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36 Hours to Ride: Monarch and Crested Butte in One Weekend

The view from the top of the Paradise Lift at Crested Butte. Photo by Chris Linsmayer. The view from the top of the Paradise Lift at Crested Butte. Photo by Chris Linsmayer.

It’s a familiar setting. Youre sitting on the couch on a Sunday evening as the sun sets, officially signaling the transition out of “weekend mode.” You slowly get up to switch on the lights around the house and your struck with that regretful feeling that you didn’t take full advantage of your weekend. Maybe you spent a few too many hours re-watching that HBO series. Maybe your Friday happy hour turned into a two day hangover filled withdisappointing delivery food. Maybe you decided that you worked too hard during the week to do anything on your days off. No matter your reasoning, that regretful feeling lingers like the stench from a neglected garbage bin.

But your Sunday nights dont have to feel like that. In fact, they shouldnt. It is true that you did work too hard during the week you worked too hard to not get out and do something with those precious days off. This reasoning is preciously why I said “I’m in!” when my CSCUSA colleague (Chris Linsmayer of Southwest Swing #1 & #2 fame) invited me on a quick road trip to Monarch and Crested Butte – two resorts he needed to check off his list on his quest to visit every CSCUSA resort this season (your next, Cooper!).

Unlike previous weekend expeditions, on this trip we would leave early Saturday morning as opposed to Friday night. This meant that we would only have about 36 hours to complete our round trip. This may seem like a daunting task considering Crested Butte is about 228 miles from Denver, but its the daunting tasks that are worth doing. And it’s completing those daunting tasks that destroys any possibility of weekend regret on Sunday night.

Chris at the top of Mirkwood at Monarch. Chris at the top of Mirkwood at Monarch.

We hit the road from Denver to Monarch at about 6:30 Saturday morning and pulled into the Monarch parking lot a little after 9:00. We skied a couple of firm groomers off the Breezeway Lift before stopping for coffee and a dangerously delicious chocolate-chocolate chip brownie. Rejuvenated by the caffeine and sugar, we then skied a couple more groomers and a few bumps off Panorama before the short 10-15 minute hike to the top of Mirkwood, elevation 11,952 ft. By this time we were ready for lunch, so we stopped in the Sidewinder Saloonwhere we treated ourselves to an IPA, the roast beef special (me) and the humungous Sasquatch Burger (Chris). We took our time eating, rehydrating and chatting – all of which are essential for a successful 36 hour ski mission.

After lunch the snow was really nice and soft so we revisited some of the harder runs from the morning. To close the day, we went to the top of the legendary Gunbarrel run. The steep black diamond run overlooks the parking lot and is home to the remnants of the first ever lift at Monarch – a 500-foot rope tow powered by a gear box from an old oil derrick and a Chevy engine, which was installed in 1939. Reading up on the history of Monarch before dropping right into the parking lot is the classic way to end the day at this classic Colorado resort.

The old Gunbarrel rope tow. Read about the history of Monarch here. The old Gunbarrel rope tow. Read about the history of Monarch here.

We were back on the road and heading over the pass on the way to Crested Butte by about 2:30 pm. The drive (71 miles) went relatively quick and we pulled into our hotel, The Lodge at Mountaineer Square,in Crested Butte ready for a stretch session and showers. After some regrouping, we took the free shuttle down to main street to see what the town had to offer. The short answer: a lot. We hit a few different places and eventually landed at Secret Stash for the Mac Daddy pizza, a “must-try” according to a fellow CSCUSA employee. Sorry Steve, it’s not for me. The other pizzas were great though. Back at the hotel I quickly hit the hay while Chris unsuccessfully headed for the hot tub (it was closed for the night).

The Peak at Crested Butte taken from Silver Queen. The Peak at Crested Butte taken from Silver Queen.

The next morning we were greeted by more bluebird skies and cold pizza to hold us over until lunch. I won’t go into too much detail about the day skiing, because you should truly just get there and check out the mountain yourself, but here’s a quick rundown. For our first few runs we hopped on the Silver Queen, then made our way over to the Paradise Lift and eventually all the way down to East River. We also made it up The High Lift for a sweat inducing run down Headwall (twice). The groomers were fast, the steeps were steep and the trees off East River were surprisingly nice despite the lack of recent snow (we were there just before this most recent storm hit). We also took the time to peak down Rambo, the steepest cut run in the United States. To my delight, Rambo was closed (by this time my legs were a little too tired to cross that one off the bucket list). We closed the day after a quick lunch at the new Umbrella Bar by cruising down Columbine Hill, which was by this time reaching full “spring skiing” conditions.

The Umbrella Bar  is home to some spectacular views of the rest of the mountain. The Umbrella Bar is home to some spectacular views of the rest of the mountain.

We were back in the car and on the way home by 2:00 pm, pulling into Denver right around 6:30 – marking the 36th hour of our weekend road trip. Exhausted, I hit up the prepared food section of the local Whole Foods and called it a day. As I sat on the couch eating my mediocre sushi my legs were tired, my eyes were sleepy and my thirst for adventure was (temporarily) quenched. When I climbed into bed just after 9:00 pm I knew that I had taken full advantage of my weekend. No Sunday regrets here.

Our trip by the numbers:

9 Hours driving, this includes just 1 stop for gas, a quick stop to hose down the car at the end of the trip, and a short detour to retrieve a lost phone charger (that was not actually lost but tucked into the bottom of a bag).
10 Hours skiing, this includes two (long) breaks for lunch.
8 Hours sleeping.
5 Hours exploring the town of Crested Butte.
0.5 Hours stretching (very important).
0.5 Hours eating cold pizza and trying to wake up.
1 Hour of “getting ready” – both after skiing Saturday and before skiing Sunday morning.
2 Hours unaccounted for. Apparently everything listed above took 15 minutes longer than I remember.