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Monarch: The Anti-Resort


There are a dozen or so riders floating through the maze of the Pioneer lift as we gaze out of a window overlooking it. “Wow, you guys picked a busy weekend to come out here. Sorry about the lift lines,” a Monarch Ski Area rep tells me.

“Lift lines?” I reply.

Meanwhile, I’m grinning as wide as an open bowl on a powder day. See, my friend and I trudge along in bumper to bumper traffic only to wait in livestock pen-Poma lines each weekend, which is why getting off the beaten path of Summit and Eagle counties sounded like a great weekend endeavor.

We pulled into Buena Vista a bit late for the dinner crowds, so we were forced to fill our stomachs at a gas station. While there are plenty of options to eat in town– from quick pizza to the Evergreen Café, one of the first true pre-fab diners brought to Colorado—be warned, everything closes early.

Buena Vista straddles the Arkansas River at the foot of the Collegiate Peaks. During the summer, it is a whitewater paradise, but when the snow blankets the peaks nearby, life slows to a crawl.

Catering to the off-season tourists is a cottage industry of bed and breakfast inns. We opted for the intimate Hahn’s Haven. Melody Ann Hahn’s cabin is in the small hamlet of Nathrop, just south of Buena Vista. Seeing the view overlooking Chalk Creek in the shadow of the chalk bluffs of 14,197-foot Mt. Princeton, it is easy to understand why Hahn and her husband chose the site in the early 1970s to build their second home. (Note that Hahn’s is one of the few bed and breakfasts in the area that allows children, and according to her, the only one that allows pets).

After a filling breakfast of Belgian waffles, bacon and cantaloupe, we headed up Highway 285 early on a bluebird day to Bongo Billy’s Coffees. A family friend owns the joint, but that knowledge withstanding, it is home to some of the best coffee in all of Colorado—a bold statement coming from a journalist.
Neither my friend Brian nor I had ridden Monarch before, but pulling into the parking lot (think the beach lot at A-Basin) it was clear that this place was what I had been looking for all season—wide-open runs filled with untracked powder.

Yeah, we weren’t anywhere near the Front Range anymore. We were skiing right off the Continental Divide in the middle of a season that brought nearly 500 inches of snow and only a few others were there to share it. This is what Colorado skiing should be. No frills, just tracks. It’s cheap. It’s family-friendly. It’s the anti-resort.

After countless laps on the empty runs, we grabbed some beers and headed back to the car. Brian looked around the half-full lot.

“Why aren’t we doing this every weekend?” he wondered out loud. “These people have the right idea.”

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Pictured: Be as cool and laid back as the mountain. Isis Whisper hoodie vest ($146), Patagonia capilene base layer ($85), Quicksliver Torch pant ($170), Outdoor Research Gloves ($36) and Pistil Cupcake hat ($40) available at Outdoor Divas.

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