Colorado Skiing in a Pandemic: Know Before you Go in the 2020-2021 Ski Season
Just like our Escape — To Nowhere series, we want to help you create the ideal Colorado ski trip during a pandemic year. We’re including where you can stay in your own cabin/condo and cook for yourself if you choose plus activities you can do outdoors. There’s a lot to tell, so look forward to a four-part series.
But first… Did you know Norwegians are rated as the happiest people year after year? Here’s one big thing that lends itself to their happiness… friluftsliv (pronounced free-lutz-eev), which means outdoor living, or outdoor activity. We want to help you get more friluftsliv in your life! Now, here’s the first stop on our Colorado tour…
About 14 hours of driving from central Texas, and laying near central Colorado’s Buena Vista and Salida sits the Monarch Mountain ski area. It’s a good option for those looking for an economical ski trip. The ski resort of Monarch is only what you need–and not more–for a couple of days of skiing or snowboarding. Note that the ski area is approximately a half hour from most accommodations in the area so there’s a bit of driving back and forth. Reserve your ski rentals and lift tickets ahead of time so that you can arrive as early as 7:45am; the lifts open at 9am and close at 4pm.
Equipment rental: Ski set, from $18; snowboards from $25, boots from $20, helmet $15.
Full day lift tickets: Adult $99, teen $69, junior $59, senior $69.
At the time of writing, there are four lifts open that lead to all levels of runs. And, for the adventurous skier with big pockets, you can opt for your own private cat for the price of $3,600 for your party to traverse over to black diamond and double diamond runs on the backside of the mountain.
Early season skiing conditions include both natural and man-made obstacles that can be unseen such as rocks and tree stumps. Monarch Mountain is located at 11,000 feet on the continental divide so the environment on the mountain is much different than in the town below.
Unlike many of the other Colorado ski areas, there’s no snow-making at Monarch so all of the snow is natural. It’s a great option for groups skiing together because of the small area making it easy to find each other, and convenient to get around.
You’ll find friendly customer service and a friendly atmosphere on the mountain.
Creekside Chalets is an adorable property just off Highway 50 (the same highway that the ski area is on, so it’s simple to drive between). The Hallmark movie-looking property has wood cabins that are either 1, 2 or 3-bedroom options. The two-bedroom option sleeps up to 10 people but there is only one bathroom. The comfy cabins are completely outfitted, including a full kitchen and a private hot tub out back. You’ll also enjoy the ease of a gas fireplace in the living room. There are multiple flat screen TVs but not much Wi-Fi connection (for streaming). Rates vary based on date, etc. Check here for availability and pricing.
The nearby town of Salida offers some really quaint options for dining. The 146 Taphouse is a small bar offering 40 craft beer, wine and cider taps. You simply get a card, scan it on the beer that you would like to try and serve yourself using the IPourIt system. You can pour as little or as much as you want in your glass and you’re charged by the ounce. Then you cash out at the end. The only thing missing is that there are several local craft breweries in the area and they do not offer those choices.
If you’re looking for a drive-through coffee option in the nearby town of Poncha Springs, try Alba Coffee and Bakery in the Monarch Crossing mixed-use area. They offer kolaches of the fruit and hearty varieties and lots of sweet treats. Enjoy the sausage and cheese kolache with a warm cappuccino. Monarch Crossing also contains a med spa for vitamin and oxygen infusions, a tattoo parlor and an adorable resale (reclaiming) shop called Sage that also offers “lost art classes.”
After a day full of outdoor activity, order pizza delivered to your door (contactless delivery) from Moonlight Pizza in Salida. They offer a wide variety of pizza creations, Moonzones (calzones) and hot cheesy garlic bread. The Fullzone is packed with meats and veggies, piping hot. The Caveman pizza is piled high with pepperoni, sausage and Canadian bacon. This is a great option to please your crowd, and no one has to cook or clean up.
Interested in doing some activities off the mountain, other than skiing? Monarch Dog Sled Rides meets you at the Monarch Park Campground (where folks can camp in the off-season), just one mile from the ski mountain, where you travel along a snowy trail being pulled by an energetic team of gorgeous Alaskan husky dogs. Each sled can hold three people (not to exceed 525 pounds) plus the guide. Two sit in the sled and the third passenger stands behind the guide. Each sled is pulled by 10 to 12 running dogs. The full event lasts an hour and a quarter with the sledding part lasting approximately 30 minutes (the rest of the experience includes meeting the dogs, learning some history and the guides harnessing the dogs). Rates start at $240 per sled.
Monarch Snowmobile Tours is located just a few miles from the ski area on Highway 50. They offer two-hour guided scenic tours. Owned by a US veteran, the friendliness of the staff shines as soon as you walk in the door. You’ll be loaned gear that you need, to include snow boots, a helmet and other necessities. (Note: you might be riding in the van with others outside your party, but masks are required in the shop and on the van.) Enjoy gorgeous winter wonderland scenery on paths lined with snowy pine trees. Whether you’re a beginner or advanced, you’ll enjoy this adrenaline-filled experience. Rates: 2-hour scenic tour $110 for singles, $150 for doubles; 3-hour tour $145 for singles, $185 for doubles.
Know Before You Go
⇒ Check out https://www.skimonarch.com/amenities/ for the dining options at the ski area. Currently, they are at 25% room capacity so we recommend eating early or late to avoid busy times.
⇒ Be familiar with Monarch Mountain’s COVID-19 page, as it is regularly updated.
⇒ Guests are encouraged to pre-purchase tickets online. In-person lift ticket sales are not available on weekends or from December 19- January 3. Guests are asked to avoid weekends, historically busy peak times and be a weekday warrior. Childcare services and locker access are not available this winter. The Gunbarrel Cafeteria has grab and go options available and a new food truck, Fly-by Burritos, is available for outdoor food service.
Cover photo courtesy Catherine Eichel
Marika Flatt is the Travel Editor of Texas Lifestyle Magazine. You can find her “escaping” to Colorado at least once a year. Hear her “Weekend Trip Tips” on the statewide NPR show, Texas Standard.