For the longest time I thought you had to make the trade-off between being able to ski expert terrain or ski with crowds. Spending a day at Monarch proved this wrong.
We drove from Breckenridge, past Buena Vista and Salida to arrive at Monarch in about 90 minutes. Once we arrived, around 10:00 AM, we were just five or six rows back from the base. There is plenty of walk-up, free parking at the base of Monarch and the lifts are no more than a few hundred yards away (we’ve walked further to grab the shuttle when parking in free lots at larger resorts).
At Monarch we were able to ski plenty of beginner, advanced, and expert runs without having fellow skiers and snowboarders on top of us. We never had to wait in a lift line and didn’t have to fight to find a table for four at lunch (there were at least three available when we arrived around 12:30 PM).
As I’m still working on my skiing abilities (as you recall, I decided to switch away from snowboarding at the end of last season) I never had to worry about making big turns and getting in anyone’s way. I also felt comfortable going on runs beyond my comfort zone because I knew I could take all the space and time I needed without getting harassed from fellow visitors.
The facilities at the base are modest, but excellent. The cafeteria has plenty of room for everyone and a great selection of food. The Sidewinder Saloon is a gem where you can buy a full pitcher of local beer for as much as a single pint may cost you at other resorts. Plus, with table service and awesome food, it’s hard to not love sitting back, watching a football game, and relaxing after a big morning.
That said, this is a simpler ski area so the little things, like tissues in the lift line, are not present. You still have your pass on the outside as it needs to be barcode scanned (no RFID). And, there are not a ton of vertical feet, so you won’t get a record-breaking day. But, from what I’ve seen, you will find some excellent cat and hike-to skiing along with fresh snow even days after the last flakes fell.
I loved skiing at Monarch. It was well worth the drive and we’d highly encourage a visit.