Sunlight skier visits up 6 percent | AspenTimes.com

Sunlight skier visits up 6 percent

Pete Fowler
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” Sunlight Mountain Resort saw about 6 percent more skiers and snowboarders last winter compared to the previous season, but the mountain still sees far fewer than it did in the late 1990s.

Sunlight posted 78,010 skier visits in the 2007-08 season compared to 73,567 the season before, according to Colorado Ski Country USA.

“We had 6 percent growth, which is all right,” said general manager Tom Jankovsky. “As good as the snow was we would have always liked to have been better.”

A skier visit is one person participating in skiing or snowboarding for any part of one day.

Jankovsky said the great snow and strong local skiers were among the highlights of last winter, with Sunlight receiving more than 300 inches of snow. The resort averages 250 inches a year.

Sunlight saw more skier visits in part as a result of growth that’s occurred in western Garfield County. Some 23 percent of skier visits last winter came from Rifle, Jankovsky said. Typically 10 to 15 percent of the skier visits come from the Front Range.

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“Our Glenwood skiers were out, but where we saw growth was in the west end of the county,” he said. “We’re actually skiing more people from New Castle to Rifle than we do from Glenwood Springs.”

Sunlight recently peaked at 92,382 skier visits in the 2002-03 season. But Jankovsky said the highest number reached was about 102,000 skier visits in the winters of 1996-97 and 1997-98.

“We think we’ve lost some of our market share just to the age of our infrastructure,” he said.

Many hope that planned development at Sunlight could revitalize the resort. The area’s Primo lift came from the closed “Glenwood Park” area on Red Mountain in 1967. Aspen Skiing Co. donated the Segundo lift for use in the 1973-74 season, and the Tercero lift started up in 1986, according an application for a planned unit development.

“Sunlight Mountain Resort has been long overdue for more lifts, more trails, and improved, expanded base facilities,” the application says. “Until such improvements occur, when compared to other surrounding ski areas, Sunlight will be viewed as the ‘circa 1980s area’ it is. Sunlight cannot survive solely on business from locals and the existing loyal visitor base.”

Plans include ski area enhancements like new lifts, new terrain, more snowmaking, more lodging, employee housing, commercial development and three small mixed-use villages to be connected by gondola to the base of the ski area. Plans called for some 830 housing units. About 50 would be employee housing.

Developers plan for Sunlight to become a “first class medium size area” yet maintain “the core essence of what Sunlight is and always has been – a locally supported winter recreation area that is closely linked to the Glenwood Springs community,” the application says.

Jankovsky said development plans go before the Garfield County Planning and Zoning Commission on Sept. 24. The sale of Sunlight to a Florida-based company called Exquisite Development is contingent on county approvals to develop the resort. Financial terms of the sale are confidential, but the resort went up for an asking price of $50 million.

Snowmass received 771,455 skier visits last winter and Vail got more than 1.56 million. The 2007-08 season was Colorado’s second best ever with about 12.54 million skier visits. Colorado represented roughly 20 percent of the national market share in the ski industry, Ski Country USA said.

pfowler@postindependent.com

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