Monarch Mountain drafts plan to add ski terrain
DENVER – Monarch Mountain, the quaint ski area west of Salida that sees itself as a budget-conscious alternative to resorts off Interstate 70, has visions of adding a lift and around 120 acres of terrain on the west side of the Continental Divide in the next decade.
Its new draft master development plan also includes proposals for 320 more parking spots and more room to eat lunch. Resort managers say they have no intention of adding man-made snow, but the draft plan includes adding snowmaking just in case, as insurance against climate change.
Visitation to the resort in the San Isabel National Forest has grown about 5 percent annually over the last six years. The resort could potentially grow 15 to 20 percent in the next five years more as nearby Colorado Springs and Pueblo add residents, Monarch marketing director Greg Ralph said.
“We like the quaint homey feel at Monarch. We need to grow but not ruin that feel,” he said Tuesday.
If the U.S. Forest Service accepts the 800-acre resort’s draft plan, Monarch will review which parts to implement first and start getting approvals and environmental reviews, if needed, for each.
Monarch opened with a single rope tow in 1939 as a Works Progress Administration project. It now is owned and run by a group of investors. It reported 170,361 skier visits last season after reaching a record of 184,725 skier visits the season before. By contrast, Vail Mountain had a record 1.75 million skier visits this past season.
Monarch can comfortably carry 2,870 customers per day on the mountain, though it has topped that on some holidays and weekends. Its proposed changes would boost that 22 percent to 3,490 people per day.
The first projects Monarch would likely tackle, pending Forest Service acceptance, is adding parking and spots to sit and eat.
“The things we’re hurting for most are places to put cars and places to put butts,” Ralph said.
On busy days, cars overflow Monarch’s parking lot onto the side of U.S. 50, where they can get towed.
“Expansion is something that’s needed to happen for a long time,” said self-described snowboard bum Doug Penninga, 24, of Colorado Springs.
Penninga, whose father once taught at Monarch Mountain, was excited to hear about the proposal to add steep terrain in No Name Basin on the west side of the Continental Divide. “Ever since I was a kid I’ve dreamed of going out there,” he said.
Ralph said that project, if approved, likely won’t happen for about five years.
The resort also hopes to add more intermediate terrain, which would serve most of the customer market, Ralph said.
“I’m excited for the changes at Monarch, but I hope that this is not ‘the beginning of the end’ of Colorado’s best kept secret,” Brad Mayes wrote on the resort’s Facebook page. “I don’t want to see Monarch get bigger and become another Crested Butte or Vail.”
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