Budget Ski Trips 2009
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Annual snowfall: 350 inches
Vertical drop: 1,162 feet
Skiable acres: 800
One-day lift ticket: $54
Perfect for: Expert powder skiers—real experts, not just the ones that check off Type III on their rental forms—hungry for a snowcat adventure
Why here: Monarch is beautiful. Located in central Colorado's San Isabel National Forest, it's surrounded by the majestic peaks of the Sawatch Mountain Range. But you're not here to gawk: Monarch's snowcat terrain is some of the best in Colorado…and it's empty. Monarch Snowcat Tours will take you on 10 to 12 runs down steeps blanketed with pure, dry, untouched Colorado powder. The cost? $250, way cheaper than heli-skiing in British Columbia. Sold? Well, you should know that without fresh snow, Monarch's modest acreage won't entertain for long. So check the forecast, plan a two- or three-day trip, and bring your snow-dancing shoes.
The highlight: Mirkwood Basin. It's only a 15-minute hike from the top of the Breezeway lift, but its 130 acres of fresh snow make it feel miles from a resort. If you're backcountry savvy, the gates on the far side of the bowl will open up a whole new world of white.
Sleep for cheap: At first glance, the Monarch Mountain Lodge looks like the hotel from The Shining, but like the lifties, it's always warm and friendly. The rooms try to pass off trail maps as artwork, but there's an indoor pool and an outdoor hot tub (speaking of shining, the latter provides some of the best star-watching in the state).
One night at Monarch Mountain Lodge plus two lift tickets (one for the day of arrival and one for the next day): approximately $100 per person; 800-332-3668; www.monarchmountainlodge.com