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Billy Block skis down a groomed run at Monarch Mountain ski area on Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019. (Gazette file photo)

A go-to ski area for southern Coloradans is opening Thursday.

Monarch Mountain, one of the state's few ski areas not making snow, thanked Mother Nature in announcing its kickoff to the season on the first day of December. She's dropped about nine inches of snow the past week, adding to a 19-inch base and a season total close to 40 inches on the mountain, according to the ski area's report Wednesday.

A news release said recent storms have provided enough coverage to run four of the ski area's seven lifts: Caterpillar, Tumbelina, Panorama and Pioneer. They'll be turning from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday. More snow is forecasted for Friday.

Since the pandemic, Monarch, like local hills across the nation, has reported more visitation than ever. Heading into winter, a spokesperson for the ski area, Dan Bender, said preseason pass sales were outpacing last year's record. The base's formerly dirt parking lot has been paved to better define spots.

"There's some growth in the state," Bender said. "But more than anything, I think people are just liking these independently run ski areas."

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For those without a pass, Wednesday's news release recommended buying tickets online in advance — a cheaper option than buying at the window. An adult ticket for Thursday was listed at $69.

The news release added the ski area will host an inventory reduction sale over the weekend at the Monarch Crest — the building up the road from the ski area base.

In October, operators announced acquiring the building and historic, scenic tramway. The plan is to renovate the space and potentially open a restaurant, while in the meantime using the parking lot for employees and overflow on high-demand days.

"We anticipate we'll need that space up there," Bender said.