Monarch’s extreme snowcat tours of Colorado’s Great Divide are heaven for snow carnivores –
Above me on the mountain steeps, I could hear the guides call to each other as they swept through the trees making sure there were no stragglers.
Clear, my butt. I’m upside down in this hole, wedged between a rock and a tree, snow packed in my nose and ears, goggles filling with my breath, fat boy skis wrestling each other. Head planted into the side of Colorado’s Continental Divide, all I could think of was the iced-down microbrewery beer awaiting me at the end of the day: Sunshine Wheat, Dock Street Amber, Bull’s Head Black, Elk Mountain Red, Fat Tire, Oatmeal Stout, Juju Ginger and Old Cherry Ale.
‘Course we had more, that was just the stuff on ice, other than me.
Still, with all the crashing and banging down the steeps – my buddy busted a pine limb thick as his head right in half, going JUST A LITTLE TOO FAST – it was fantastic to take a stab at extreme skiing –the Great Divide, on snowcat, Monarch-Style. Steep, yes. Deep, yes. And cheap, yes. At a hundred bones a day you can’t beat it.
Monarch, where the San Juans meet the Sangre de Cristos, promises that their Snowcat tours will take you to Colorado’s steepest backcountry skiing. Check out their invitation:
You’re an animal on skis. A snow carnivore. You want a mountain that makes your blood run hot. Terrain you can attack and devour. Well, you can stop pacing your cage. Our Snowcat tours of the Great Divide turn you loose on 900 acres of the steepest backcountry in Colorado. Breathtaking open bowls. Heart-stopping vertical drops. Dazzling alpine glades. Join us for excitement that always runs on the wild side.
Okay, fair enough. We took the bait. Who could turn that down?
We “animals” stopped pacing our cages and boarded a Snowcat with a husband-wife doctor team from Santa Fe, three guys from New York and Boston, and two guides from Irwin Lodge, another one of the ten Snowcat ski operations in the U.S.
We piled onto a 12-passenger cat driven by a man named Bear, and headed off to the ridgetops.
Our leaders, Randy and Kelly, were pure pros – part guide, part coach, part ski patrol. They briefed us on safety in the backcountry and the no-nos. They had great backcountry knowledge, but weren’t snobs about it, just very friendly, helpful folks. We had all signed on for the full-day trip, but you can also take half-day, single run and sightseeing treks.
The scenery was killer. We drove past a rock wall in a saddle where ancient Indian tribes pushed elk from one canyon to another. Their buddies stood in pits hiding behind the rock fence and when the elk jumped over, they could spear their dinner.
The terrain was incredible, all sorts of runs shooting off the crest of the Continental Divide. And, the skiing… WOW… made your blood boil. It wouldn’t be hard to blast off a rock cliff, start a slide from a cornice, auger into a stump, hook a tree or get slapped upside the face by a branch. But somehow, our guides steered us clear of danger, run after run after run. That’s what we’d come for. To really ski. The technical stuff.
It was a smorgasbord of snow conditions; pure powder that whistled by your ears, windslab glades, hoar crust, steep and deep in the trees. We sampled it all.
Most of us were on fat boards, making turns in trees easier, keeping us coasting along the top instead of augering in. We all wallowed at times, soared and sailed at others.
We did 12 runs the first day, more the second. At the end of each day we were dog-tired, sore, sporting a ding here and there, but utterly satisfied.
As Bear put it, “Been doing this for some time and I’ve never seen anybody go away not smiling.”
Snowcat skiing is also available at Ski Rio and Wolf Creek.
– Joe Haukebo
This article appeared on page 48 of SkiCountry Magazine 1995-’96.