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Skiing Family-Friendly Monarch Mountain in South Central Colorado

This past winter we experienced a turning point for our family; our three-year old became potty trained, he could survive without a nap and he decided he enjoyed snow skiing. We have made it to the next phase of our life; a phase I am calling, “YES!”

So, when Hubby asked me if we should do a family ski-getaway for spring break, I said (big surprise here) “YES!”

Colorado is home to more than 22 resorts giving any skier or snowboarder an endless number of possibilities. I knew we needed a place that would a) accommodate children as young as three, b) have options for the 6-year old to improve his skills, c) give Dad enough black diamond terrain to make him smile, and d) give Mama an easy way to keep track of the entire family.

Enter Monarch Mountain.

Monarch Mountain
See the covered "Magic Carpet" for beginners? It's called the Caterpiller!

Monarch Mountain is located a few short hours from Denver, in South Central Colorado. The drive is absolutely spectacular with jagged mountain-scape views the entire way. Quintessential Western towns pepper the highway, fueling fun family conversation of the days of yore. We even saw a herd of Bison!

With no on-mountain lodging, we opted to stay at a Hampton Inn in nearby Salida, about 25 minutes from door to lift. The drive ascends 3000 vertical feet up Monarch Pass – I was thankful no snowstorms had recently been through and we had a dry, sunny drive. So sunny, in fact, I was concerned there was no snow actually on the mountain. (But there was. Phew!)

Right away, I noticed the ease of parking. We were able to get a spot fairly close to the lift. (If you’ve never had to schlep gear for yourself and two small children, you wouldn’t know how important this is.) Thank goodness Hubby packed because I would have most certainly forgotten a hat or a mitten. I later found out Monarch has a clothing rental service. (Mental note to self.)

So far, Monarch Mountain is winning in family friendliness. Awesome!

Z and Janet ski instructor at Monarch
Z and Janet, ski instructor at Monarch Mountain

The family friendliness didn’t end in the parking lot, either. The laid-back vibe and wallet-friendly ski, lesson and childcare options felt pretty nice, too. We got our lift tickets (only $57 each), and checked the kids in: 6-year old on a private lesson, 3-year old in childcare that also included a private lesson. (Group lessons start for kids’ aged 7 and up.)

Finally, Hubby and I were on our way to explore a new mountain.

The beauty of Monarch Mountain is that all runs end at the base. Plus, each of the five chair lifts access terrain appropriate for intermediate to expert skiers; Hubby can do the bumps, while I blaze the groomers on 100% all-natural snow. We hit every lift and many of the trails at Monarch and were impressed with the variety. Hubby wants to go back and hit more of the glades and tryout the Snowcat Tours which access a different part of the mountain.

For skiing, it was a hot day. So, we stopped mid-morning to down some water at the (something I’ve never seen before) Hydration Stations scattered about the lodge – along with “warming huts” for gloves and boots. All these nice touches were making us love this hometown mountain even more.  After enjoying an iced-coffee from (the world’s highest!) Starbucks, on a sweet deck overlooking the super-cool covered “magic carpet” lift, we decided to explore a little more.

Warming Hut and Hydration Station. Photo by Susan TuckerMonarch Ski Mountain
Warming Hut and Hydration Station. Photo by Susan Tucker

The lifts take you to the top of the Continental Divide and the views from the top are stunning! I just wanted to take my skis off and hang out up there, but Hubby had other plans. Next thing I knew we were heading down (one of two) terrain parks. That’s right. I “jibbed” it up with the boarders. (Ok, not really, but I did try a jump or two. They’re really fun!)

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mRLzcQUzjCs]

We didn’t want to leave our mommy-daddy ski time. But, we knew the boys would be finished with lessons soon. So, we made it a goal to find them (not hard to do on this great mountain!) We immediately found Z who was learning how to convert from the “wedge” to actual turns. (YES!) We laid low as we followed him down the mountain. Why is it that parents can never teach their kids things like this? Thankfully, Coach Janet did! And, Z was so happy with his progress he wanted to tackle the oldest ski run on the mountain, a black diamond, called Gunbarrel.

Next up? Lunch! We opted for the Sidewinder Saloon (how Western!) I had the most amazing smoked salmon avocado concoction, which paired delectably with my hot-chocolate and peppermint schnapps (not really, but still,) I swear I thought I was at a high-end restaurant for a moment… until Z started telling me all about his grilled cheese and french fries.

After lunch, we headed over to the Childcare Center and were stopped by Tony (C’s instructor) who proceeded to tell us “C was the best 3-year old I’ve ever instructed! He picked it up right away and was so much fun!” (No lie!) Yay! Happy Mama.  But, when I asked C about his experience, he apparently did not enjoy skiing as much as he “loved the bowling set” in the childcare area. Sigh. Oh well.

Even with the dry conditions, we thoroughly enjoyed our family ski-trip to Monarch Mountain. My boys were happy, Hubby and I got to spend a day together, the food was scrumptious and the variety in terrain was impressive. I would HIGHLY recommend this hometown-family-friendly mountain to anyone considering a family ski getaway in Colorado.


  • All trails run back to the same spot at the base (no losing kids!)
  • The worlds highest Starbucks (coffee taste the same, but is more exciting at this altitude)
  • Home to one of the oldest ski runs in Colorado (circa 1930) a black-diamond, Gunbarrel.
  • Spectacular views from the Continental Divide
  • The option for Dad to take a Snowcat Tour (Awesome!)
  • Great ticket prices for the whole family
  • Tons of food options
  • Love the homey touches (hydration station, warming huts, laid-back vibe)
  • Kids as young as three are offered childcare with private lessons and kids aged 7 and up can do group lessons

Monarch Mountain gets a big “YES!” from this family.

Note: Monarch Mountain is currently closed for the season, but is scheduled to reopen Thanksgiving week 2012.

Thank you to Monarch Mountain for sponsoring this trip.

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One Comment

  1. I never actually went skiing there but I loved Colorado when I went there. It is such an amazing area of real natural beauty.

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