|Monarch and Crested Butte
By Brad Chamberlin
Over the past decade, I've found myself locked into a season pass of
some form, whether from Loveland Basin, Copper, or Vail's 5 mountain
pass. Having access to such cheap season rates allows me to ski for
sometimes less than $10 per ski day but I can easily ski the same area
numerous times in one season. Five years ago, as I was setting up this
website, I had access to free lift tickets at Monarch and Crested Butte.
Having never skied these areas before I wanted to check them out.
My initial trip was scheduled after the New Years holiday of 2002 when
most of the tourists are heading home. The only major issue with this trip
was the forecast. The weather service was calling for 4-6 feet of snow on
Monarch Pass through the central mountains. Despite this, I ventured out
on a cold snowy US 285 at 6 am in the morning. The road conditions
were not ideal, but passable. I was able to get to Monarch Pass at 9 am,
which is pretty good based on the conditions. After a mile or so on the
pass I was stopped by a CDOT snow plow. The driver shouted out
"there was just an avalanche on the road ahead, don't go past here." I
thought lucky I wasn't a little farther ahead, but I wish I was at the ski area
and not stuck here. At this point, the storm was producing a few inches
per hour with over 18" new by now. CDOT crews removed the small
avalanche within the hour and I ended up skiing by 10 am.
Monarch's terrain that day was epic. Everything had about two feet of
fresh light snow with more accumulating by the minute. The ski area was
practically empty. Most of the folks skiing and riding were from out of
state and parked themselves in the lodge, citing that there was just too
much snow to ski!
My powder-filled day at Monarch continued until about 3 pm when
CDOT decided to close Monarch Pass. Ski area officials were forced to
evacuate the ski area by 4 pm. The chairlifts closed immediately after the
announcement and I was back on the road within twenty minutes. I was
given the option to go to Gunnison or back to Salida. Since my goal was
to ski Crested Butte, I chose to head to Gunnison. A few hours and
multiple jack-knifed trailers later, I was in Gunnison.
The next day at Crested Butte was just as epic with over 40 inches of
fresh snow. I was luckily enough to have first tracks on Headwall off of
"The High Lift," one of CB's infamous T-bars. The steeps at CB are
legendary - however if you ski here, make sure they are open. Without
the steeps (i.e. the two upper T-bars), CB is a very intermediate ski area.
The other notable expert area is located off of the North Face T-bar.
This is where the extreme championships are held each year. For this
area to be skiable, CB needs an adequate base of about 50-60 inches
minimum. Area officials will typically open it before, however, use caution
and ski with a partner.
Crested Butte's town is also unique, providing a historic feeling of times
past. There are numerous restaurants, bars, and small hotels. At the base
of the ski area, also called Mount Crested Butte, there are larger hotels
and provides more of a resort feeling. My advice is to stay in town to
enjoy the surroundings and take the short free bus ride over to the ski area
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Open slopes on Hall's Alley at Monarch
|Monarch from Mirkwood Basin
|Looking up at Mount Crested Butte
|Headwall at Crested Butte