Colorado Ski Conditions Check-In: Monarch, Silverton

Matt Samelson of Boulder, Colorado, brings us this second update on Colorado ski conditions. Though Matt resides some 1,500 miles away from our brick-and-mortar store at Lake Tahoe, the former Couloir magazine editor is a loyal online TMS customer. Look for his series of Colorado Ski Conditions Check-ins on our blog this winter.

The central and northern Rockies had been getting hammered for more than a week. Then the Colorado snow pattern normalized just after Christmas. The snow spigot turned south and the San Juans got absolutely crushed. My brother Mike was turning 30 on December 29, and the plan was to ski Silverton the next day, Thursday. With Siverton only open Thursday to Sunday, there was going to be some serious snow awaiting us. And then it really started snowing.

I had just mounted a new pair of 22 Design Axl bindings to my Moment Belafonte skis. Now I know that the free pivot climbing tele binding is old hat for most folks now. But I hadn’t experienced — hadn’t even tried them out. Because I knew that when I did, I would need a pair. Well, I finally gave them a trial run up the shoulder of Mount Royal toward Peak 1 in Frisco, and I was right; I did need a pair of them. The free pivot through deep snow was smooth, and making steep kick turns was effortless. It felt just like an AT setup without the indignity of having to lock your heels for the descent.

En route to Silverton, Mike and I caught up with our friends Garth and Sandy from Gunnison. They are on the snowpacking crew at Monarch, and a plan started brewing. Garth and Sandy seem to be friendly with most everybody in the Gunnison Valley, which is a good way for plans to get hatched. Sandy agreed to meet us on Monarch Pass for a quick tour, and Garth headed to the resort to snowpack. But after one lap near the power line off the pass, Garth called. About an hour later, Mike, Sandy, and I joined the regular snowpacking crew at the base of the resort. One release form and a chair lift ride later, we were climbing into the back of a cat.

I had heard stories and looked at the topography from afar, but had never ventured into the Monarch snowcat terrain before. It’s impressive. Lots of chutes.  Nicely spaced trees. And amazing snow that day. We tromped around with the crew for a couple of hours, made a couple of nice turns, and generally had a great time poking around the area. And it was still snowing.

Originally, Mike and I were going to fire down the road to Telluride to catch up with our brother Scott and other family members in preparation for the “big day” at Silverton. But when we got to Gunni there was a fresh 9 to 10 inches, a 12-pack of the champagne of beers in the house, and it was dark. So we called it, and set the alarm for 5 a.m.

But Mother Nature wasn’t done. It kept snowing. And when that happens in the San Juans, roads start closing. Which is exactly what Red Mountain Pass did . . . for three days. So we didn’t make it to Silverton. “Settled” for the consolation prize of skiing with family at Telluride. But that just means we’ll have to go back in the spring when unguided skiing at Silverton kicks off again.

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