It's 2:30 p.m. on Saturday at Monarch Mountain, and I'm just slipping into my ski boots. The locals keep telling me that they wish there was more fresh snow. Undeterred, I venture through an empty lift maze and onto the chair. My first run ever at Monarch consists of slipping into the trees and skiing largely untracked boot to knee-deep snow. My next run, off the Panorama chair, yields more of the same. The coverage might not be perfect, but I struggle to find "bad" snow. In a winter with more consistent precipatation, the snow at Monarch Mountain must be unreal.
"We don't make snow here; it's 100 percent natural," says Caswell Rico-Silver, who's been at Monarch for 18 years and is closing in on a decade as the director of ski patrol for the resort. I tell him about the snow I just had to myself. It's been days since any noticeable snowfall, and his response is simple: "That's Monarch. It's pretty amazing, isn't it? Our demographic is largely people who show up by the busload and don't venture off-piste as much. That leaves lots of good skiing open for good skiers, on top of the great skiing in general."
The lack of snow this year has kept Monarch from opening up Rico-Silver's favorite hike-to terrain in Mirkwood Bowl, but the latest storms show promise for the rest of the winter. In the mean time, there is plenty of great in-bounds skiing—despite what the locals might tell you. —Gavin Gibson
For more information, visit skimonarch.com.