Fresh snow shines at Sunlight’s opening day | AspenTimes.com

Fresh snow shines at Sunlight’s opening day

John Stroud
Post Independent

Fresh snow and lots of smiles greeted Sunlight Mountain Resort skiers and snowboarders on opening day Friday — one of the earliest openings on record for the Glenwood Springs-area ski resort.

"It was fun! It was powder!" exclaimed the Rev. Wendy Huber, priest at St. Barnabas', St. John's and All Saints Episcopal Churches in Glenwood Springs, New Castle and Battlement Mesa, respectively.

Huber gave the opening blessing to kick off the 2018-19 ski season at Sunlight, which began a three-day weekend stretch with just the Midway run available for skiing and the lower Tercero lift running.

"It was amazing to be here in the middle of a snowstorm opening Sunlight with the blessing of the ski lifts," she said, as light snow fell during the mid-morning hours. "We're ready for more snow, and we hope our blessing will keep it going."

If the near-term forecast is any indication, those prayers may very well be answered.

According to the National Weather Service, a weekend winter storm was expected to bring as much as another 9 inches of snow to the Sunlight area Friday night and into Saturday, with an additional 6 inches to a foot of snow by Sunday morning.

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Huber, a season-pass holder at Sunlight, spread the fragrance of incense down Midway run for her inaugural turns on the hill.

"I went really slowly so I didn't crash with the thurible," she joked.

EXTRA SPECIAL DAY

Edyn Goscha of Glenwood Springs came up with her dad for a few celebratory turns in honor of her 7th birthday. Before hitting the lift, though, she carefully selected a pink-frosted doughnut with sparkles from the free box of Sweet Coloradough goodness that was available for the handful of early birds who rose for first chair.

Ashley Ditlow and her daughter, Sedona, also were among the first to shred the newly fallen snow.

"I'm just glad it's snowing on the first day," Ditlow said. "I think it means it's going to be a great year."

Christian Hiller certainly hopes that will be the case, as not only a regular snowboarder but a Sunlight employee, too.

"It's not too bad, and it's looking like it's going to be a good season," Hiller said. "With the weather being as it is, we've been able to make snow for a while, so this is great."

EARLIEST OPENING SINCE Y2K

Sunlight last opened on Thanksgiving weekend in 2014, and has had enough early-season snow in other past years to justify a preview weekend opening or two before the usual full-time opening on the first or second December weekend.

But, with the Thanksgiving holiday falling extra early on the calendar this year, Sunlight General Manager Tom Hays said it's the earliest opening since at least 2000, when the area had a pre-Thanksgiving opening Nov. 18.

"We're set to go, and really thankful in this Thanksgiving season to be able to open this early," Hays said Friday morning. "We're really excited … and, so far, the snow has been coming just like the forecasters said it would."

Troy Hawks, sales and marketing director for Sunlight, recalled that in most years after he moved to Colorado in 1992, "you could usually count on having enough snow for Thanksgiving to start skiing.

"So, this feels great. It feels like an old-school Colorado winter."

Hawks said a Thanksgiving weekend opening for Sunlight, at least on the lower part of the mounting, could become the norm as a result of the new snowmaking equipment the resort has invested in.

"This year, we were able to make more snow with less energy and less water, and we've just had prime conditions," he said. "It was cold, it was dry with no rain and no wind, so it went right where we wanted it to."

Another couple of good storms, and Sunlight should be able to open some of the upper terrain.

"If we get a good batch of 6, 8, 10 inches on top of what we have already, it's game on," Hawks said. "Certainly, we like how it's trending."

Given that last season was one of the worst snow years in 40 years, Hawks said Sunlight weathered through it pretty well.

"We came out OK, and we made a profit, so we didn't lose money," he said. "We saw that as a pretty positive thing."

A recent survey of Sunlight visitors found that the biggest cohorts of people are those who have been skiing Sunlight for four year or more, and even more so those who've been skiing the local area for more than 10 years.

"It tells you they understand the industry," Hawk said of that loyal base of skiers. "They've seen good seasons, and they've seen bad seasons, and they've stuck with us, because they know it's still an easy drive to their hometown hill, with no lift lines and free parking."

jstroud@postindependent.com

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