by: Bryon Dorr
The Gems & Brews Tour was a 2-week (2/11-25/2013) ski pilgrimage devoted to sampling some of the best small mountain resorts, fine craft beers, spirits and food across Colorado. Over those 2-weeks I visited 5 Colorado Gem mountain resorts, 13 breweries, 3 distilleries, 1 hot spring, 5 bars, 4 hotels, spent 3 nights with friends, Sportsmobile camped 4 nights, went cat skiing and had my first proper snowmobile adventure. A very packed schedule full of awesome! The tour was a collaboration between CO Ski Country USA and Exploring Elements. The idea is to give you a small taste of what you can expect when you explore these spectacular Colorado locations. Don’t overlook the Gems!
MOUNTAIN: 800 acres of skiable terrain with 1,162’ of vertical (10,790’-11,952’) consisting of 14% Green/28% Blue/58% Black trails getting 350” of average annual snowfall accessed by 8 lifts (1 fixed quad, 4 fixed doubles, 3 surface) with the longest run being 1 mile long and operations from late November to early April.
Adult Full Day Regular Season Lift Ticket: $60
I’ve got amazing summer memories from many years of WW kayaking, trail running, and mountain biking in the adventure sports Mecca that is the Arkansas Valley. I now also have winter memories of deep fresh snow, steep challenging terrain, smooth groomed turns and time spent enjoying it all with amazing genuine people at Monarch Mountain. Monarch caters to the passionate outdoor adventurer who wants an authentic Colorado mountain experience. Situated high in the mountains above the Arkansas Valley and along the Continental Divide, Monarch is known for its steep world class terrain and amazing snow. The resort operates on 100% natural snowfall, and Mother Nature has been kind to this amazing gem since 1939.
Monarch has terrain that will put smiles on the faces of all snow riders, of all abilities. The beginner rider will enjoy many long sweeping cruisers on the south end of the mountain, while intermediate riders will revel in amazingly fun runs like Little Mo. If your looking for the freshest snow on the hill look no further than at the top of the mountain on the Great Divide trail, as the wind seems to continuously replenish this fun cruiser. The freestyle huckers will enjoy the unique natural wood freestyle structures in the Never Summer terrain park. While the plentiful inbounds lift accessed steeps might be short, they are sure to challenge. The real goods for the advanced rider can be found in the Mirkwood Bowl area. While this terrain takes a bit of effort, in the form of a bit of hiking off the top of the Breezeway lift, it offers up some seriously sweet terrain. I highly recommend checking out the steep trees in Staircase, you won’t be disappointed!
While many of Monarch Mountain’s facilities are being updated, they haven’t lost any of their small mountain resort charm. The Sidewinder Bar is the place to hang out with the locals and enjoy a few quality Colorado micro brews. The leather straps hanging from the bar will help you off the bar stool when your legs have been turned to jelly from a long day of pounding out amazing deep and steep turns. I highly recommend you use the local brews to wash down a tasty burger and onion rings. Monarch also satisfies all your caffeine needs with the “World’s Highest Starbucks.”
Safety and fun are both key components of the Monarch experience. The inbounds beacon search practice area gets you prepared for the backcountry experience in a safe and controlled environment. On the fun side of the equation is the massive high-end gear demo quiver that Monarch has available. If you want to try out the latest and greatest in snow riding equipment this is the place to make it happen. It also allows you to be confident that you’ll have access to the right gear for the day’s conditions when you get to the mountain, no matter the gear in your personal quiver.
One of the phenomenal things about Monarch is the value you get with all that the mountain offers. It has one of the least expensive day passes in the state, and a season pass deal that is just exceptional in every way. For $459 you get the “One Planet One Pass” deal that lets you make turns on 2 continents, 5 countries and 10 states for a total of 31 different areas. Besides all that alpine awesome the pass also gets you deals on lodging, Nordic centers, hot springs, local businesses, as well as Monarch discounts on food, drinks, gear, demos, buddy lift tickets and even snowmobiling. To top off the amazing values offered to everyone at Monarch you could get a day of cat skiing for only $275!!!
The Monarch Cat Ski experience is an amazing value because of the exceptional quality of the experience in all regards. You get access to 1,000+ acres of expert terrain with about 900’ vertical per run. The Monarch cat usually gets between 12-15 runs per day depending on the conditions and group, giving you well over 10,000’ vertical of quality riding. With their new cat you might even sneak in a few extra laps with a quick group, and you can’t really beat the almost 50/50 ski to cat ride ratio. In the end, it all comes back to the amazing quality people at Monarch Mountain, your expert experienced cat ski guides epitomize this.
LOCAL BREWERIES & DISTILLARIES:
Elevation is the closest brewery to Monarch, only 15 minutes down the road in Poncha Springs, and pretty much on the way to everywhere from the mountain. This is a new brewery, kicking off operations in winter of 2012, but has quickly established itself as a high quality microbrewery and great local hangout after a day of adventuring in the mountains. All of Elevation’s beers are categorized like ski slopes; Blue Square, Black Diamond and Double Black Diamond. While there aren’t any Green Circle beers, you’ll find the 8 Second Kolsch to be super easy drink and appreciate. The Little Mo Porter was one of the first brews developed and its smooth and just exciting enough to make you smile, just like its namesake run at Monarch. The friendly local vibe, craftsmanship put into every beer and limited run barrel-aging program will keep bringing you back to this charming little mountain brewery.
While Wood’s Distillery is brand new on the scene, just starting in Nov. 2012, the brothers and proprietors, PT and Lee Wood, are not new to the local business or brewing landscape. They are throwing passion and their local mountain lifestyle into some really high quality spirits. In their downtown Salida tasting room you can sample their complex Treeline Gin, barrel aged Tenderfoot Whiskey and some amazing unique cocktails that showcase their fine spirits. Be sure to ask for a tour and check out their German still from 1880, as it’s an amazing piece of history and engineering. You can’t miss PT’s quality handlebar mustache and it will bring a smile to your face every time you see it:)
Although I didn’t get a chance to visit Amicas on this trip I’ve enjoyed their high quality pizza in the past and got a chance to sample a few of their quality brews at a few other fine establishments in town on this trip. The Raspberry Porter is VERY sweet and fruity while the standard Porter has lots of coffee and some subtle chocolate notes to it. Be sure to stop in at their downtown Salida taproom on your next visit.
The Fritz is right on the riverfront park in downtown Salida and is a classic local’s haunt. They offer a full menu of food, wine, and beer, but the tapas and cocktails are what will keep me coming back. I highly suggest the mac and cheese as well as the bacon wrapped dates. They offer a full range of really high quality classic cocktails. To that end, I suggest you sample their dark and stormy. The Fritz serves up a mean one!
Eddyline offers up two great locations in Buena Vista. One being the brewery and taproom just off the main highway downtown, and the other a great restaurant located in the South Main neighborhood along the river. You can get their quality brews and pizzas at both locations, but for the full delicious menu go down to the South Main location. Eddyline offers up lots of easy drinking smooth beers, and a few small batch big beers. They offer their easy drinking brews in 6 pack 16oz cans and their bigger beers in 22oz bombers as part of their Art & Ale Series. For that smooth easy drinking summer beer, be sure to check out the Boater Beer Lager, and for that crazy over the top beer, check out the Innerglow Red Chile Porter. I have to admit that I really dug the Black Lager and the root beer. You will immediately be immersed in the local mountain sports lifestyle as soon as you walk in the door at Eddyline, due to the many bright and high quality outdoor adventure inspired paintings that cover the walls at both locations.
Deerhammer was started to encapsulate the mountain lifestyle and passion for local brewing. Lenny & Amy Eckstein are passionate about offering a super high quality product and supporting their local community in Buena Vista. You will quickly appreciate Lenny’s quality graphic design skills throughout the tasting room and taste his creativity in every sip of Deerhammer fine spirits. Amy, bar maid extraordinaire, makes sure that the business keeps ticking so that you can keep on enjoying the awesome that is Deerhammer Distilling. The cocktail menu in the tasting room is continually evolving and offers up classic cocktails with a twist that highlight the distinct flavors found in the spirits. For that winter time après ski warm cocktail I recommend the Honey Badger; a combo of white whiskey, spices, citrus, honey, and a cinnamon stick. If your looking for something a little more refreshing the classic Moscow Mule Deer can’t be beat; white whiskey, ginger beer, lime and bitters. You will never look at un-aged whiskey the same after trying the complex flavors found in Deerhammer Whitewater Whiskey! Be sure to also sample the Down Time Single Malt Whiskey, Buena Vista Brandy and Bullwheel Gin.
With a great location right off the highway, and some smoking ski and stay deals, it is hard to beat the comfort and convince of the Hampton Inn & Suites Salida. You get all the plush modern comforts you expect from a Hampton Inn, and the great extras like an extensive complimentary breakfast offering each morning, fresh cookies every afternoon and a properly hot hot tub to soak your weary ski muscles in each night.
A HUGE thanks goes out to Colorado Ski Country USA (http://www.coloradoski.com/) for putting this tour together and supporting these awesome Gem resorts. Thanks also to the quality staff at Monarch Mountain Resort for sharing their incredible resort and local hospitality. Of course the Gems & Brews tour wouldn’t have been the same without the amazing local Colorado beers, spirits and food to enjoy and refuel with after a long day on the mountain. Colorado is full of fascinating people, places and businesses. Get out there and explore them!