go without grooming (Colorado's all-double-diamond Silverton Mountain might be the exception that proves the rule).
So, although Monarch's grooming crew is a fraction the size of the big Colorado resorts, every night they groom every green run and most of the blues, pushing mounds of snow to cover the rocks and bare spots and smoothing the run-outs from the steep runs so skiers can cruise back to the lifts.
Once or twice a week they use the winch cat to tame the bumps that proliferate on black-diamond runs.
The average skier pushes a thousand pounds of snow down the hill in a day. Without groomers to plow some of that back up the hill, we'd be rock skiing all season long. The cats don't just rake the snow, they press and pack it, and the tiller on the back of Burgess' machine takes the air and fluff out, leaving a firm surface that can stand up to the pounding thousands of skiers dish out.
Driving a cat, even when not using the complicated winch system on steep runs, is a delicate art. The tracks and turning are controlled by two levers at the driver's left hand.
A joystick with more buttons than a fighter jet controls the blade, which twists 12 ways to push, scoop, fold or plow snow, and also manipulates the tiller or rake at the rear, which itself moves side to side and up and down.
You can learn to drive a cat in a couple of minutes, says Ed Clark as he drives another snowcat up the exit trail from Monarch's Mirkwood Basin. It's leaving the mountain in better shape than you found it that requires expertise - Clark's been a cat driver for nine years and a groomer for five.
"There's a difference between driving it and using it as a tool," Clark says as he slides the cat's tiller from side to side to avoid trees on the narrow track. "That blade is a hard thing to get used to using. It's like playing the drums: Every one of your appendages is doing something."
In white-out blizzards, drivers struggle just to stay on the hill, shining spotlights through the murk to find reflectors placed on trees around the resort.
In deep powder, they push piles of snow as high as the cat's heated side mirrors - nearly 7 feet off the ground.
"People don't understand what we drive through sometimes," Burgess says. "A couple weeks ago, I couldn't see the blade."
On this night, the wind seems to be undoing their best efforts. It's like building a sand castle as the tide comes in.
"Hopefully, this wind doesn't destroy what I did in an hour and they're calling me at 7, 'You didn't even do our ramp,'" Burgess says.
Burgess, 31, is a native of Salida, at the base of Monarch Pass, and a former chef. It's his ninth year on the mountain and he enjoys his job, if not always the hours.
"It can get to be a lonely job for sure, driving around by yourself all night," he says.
It's not, perhaps surprisingly, a cold job most of the time. The snowcats are kept hot to prevent the windows from fogging up, although they do anyway. There's also ice on the windshield wipers, even those that have their own heating system. It's not a friendly environment.
But it has its compensations. The groomers get first tracks on the mountain any day they want. They can also grab an empty spot on Monarch's backcountry cat skiing tours. And when the sun comes up, the views are amazing.
"I think my favorite part of the whole job are the sunrises," Clark says. "They're epic, every morning. Not everybody gets to hang out on top of the Continental Divide and call that their office."
- Andrew Wineke
|Powder Magazine's Winter 2006 Resort Guide featuring Monarch Mountain as one of the top 45 best ski areas of North America.|
- Tom Bie
|Freeskier Magazine September 30, 2005, Resort Guide issue features Monarch Mountain twice in the "73 Places You Must Ski, 10
Best Ski Areas, and 8 Road Trips"
Monarch Mountain is listed as one of seven places to "Go South for empty Highways and Big Mountains." Editor Tom Winter begins by writing, " Forget about the skiing madhouse known as I-70 and head south. Once on the road, you will find the steepest terrain in Colorado…scary enough that once you've learned how to handle it, you'll be able to ski anything in the world." Winter continues with "Monarch isn`t that steep, but it more than makes up for it in the quality and abundance of its snowfall. The resort has just opened quality hike-to terrain that used to be reserved for its snowcat operation in Mirkwood Basin, a collection of trees and ridges that encompass 130 acres."
- Tom Winter
|November 2005 issue of Ski Magazine, article titled "Cat's Out Of The Bag"|
|Cat's out of the Bag
A little- known Colorado ski area has a little-known secret: Monarch Snowcat Tours.
Snowcat guide Andy Ruggles has a deeply cleft chin and an extravagant black mane streaked with gray that bobs at his shoulders. He looks like Beethoven, if Beethoven had been a skier. Outside the cat, Ruggles wags one of his mismatched poles like it's a baton summoning his orchestra, and we follow the maestro into Staircase, a tight glade that drops, pauses, then drops again, its snaky lines guarded by branches so low they require limbo moves. The run spits us out at the base area of Monarch Mountain.
Though you may not know the name, Monarch is one of Colorado's secrets, an entertaining little hill 120 miles from Colorado Springs that's off the radar of most of the state's skiers. Predictably, there's rarely a liftline and no jockeying for the 350-plus annual inches of powder. As if that weren't good enough, there's also Monarch Snowcat Tours, a spunky little operation next door (run by Monarch Mountain) that proves wrong the established wisdom that snowcat skiing at resorts holds no thrill for experienced skiers.
At the top of the Breezeway chairlift we're greeted by a sunburst-yellow snowcat with bucket seats, carpeting, heaters and a six-CD stereo. The only thing missing is a wet bar. The snowcat operation's 770 acres of terrain straddle the backbone of the Continental Divide where the Sawatch Mountains meet the Sangre de Cristos. Drop into the east, and you'll find the wind and sun-protected stashes. Several of these runs spit us out at the base area, where we ride a lift to meet the snowcat again.
If there's a crimp in the snowcat operation, its brief runs; they average only about 700 vertical feet. When you're cat-skiing, though, the upside of brevity is volume. Strong groups can squeeze in 17 runs a day here, even with a pit stop at the ski area's lodge for a hot lunch.
In the afternoon, we head west of the divide to No Name Bowl, a broad splay of lightly treed faces with lingering runs. Above us lie the delicious lines and chutes of No Name Peak- steeper terrain that Monarch hopes eventually to open. The west facing terrain gets buckets of bright sun and more wind, which can result in variable conditions. High on the ridge today, however, the snow is dense and smooth, like clotted cream, and we play for hours in the trees. By sundown, grinning and tuckered, we retreat to the base lodge with a thorough appreciation for the fact that bigger does not always mean better.
- Christopher Solomon