Backcountry skiing is for people who want the ultimate challenge of ungroomed slopes in a beautiful, peaceful environment. Monarch Pass, at 11,312 feet, is one of Colorado’s most popular areas for backcountry skiers. Monarch Pass is located on Highway 50 between Salida and Gunnison and it receives about 350 inches of snow each year.
The area is open to skiers well into the spring months based on snowfall in this rugged and scenic region of the Rockies. The Monarch Mountain Pass is on the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail and the Colorado Trail used by hikers and backpackers during the year.
Where To Go
The best part about backcountry skiing? There are no lift lines or crowds in the backcountry. Skiers are able to scout the area to find their favorite slopes. If you are ready to hit the trails without exploring, read on to find out about two of the best backcountry trails be found right near Creekside Chalets.
The Perfect Trees Trail
The Perfect Trees ski ascent off of Monarch Pass offers laps of skiing through trees that you can’t find anywhere else in the area. Best for advanced skiers, this black diamond trail is perfect for those who love to wind through the trees. This run is visible from Route 50 and it is popular after a recent snowfall. Good intermediate tree skiing is also found on Hump #2 in this area. Point 11692 on Monarch Pass offers more difficult terrain.
Mid-Winter after a good snowstorm is the best time to catch this popular trail. Although busy on the weekends, all of the potential lines end on a roadcut, which makes a great meet-up point of you are skiing with a group.
Located about a mile from the Monarch Ski Area near Salida, Snow Stake is a great option for beginners who want to experience backcountry skiing. The trail boasts amazing views and plenty of shorter runs so you can easily get plenty of runs in without the commitment of a longer trail.
The climb to the top is relatively short and is located just a mile from the Monarch Ski area making Snow Stake the perfect addition to a day on the lifts. The parking area will be on the left side of the road (about 1 mile West of Monarch Ski Area on Highway 50). Park on the left, head across the street, and the trail begins just over the snowbank.
There is a great place to put on your skis just after you cross the road and begin your 600 ft climb to the top. Be sure to take a moment to capture the breathtaking views from this spot.
A Day on the Mountain Pass
If you are looking for a great tour of the backcountry, there are several tours that incorporate the best of hiking and skiing in the area.
Two Humps Tour
The Two Humps Tour is popular for just about every level skier and incorporates the Snow Stake trail as well as some other intimate Colorado settings.
The four-mile round trip tour takes you on a 2300 ft climb and down slopes of trees and open snow trails. Avalanche danger is low in this area but it is always recommended that you check conditions before heading up. With any tour on Monarch Pass, it is highly recommended that you head straight to Elevation Beer Co. to celebrate the day with a local brew.
Tour de Monarch Pass
Considered one of the most popular tours in the area, Tour de Monarch Pass covers a huge amount of terrain while traveling along the continental divide on Monarch Pass. The tour begins and ends at Monarch Ski Area so you get to enjoy the perks of the resort and the adventure of backcountry skiing. You will need a lift ticket to access the area but the hike up to Mirkwood is one you don’t want to miss.
There are plenty of ways to explore this area but we suggest the 3.5-mile roundtrip route that takes you on a Total climb of about 2000 vertical feet with 3000 feet of descent. You will encounter some of the best that Monarch Pass has to offer while enjoying quality snow with exciting slopes that all levels of skiers can enjoy. End your day with a local brew at the saloon at Monarch.
Backcountry Skiing Essentials
Skiers should be solid intermediates to experts experienced with ungroomed or off-piste trails. These are the skiers who enjoy powder snow and who want to carve their trails on open bowls. They must also be familiar with occasional fog and white-out conditions that might arise while they are on the trails.
There is no slope rating on the backcountry trails. The slopes cover a variety of snow conditions and skiers must feel comfortable with extreme terrain. The level of difficulty can be very high. Skiers should be prepared for all snow textures and weather.
The regular season ranges from January through March and late season can extend into April based on the weather. The Colorado Rockies occasionally receive late-season snow storms in April and even early May.
Backcountry skiers carry small backpacks with emergency items. This includes a beacon, shovel, and probe as part of the avalanche safety gear. A Mammut RAS Air Backpack is available for backcountry skiers. This pack was developed in Switzerland for mountain climbers but it can also be used for skiing with avalanche airbags included. This is an inflatable airbag that is the equivalent of an inflatable lifejacket for skiers.
Guide services often rent backcountry packs and safety equipment to skiers since they must always be prepared for emergencies. Backcountry skiers may also take water and light food in packs. There are no facilities in the backcountry area for food and beverages. Special Snowcats will take backcountry skiers to Monarch Pass and other remote areas of the mountain. The vehicles carry up to 12 skiers and the trail guides know the best area for backcountry skiers based on snow conditions. They provide service to and from the access trails.
Skiers must dress appropriately in waterproof jackets, gloves and ski pants. Outerwear is usually worn over wool or synthetic ski pants, tops, and heavy socks. Helmets and eye protection are advised for backcountry skiers. Sun protection is also necessary at this high altitude.
Where to Stay
Creekside Chalets in the Salida area is the place to stay if you are skiing Monarch Mountain and the Pass. We are 10 minutes away from the ski area with 800 acres of trails and lifts. We are also near the guide services that allow you to ski the backcountry. Check out our Ski and Stay Packages that include a one-bedroom chalet and lift tickets. This package is available Sunday through Thursday night with a two-night minimum stay. Salida had many restaurants and shops open for winter visitors. Wine tasting at local wineries is another popular event all year.
Contact us for more information on our one, two, and three-bedroom chalets with special winter rates.