Sunlight offers sneak preview this weekend

John Stroud
Glenwood Springs Post Independent
Ski tech manager Bob Bair works with other techs to ready the rental skis at the Sunlight Mountain Resort rental shop on Wednesday afternoon.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

How much snow does Sunlight have right now?

It’s hard to know for sure after a bear wreaked havoc on the resort’s measuring stake, but there’s at least enough for a sneak preview before the official opening Dec. 13.

The ski area is set to open Friday, one week ahead of schedule, but just for the weekend through Sunday. The area will be closed Monday to Thursday next week before opening full-time, Sunlight officials announced Wednesday.

Skiing and snowboarding will be limited to the middle part of the mountain down to the base lodge off of the Tercero lift, where snowmaking has been in full force since late October.

“The conditions are going to be great on what we have open,” Sunlight General Manager Tom Hays said. “We’ve been busy making snow, and it’s wall-to-wall on Midway. It’s a good chance to get out and do some tune-up runs.”

Last weekend’s high winds blew much of the snow at the very top of the mountain into the trees, he said.

But, with a little work and a good chance for some more snow Thursday, Sunlight may have top-to-bottom skiing by the following weekend.

“It’s great skiing now once you break over on the top, but we probably need another 6 to 8 inches to open that part of the mountain,” Hays said.

Sunlight received an additional 8-10 inches of snow in the most recent storms last week, said Troy Hawks, marketing and sales director for Sunlight.

“We do need to receive more snow in order to get more terrain open,” he emphasized in regard to the upper mountain closure. Sunlight also implemented a new paid uphill passport program for this season, so access onto the mountain is limited to pass holders only.

Snowmaking operations continue

“We estimate we’ve used about 50% of our available water supply, which bodes well for getting more terrain on the lower mountain covered,” Hawks said.

Sunlight opens in earnest a week from Friday with some special promotions, including a tempting deal for season passholders from any other resort.

Called the “Sunnystock,” anyone who shows a 2019-20 season pass from another ski resort the weekend of Dec. 13 to 15 can buy two Sunlight lift tickets for $69.

Also Dec. 13, Sunlight’s volunteer ski patrol plans to host a beer tasting with live music starting at 3 p.m. in the Sunlight Lodge.

Later this season, Sunlight plans to usher in a new era with the launch of its three-phase, $4 million expansion by opening five new runs on the East Ridge.

This summer, several tree glade areas were cleared along the existing Aligator Alleys, Deception, Defiance and Perry’s Plunge runs. Trees also were cleared below the Midland Traverse, adding about 500 new vertical feet to Lower Defiance and Lower Deception.

Phase 2 of the planned expansion calls for glading nearly 100 additional acres of forested area to the east of the existing ski area boundary where more runs will be added below Midland Traverse.

The run-out near Four Mile Creek will be hike-out only until a new fixed-grip lift is planned to be installed as part of phase 3.

“This is a multi-year effort, and while glading work is already underway, we are in the very early stages of a process that includes building a capital fund, negotiating additional financing, permitting processes with the county and Forest Service, mapping, planning and shopping for lifts,” Hays said in a news release.

Sunlight’s last expansion was in 1993 when the East Ridge area was opened up, adding more than a dozen new black and double-black expert runs.

The new lift would carry skiers up the mountain from just below Perry’s Plunge to an unloading station just above Beaujolais and Rebel.

Last season was Sunlight’s “best ever” in terms of revenue, Hawks said. The ski area measured more than 203 inches of snow, which helped Sunlight boost its skier and snowboarder visits 16% above its 10-year average, he said.

Another solid season would put Sunlight in a good position to continue funding the expansion project, Hays said.