Monarch History

Unspoiled since 1939.

Historical photo of children on skis

1939 | Monarch Established

Although people had been skiing the mountain surrounding the valley since 1914, Monarch Mountain's official start was in 1939.

A 500-foot rope tow powered by a gear box from an old oil derrick and a Chevy engine ran from what's now the parking lot to the top of Gunbarrel, at the time only half its current length. Works Project Administration workers built it, and gave it to the city of Salida.

We skied Gunbarrel for two years before we ever saw anyone who could turn on skis. The challenge was to make it to the bottom of the hill without falling down or falling into the creek during the early part of the season."


Gerald Berry, Salida resident & son of previous Monarch owner


A short time later, another rope tow was added, which ran from near the base of Gunbarrel to the top of the Snowflake run.

The first day lodge (a 30-foot x 30-foot structure) was built there, too. Locals referred to it as the 'Inn Ferno" after the Salida mayor, Claude Ferno. Since the parking lot was a pullout along Highway 50, food and supplies had to be taken to the lodge by toboggan.

When heavy snowfalls came, the parking area was plowed by Earl Milligan, the highway superintended for east Monarch Pass. Earl couldn't take payment for the work, so he was given a case of whiskey each season for his time.

Historical photo of Tumbelina T-bar

1950s | Sold for $100

In 1955, ski area manager Ray Berry purchased Monarch from the city of Salida for $100. After the purchase, Little Joe and Freeway trails were cut, and water, electricity and indoor toilets were installed in the lodge.

The area purchased a Constam T-bar. At the time, there was no Colorado Tramway Board to approve the design and installation of new lifts, so on for Ray's sons prepared drawings for the US Forest Service. The regional USFS office approved, and the lift was installed.

Historical photo of lift maintenance working on chair lift

1960s to 1970s | New Terrain


The year 1960 marked the purchase and installation of another lift; a 'homemade' one built by Gus Irvin our of scrap steel from the Texas oil fields. The lift failed its first safety test, which involved placing 400 lb. sandbags on half of the chairs and running the lift.

When most of the loaded chairs were on the downhill cable, the lift began to gain speed. The chairs tore off the chair guide at the lower terminal, and the cable derailed upwards from the bull wheel at the lower terminal, which was then caught by the shaft that held the bull wheel. An engineer was on the lift at the time and was nearly thrown off. He had to be manually evacuated."


Gerald Berry

After a month of repairs, the test was run again and the lift was a success. The group cut new trails and built a new lodge and a-frame to replacing the aging log hut.

In 1968, Elmo Bevington purchased Monarch. Elmo installed the first double chair lift (Breezeway), the Garfield lift, and a new parking lot. Today, Elmo's bar in the main lodge is named for him.

In the 1970s, Panorama was installed, the lodge doubled in size and the skiable acreage doubled.

Looking down into Mirkwood Bowl

1980s to 2000s | Continued Improvements

In 1981, the old Poma lift was replaced by Tumbelina, and two outside ticket windows were constructed. The Pioneer lift (a quad) was installed next.

In 2002, a group of individual led by Bob Nicolls purchased the ski area. The current ownership group has invested over $7 million in Monarch. The group has expanded and upgraded the base lodge, added the Rental and Lesson Center and Junior Mountain yurt, installed a new mountaintop Patrol building and three conveyor lifts. They've also made extensive improvements to the parking area and trails.

Mirkwood Basin (130 acres of extreme skiing) opened to skiers and riders, and Monarch Cat Skiing began.

For information about Monarch Mountain's future plan, check our Master Development Plan. The plan was accepted by the US Forest service in 2011.