Usually when ski resorts promote improvements, it's the fast new high-speed lift, luxurious gondola cars, or mountain top dining they talk about. At Monarch Mountain, they're excited about their brand-new, shiny, custom-made...wait for it... caterpillar.
I've ridden quite a few contraptions to the top of ski hills, but never a caterpillar. Allow me to explain: the caterpillar is a new, state-of-the-art magic carpet surface lift. Ever been to an airport? You know the moving walkways that effortlessly transport you to your gate? Well the caterpillar is like one of those. What that means to you? Well, it means that people learning to ski don't have to deal with the chairlift, with lift lines, or with pretty much anything other than having a good time on the slopes.
I arrive at Monarch after a stay in the nearby town of Salida, CO, a once mining town turned whitewater and mountain biker's haven. Salida is off the beaten path, and the locals like it that way. I'm riding the chairlift, a fixed-grip, regular-speed quad, with Eric Ramsey, Monarch's Marketing and Events Coordinator. I've never been to Monarch before and I'm kicking myself as acre after acre of primo tree skiing releals itself below us. The place is deserted at the moment, and I ask whether one can expect the same on a powder day.
"Well, we don't have any powder days at Monarch." says Eric. "We have powder weeks here."
I often remark that high-speed lifts have killed the powder-day, turning it in to a powder-hour. Not so at Monarch, where even the dedicated group of local skiers can't ski all the terrain for days after a storm.
But there's no fresh snow today, and that's a good thing - I'm supposed to be covering how Monarch makes it easy to learn to ski and snowboard, and I wouldn't be able to resist fresh powder. Monarch Mountain is one of Colorado's Gems Ski Areas (click here to learn more about skiing and snowboarding at the Gems Ski Areas), which means it's a great place for families, beginners, and those looking for a laid-back, no frills skiing experience. Learning to ski at Monarch is a little different than at many other areas. Here, you don't learn how to ski or snowboard; you metamorphosize.
Traveling to 22 ski resorts in the state of Colorado has given me the opportunity to check out a bunch of ski schools, and I can definitely say I've never seen anything like Monarch's caterpillar magic carpet. Not only does it look a little bit like giant caterpillar inching its way up the mountain, but it actually does transform people from never-evers in to fully functional skiers and snowboarders, just like a real caterpillar turns in to a butterfly.
Today, a few boarders and a couple skiers are making laps on the magic carpet. Almost to a person, they remark that the carpet is super easy to use. All the hassle of getting on and off a chairlift is gone, so you can focus on having fun. Not only that, but it invites you to test your imagination coming up with metaphors for your trip upslope. I think it's a sci-fi space-tube, another guy says it's an undersea mermaid aquarium. Perhaps the most apt description I hear?
"It's like being in one of the tubes at the bank!" remarks a gal as she emerges from the tube.
Many of Colorado's resorts offer the rare-but-wonderful combination of great beginner and advanced skiing, and Monarch Mountain is one of them. Whether you're a never-ever just looking for an excuse to take up a new sport, or a grizzled old powder-hound, don't overlook Monarch.
And when you go, pick up a Colorado Gems Card - you'll get deals at Monarch and 8 other Gems Ski Areas, and they only cost ten bucks. Deal!
-John Trousdale, Mountain Correspondent, Colorado Ski Country USA