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Monarch Mountain brings another gold medal to Chaffee County

Monarch Pass, 11,312 elevation. Merrell Bergin photo

Long a favorite for locals and visitors alike, the hometown team at Monarch Mountain has done it once again. Monarch Mountain at the Crest opened today, June 10 under bluebird skies and barely a gentle breeze.

A ribbon-cutting celebrated a complete makeover of the complex at the top of Monarch Pass on the border of Chaffee and Gunnison County.

The parking lot was nearly full at mid-day, with license plates including California, Texas, New Jersey, and Washington as well as plenty of Coloradoans. A lively soundtrack was created by local DJ J.M. Kreski, seen hopping around as he created the beat. The enticing aroma of an outdoor grill attracted many, as did games of cornhole and a tent hosted by the Greater Arkansas River Nature Association (GARNA).

Inside, the taxidermy is gone, cozy lodge now in its place

The rock walls and foundation are still there; even the earthen roof. Dating to 1954, the gift shop and restaurant opened by Salidan Elmo Bevington and Gunnison County Sheriff George Cope, has withstood the test of time and the ravages of weather at 11,312 feet altitude. Yet inside, it’s a whole new world, aimed at not just motorists passing through but serious hikers and bikers looking for respite, real food, and the ambiance of a private lodge.

Elation Sports at the Crest offers gear and apparel for outdoor enthusiasts. Merrell Bergin photo

Elation Sports at The Crest is a top gear shop for almost every sports and outdoors enthusiast, including helmets from Smith and Oakley and a full line of accessories and gear from Dakine. There’s warm clothes to take the chill off, first aid supplies, hydration and other necessities, and yes, there are still souvenir items to take or send home.

Whether you need to replace a broken or missing piece of gear vital to your Rainbow Trail trek or just an impulse purchase, there are many tempting treats even for those more inclined to be couch potatoes.

While the taxidermy displays drew many photographs in days gone by, Monarch Mountain at the Crest has stepped up the game. It now includes places to sit and relax, and study large displays of all the natural wonders that the area offers. In short, it’s ready for new generations of outdoor enthusiasts with the tools and toys they need to enjoy their sports.

Yes, there’s real food too

Freshies at the Crest offers smoothies, grilled sandwiches, and more with comfortable seating. Merrell Bergin photo

Freshies at the Crest is the new food service operation. They offer a trifecta of hot sandwiches and sides, grilled to order, as well as a Latte or Cappuccino.

For even healthier meal options, the Grab & Go deli case has freshly packaged sandwiches, protein salads, hummus, salami, cheese, and even California rolls to power hikers and bikers through the miles ahead.

And, rounding it out, there’s camp food including energy bars, hydration packets, cereal, soups, mini-packaged peanut butter, Nutella, and dehydrated meals among others.

Next up, a great events space?

While Monarch Event Coordinator Kathryn Wadsworth was busy out in the parking lot, helping kids with games of chance, Ark Valley Voice inquired about Tramway Ride tickets. Climbing to 12,012’ in elevation, the  dog-friendly Tramway operates daily in summer with the last ride up at 4:00 p.m. The views are spectacular, and today the lineup to climb on was atypical.

Monarch Mountain General Manager and COO Randy Stroud and Marketing Manager Allie Stevens greet visitors on the opening day of Monarch Mountain at the Crest. Merrell Bergin photo

Leaning in to explain, Monarch Mountain General Manager and Chief Operating Officer Randy Stroud expressed his gratitude for the crowd of visitors at the grand opening. Stroud said that he hopes to have the Crest used as a great space for special events, possibly even weddings.

And, while the Crest is aimed primarily at families and outdoor enthusiasts, he hopes to eventually secure a liquor license, aimed at event-goers.

This is not a trivial undertaking he said. “We have to negotiate with our neighbors, Chaffee County, Gunnison County, the U.S. Forest Service (which owns the land), and then most challenging of all, the Colorado Liquor Licensing Authority.”

Cooperation between government entities is not always a given, but it appears to be working here. By mutual agreement, Chaffee County receives the sales taxes for retail sales at the Crest, and that benefits not only the county but all three of its municipalities.

Normal operating hours at the Crest are 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. daily through late September. Contact Monarch Mountain at the Crest at 719-539-5091 or on the web at

Monarch Mountain at the Crest is located two miles west of the Monarch Mountain Ski and Board Resort, just 23 miles from downtown Salida along the scenic “Rainbow Road”, US Hwy 50.

Featured image: Monarch Mountain at the Crest Visitor complex. Merrell Bergin photo