Ski, Soak, Repeat: Colorado Winter Pairings

Mount Princeton and Monarch Mountain lead the pack of Colorado’s happily paired winter couples.

Photo by Larry Pierce

My wife and I had skied Monarch Mountain as hard as we could, doing laps on the mid-mountain Panorama lift, eating nachos at the Sidewinder Saloon during a brief intermission, then capping the day with tree runs off the beaten slope through Geno’s Meadows.

West of Salida on the pass of the same name, Monarch has long been one of our favorite places to ski. The snow is consistently sublime, the drive from Denver doesn’t involve I-70, and the user-friendly trail map offers something for everyone.

It might be a bit small by mega-resort standards—Monarch has about one-sixth the skiable acreage of Vail—but we always find new challenges on our annual winter pilgrimages to Monarch and Salida. The runs are short (the longest is a mile), but the lack of lift lines more than makes up for that.

Beyond the lifts, Monarch is known for its hike-to terrain in Mirkwood Basin and one of Colorado’s top snowcat programs, accessing another 1,600 acres of advanced and expert terrain just north of the resort off Waterdog Ridge.

Our day was exhilarating— and exhausting. We’d come close to 20 runs, but lost count sometime in the afternoon. I definitely felt it as I de-geared in the parking lot.

“Honey,” I told my wife, “I’m getting old.”

She smiled and replied, “That makes two of us.”

The best way to soothe our aches and pains, we agreed, was a soak at Mount Princeton, about 35 miles by road from Monarch, before driving back home to Denver.

Photo by Scott Peterson

As my mind returns to the present, the glimmering waters rejuvenates our bodies as we plot our next ski-and-soak adventures.

Wolf Creek and the Springs Resort in Pagosa Springs come up, as do Steamboat and Strawberry Park, Purgatory and Trimble, and others. There are enough great pairings in Colorado to keep us skiing and soaking for many seasons to come.

It gets me thinking: At 11,960 feet above sea level atop Monarch Mountain, water provides a skiable surface that’s 32 degrees Fahrenheit or lower.

Come spring, the snowpack becomes snowmelt, some of which trickles into the fractured rock below. Scientific surveys have found the fluid for Mount Princeton’s springs comes from fractures that extend nearly two miles below the surface in the crystalline granite basement, and the volcanic heat source percolates it back above the ground.

At Mount Princeton Hot Springs Resort at 8,250 feet above sea level and about three-quarters of a vertical mile down from Monarch’s peak, the water in the reservoir below the pools is extremely hot: approaching 400 degrees. It’s still 120 degrees at the source springs on the surface, so it’s diluted with colder water for the pools. The soaking pool I’m in is 105 degrees.

As our bodies are 60 percent water, it all amounts to hot water gliding on frozen water then recovering in hotter water. Water is life, yes, but in this case it’s more than that. Water is transportation, water is sport, water is balm.

The steam parts again and my focus returns to the here and now.

“I’m starting to get a little pruned,” I tell my wife.

It takes a little doing, but we manage to slowly extract ourselves from the comfort of the pool and return to dry land and cold air.

I feel reborn, ready to take on another day of skiing, or pretty much anything else.

But first, I need to hydrate.

Photo by Noah Wetzel

More Ski & Soak Combos

Glenwood Springs
Sunlight Mountain Resort and Glenwood Hot Springs Resort While the world’s largest hot springs pool is hard to miss, Sunlight Mountain is a hidden gem. Located 13 miles south of Glenwood Hot Springs, it’s one of the most challenging small resorts in Colorado, with an impressive 2,000-foot vertical drop strung along a modest 700 acres. Glenwood Hot Springs’ big pool (1,071,000 gallons) is complemented by smaller, hotter pools along with a spa and lodging.

Pagosa Springs
Wolf Creek Ski Area and The Springs Resort & Spa Colorado’s snowiest resort is just 24 miles northeast of the world’s deepest hot spring, the Great Pagosah Spring (1,002 feet deep). The spring feeds 24 pools (ranging from 83 degrees to 114 degrees) at the resort, with rooms in a reinvented 1950s motel and a slick new luxury lodge. At Wolf Creek, the legendary powder comes in the form of 430 inches of snowfall in an average year. While it’s known as extreme, more than half the runs are rated beginner or intermediate.

Steamboat Springs
Steamboat Resort and Strawberry Park Hot Springs Strawberry Park’s picture-perfect setting is just the nightcap after a day making turns in Steamboat’s champagne powder. With 165 named trails on nearly 3,000 acres and a precipitous 3,668-foot vertical drop, it’s a place you can ski over and over again and still find something new. The 101- to 105-degree pools are situated in a spectacular setting along Hot Springs Creek, with accommodations in the form of campsites, cabins, and a converted caboose.