Get ready for powder envy, Vail Valley
Special to the Daily
Vail, CO Colorado
MONARCH MOUNTAIN, Colorado ” Over the last few years I developed my own religion based around good karma.
In my world there are a few types of karma. Of course there is there is the plane old just being nice to the other inhabitants of this earth karma. But, the one type of karma that we have all been cashing in on lately, and I highly believe in, is our powder karma.
With the heavy snow cycles we have been in, a lot of us in the skiing and snowboarding community must have been doing our part to make the world a cooler place to live.
As a ski instructor I guess I have earned a lot of good powder karma by being patient, picking students up, teaching beginners on big snow days, and all those other things that go along with the job.
In early January of this season I hit the powder karma jackpot on a snow cat trip to Monarch, which is about 115 miles due south of Vail. If you don’t want to hear how good it was, then just stop reading here, but if you want to hear how killer Monarch can be on big powder days, then read on.
My partner in crime, Elna Persson ,and I loaded up Larry, our truck, and headed down to Monarch. We had heard reports that the Continental Divide, on which the ski area sits, had been the epicenter of snowfall over the past few weeks.
As we headed up the pass from the Arkansas Valley floor, which only had a speckle of snow, the walls of snow on the side of the road just got higher and higher. I would have missed the parking lot, if for not noticing the Monarch sign hiding behind two big piles of snow.
We headed up the chairlift to check out what Monarch had to offer in-bounds. What we found was plenty of steeps, pow, trees, and no people. With the lack of people, comes the lack of moguls. Now I’m a big fan of bumps, but it was sure nice to hit big clumps of snow that didn’t put up a fight, or send you launching into the air.
We started our out-of bounds tour with a short hike to untouched Gunbarrel. The fresh tracks were well worth the hike, but I recommend this run for your last run of the day, instead of your first, because it dumps you right back in the parking lot. Don’t worry there will still be freshies in the afternoon.
After a few cool tree runs off the Garfield lift, we headed up the Breeze Way Chair to hit some of Monarch’s inbounds hiking terrain. The short jaunt up the Mirkwood Road only takes 10 to 15 minutes. Upon reaching the crest of Mirkwood Bowl we were rewarded with turn after turn of untouched fluff.
By the way, it had not stopped puking snow since we were half way up to the ski area, so on our next lap into the bowl, our tracks were completely filled in. With cat skiing scheduled for the next day, we reluctantly left the hikeable terrain in hopes of saving our legs for the following day. So off we went to explore the runs off the Panorama Chair.
Elna and I promised ourselves, in an attempt to spare of legs of lactic acid build up, only to do a couple of more runs. This plan went out the door as we took in lap after lap of knee-deep goodness accessed off the Panorama lift.
Each turn through the cathedral of snow-drenched trees was like gallivanting from room to room full of your own private stash of pow. Every limb you brushed up against sent a heap of snow cascading down your neck ” not a bad thing to have to put up with on a day like today.
So after saying “another run” a few more times, we decided to call it good and head down to Salida for the evening.
I was expecting to wake the next morning to milk bottle conditions, but to my surprise, we woke up in the early a.m. to a sky full of stars. Could a bluebird day full of fresh powder accessed by a snow cat be in our future?
With a 7-11 caffeine-and-chocolate buzz we headed up the hill from Salida, as the stars gave way to clear skies and views of the 14ers of the Collegiate Range. We met our guides and the other lucky souls in the Snow Cat Lounge, and we were briefed on safety, snow conditions, and what was in store for the day.
One thing that made a big impression on the group was the comment by the guides that “we have received a significant amount of snow and it will slough and be moving around you.”
Peeps, shovels, and probes were provided to all that did not own them. So, with anxious smiles on our faces, and anticipation in our legs we headed up to lift to the cat.
After a short chug up to Merkwood Bowl in the plush Monarch Snow Cat, which is equipped with comfy seats, a fridge full of Gatorade and a powerful sound system pumping out heavy music.
Our guides gave us our last safety talk, and we headed into the Staircase Trees for the ski-and-ride test. These guys really knew where to find the goods, because these chutes were still inbounds and we were hitting knee-deep fresh that was safely sloughing all around us.
When the cat came to its first stop outside of Monarch proper, there were no tracks to be seen. Because of the big dump that had preceded us the day before, this bowl had not been touched, for lack of visibility and avalanche danger. Our guides, who were not only quite knowledgeable of the area, but top gun skiers, assured us the bowl we would be tearing up today was controlled and safe.
With a ski cut in the slope and parameters set of our first run, we dropped into four feet of powder one by one. At the bottom we yelled each other on, and greeted our comrades with sinister giggles of guilty pleasure.
But, should we feel remorse for what we were taking in? No, I thought to myself, this was just my powder karma train coming in.
The terrain varied from wide-open shots to tight chutes with a few trees thrown in the mix. Each time we ventured higher and higher on the ridgeline in the cat, the slope became steeper and steeper.
We continued to take in more fresh lines throughout the afternoon. As we entered the twilight of our epic day, the runs just kept on getting better and better, with tighter, steeper chutes and plenty of opportunities for airtime.
It was just one of those days you did not want to end ” great company, bluebird conditions, four feet of low moisture fluff, no wind, no lost or failed equipment, and most importantly, no injuries. What more could you ask for?
As the cat pulled up to the top of Elation Ridge, for our final run, we noticed that the only tracks into the glade were the ones that we had put down before lunch. We dropped into the trees, and it was face shots for everyone.
With the shadows of our silhouettes growing longer and our legs screaming, our gaggle of skiers headed back to the lodge. We laid down 15 runs averaging between 800 and 1,000 vertical feet. This was the most sorties I had ever done on a cat or heli trip in a day.
I have heard some complain about the length of the runs at Monarch, but in my opinion the steepness, and variety of terrain makes up quite nicely for the lack of vertical drop.
Back at the lodge we met at the bar to recount the day, which for the majority of the group was their best day ever. We were all asking each other if we should tell our friends how good it really was or just keep it to ourselves.
Would we sound like braggers? Would we jinx ourselves for big powder days for the rest of our lives? Nah, I thought to myself, I shouldn’t feel guilty, but only be inspired to spread the word of powder karma.
So remember the next time you show a friend a new line, pull a buddy out of a tree well, or are the tail gunner on backcountry trip, don’t be surprised if you eventually end up on with a big fat, Captain Insane-o powder day.
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