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The Short Version: Monarch Mountain is a ski resort where people come to hit the slopes and enjoy the mountain scenery. The resort is located about 125 miles from Colorado Springs, and it’s simply paradise for ski lovers seeking to get away. Couples can go on ski dates and enjoy the resort’s laid-back style, breathtaking vistas, and top-notch customer service. Monarch Mountain has done away with all the distractions and gimmicks of a typical ski lodge, and instead has let the fresh powder of the ski slopes speak for itself.
Skiing is an adventure that is pretty low-maintenance. It doesn’t take much more than a snowy mountainside and some equipment to get started. Yet some ski lodges overcomplicate the experience with too many bells and whistles and service fees.
Monarch Mountain, a ski resort in Colorado, has stuck to the basics and encouraged skiers to just get out there and ski.
Skiing and snowboarding are among the most popular winter sports in the U.S., and for good reason. These sports are a great workout, offer a breath of fresh mountain air, and can provide uniquely thrilling experiences. In the 2019/2020 winter season, ski resorts in the U.S. logged over 50 million ski trips.
A trip to Monarch Mountain can be just the ticket for active couples looking for a memorable outdoor date. The resort dates back to 1939, which is when it was first constructed by the Works Project Administration. The federal government gifted it to the town of Salida, Colorado. By the 1950s, the town sold the slopes to a man named Ray Berry for just $100.
The 5,500-square-foot warming lodge was built not long after, and it has been attracting skiers ever since.
“It’s a different vibe from other ski areas. It’s a chill, laid-back, relaxed atmosphere,” said Dan Bender, the VP of sales and marketing for the resort. “Nobody dresses to impress. If somebody does, nobody cares.”
Those relaxed vibes can bring a real sigh of relief for couples who aren’t into the pomp and circumstance of other upscale ski resorts. Monarch Mountain does not offer shopping excursions, fine dining, or lodging — it offers ski rentals, ski lessons, and ski passes, and that’s about it.
There are a few on-site places to grab a bite to eat or get coffee or cocktails, including the popular Sidewinder Saloon. It features sit-down table service with a full kitchen and menu to match. Sidewinder Saloon’s signature dish is the nacho plate, something two people cannot finish by themselves.
The resort’s amenities have everything needed for a perfect day on the slopes. Monarch Mountain is open during the season seven days a week, including holidays. The lifts are open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily for an average of five months a year (November through April).
Couples do not need to be experienced ski bunnies to have a great time at Monarch Mountain. The on-site services include private ski lessons that offer a wonderfully fun bonding activity for couples, small groups, and families.
The elevation of Monarch Mountain is 10,790 feet above sea level. It has around 800 acres of skiable mountain, and it sees an average snowfall of about 350 inches per year. That means there is enough mountain and enough snow for everyone — though it can get a bit crowded on fresh powder day.
“Social media changed the game,” Dan said. “People can get up early and see who’s got the snow, and that’s where they go. Sometimes our parking can be a new issue.”
To solve this issue, the Monarch Mountain team plans to add 200 new parking spaces to the lot this summer. This update will be especially crucial when it opens a new ski lift in the next couple years. The coronavirus pandemic shut down many of the improvement plans in 2020, but the team is gearing up to resume all the projects that went on hold during statewide lockdowns.
Monarch Mountain’s team has learned to adapt to all sorts of trying circumstances and potential disasters. In 2018, the mountain suffered a pine beetle infestation that caused over 20,000 trees to die or be removed. This crisis actually had an upside for skiers because it opened up new ski lanes and cleared away obstacles from their path.
Dan assured us that Monarch Mountain still has plenty of lush forests that make for a beautiful backdrop for a photo, but skiers also have more open terrain to enjoy on their ski dates.
“The feedback from the guests has been really positive,” he said, adding that he worried the mountain would lose some of its rustic charm with so many trees removed. “They felt the same as I did, but it’s turning out even better.”
Don’t worry, all that lumber isn’t going to go to waste. Monarch Mountain has partnered with a Denver-based company called Meier Skis to make custom brand skis from the fallen pine trees. It’s their own way of completing the ski resort circle of life.
Most Colorado ski resorts are staffed with young ski bums who are mostly there for the cheap lift tickets. That doesn’t always translate to excellent customer service. That’s why Monarch Mountain has gone a different route and demanded more from its staff.
Dan said that most of the people who work at Monarch Mountain are locals. They love to ski, and they have a deep knowledge of the area. They’re not here-today, gone-tomorrow tourists.
“People ask me what’s our greatest asset. A lot of people will say it’s the snow, but I say it’s the people,” Dan told us. “We draw locals. We had a guy retire because he was getting close to 70. He had worked here almost 40 years, starting as a lift attendant and retiring as one of the top bosses.”
Monarch Mountain’s team is something special because it fosters life-long loyalty and friendships. The warm and welcoming environment lifts the worker’s spirits each and every day, and that spills over to the customers. Dan said many Monarch Mountain regulars often inquire about certain staff members at the beginning of each season.
“There are better-paying jobs than in the ski industry, but the people who stick it out do it because they have a true love for it,” Dan said. “They enjoy meeting the new people and the friendships they’ve created with the other employees.”
Whether it’s making a beginner feel comfortable or welcoming an old pro back again, the team has a knack for bringing out the best in the skiing experience and giving people a reason to return again and again.
Monarch Mountain keeps things simple. It has a small ski store and rental shop with equipment and necessities in case a guest forgets or loses something. The focus is on skiing and taking a break from the hustle and bustle of city life.
“As far as being a place to go for a date, it’s an out of the way quiet place without a lot of nightlife going on,” Dan said. “It could be the cool place for the right people on a date. I grew up skiing there.”
As a special offer, Monarch Mountain is offering a new Wings Pass. This all-access pass costs $539 and is good for the rest of the current season as well as the next season. Plus, pass holders can enjoy reciprocal day-pass deals with other ski areas throughout Colorado.
Visitors can check out their online snow cams to see real-time conditions at Monarch Mountain. The slopes don’t require a reservation, so it can be a fun impromptu date activity. The longest run is a mile long, but the trails range from green/easy to double black/extreme for all levels. If you prefer to take things easy, there’s also tubing available for a more-relaxed outdoor date.
After couples work up an appetite on the slopes, they can stop in for a bite or a drink at many on-site spots and warm up as a great end to a memorable date.