By Troy Hawks
Those that know Greg Ralph, marketing director at Monarch Mountain, know that 90 percent of the time there is an air of humor to his words.
“No…I’m not interested in buying an ad in your paper…you’ve done a great job of explaining it, I get it, but I’m sorry…I’ve got some things in front of me here and I’ve gotta go now,” he says to a person persisting on the other end of the phone. Ralph hangs up, lets out a “sheesh,” and then continues with the same comedic undertone.
“C’mon, really…are you serious,” he asks rhetorically. “Hollywood, why would I want to advertise in Hollywood…I mean really…did he bother to do any research?”
The headquarters of Monarch’s marketing department also doubles as a seldom used ticket sales office. The blinds are normally kept drawn, and an impressive line-up of skis sit in a homemade wooden rack fastened to a half wall a few feet behind a row of three cashier stations. Behind the wall of trophy skis, hides Ralph’s desk with a spattering of ski clothes strewn on office furniture.
The guy on the phone was an ad sales rep for a print publication serving Tinsel Town, the land of the rich and famous that lies about 1,000 miles due west. But you might as well tack on another 9,000 miles because the two places really are that far apart in terms of culture, or lack thereof. If you see a fur coat at Monarch, chances are its faux and intended as a costume.
What the locals love most about Monarch, is what the Hollywood types dread: her tough-love high-alpine hairy side. The ski area’s 800 acres sit on the Continental Divide at just under 12,000 feet in the Sawatch Range in the San Isabel National Forest. Monarch is a consummate example of a small hill that skis big. About 43 percent of its skiable terrain is designated as expert, and 130 aces is hike-to terrain. Monarch’s cat ski operation accesses another 1,000 plus acres of steeps, trees, cliffs, and bowls. Throughout, skiers and riders can access runs as long as 1,200 vertical feet.
One of the Monarch’s most pioneering accomplishments is the One Planet – One Pass, a season pass that offers “more areas and more variety than any other pass in the universe.” This season the pass costs $529 and includes skiing privileges at 12 other ski areas in Colorado, and more than 20 additional ski areas in North America and Europe.
About the only time Hollywood shows up here is to shoot movie footage set against the spectacular mountainous backdrops. Last fall a Universal Studios film crew shot scenes for “Fast & Furious 7,” a movie scheduled to be released this summer. The cast includes Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Vin Diesel, Jason Statham and Paul Walker. Ralph says the crew’s month-long stay while shooting footage on Old Monarch Pass Road helped boost the local economy.
There is a noticeable air of individualism, liberalism, doggedness, and determination among the people and places of the Arkansas Valley. These are the grounds of the Wild West. People were skiing here as far back as 1914, and the ski area officially opened in 1939. Monarch embodies all of those traits, while also distinguishing itself as a Colorado Ski Country Gem and a paradigm of authentic ski heritage. It’s the stuff of Hollywood, and as Ralph teaches us, you don’t have to buy ad space to prove it.