Sunlight casts 1st rays on season

Donna GrayGlenwood Springs correspondent

Sunlight Mountain Resort posted a stellar opening day Friday thanks to 50 inches of snow over the last week.Although happy about the great start to the season, general manager Tom Jankovsky said he is always looking for ways to promote the ski area south of Glenwood Springs.Ski areas across Colorado got a huge boost last week when millions of television viewers watched an NFL game between the Broncos and Raiders in a driving blizzard in Denver.”The Denver game helped everyone in the state. It sent the message that we have snow,” Jankovsky said.Although Sunlight is known as a locals’ area, much of its business comes from the Front Range as well as groups from as far as the Southeast. In a new promotion this year, the “big three” supermarkets on the Front Range – Albertsons, King Soopers and Safeway – are selling buy-one-get-one-free Sunlight lift tickets for $31. A full-day lift ticket is normally $36. Those discounted tickets will also be available at Albertsons, Safeway and City Markets in Grand Junction.Closer to home, Sunlight will also offer two-for-one lift tickets at select Stop and Save convenience stores in Grand Junction and New Castle with a gas fill up, for the month of January.Perhaps the best promotion Sunlight ever mounted came in 1987 when Aspen Mountain raised its lift prices to $37, Jankovsky said.”Everyone was outraged,” he said.To steer skiers away from Aspen, Sunlight launched a “ski, swim and stay” package that is still cheaper today than an all-day lift ticket at Aspen.The package includes a Sunlight lift ticket, admission to the Hot Springs Pool and a one-night stay (double occupancy) at a Glenwood Springs hotel for $57, Jankovsky said. “It’s key for the whole town for the winter. None of us could put that out by themselves.”Also key to growing skier numbers, and keeping loyal locals coming back year after year, is improving the skiing experience. Jankovsky said the ski area’s 10-year plan will see major upgrades at the base lodge and replacement of the chair lifts. Slopeside, Jankovsky wants to increase snowmaking at the resort.As a relatively low-elevation ski area – sitting between 8,000 and 9,000 feet in elevation, compared to Aspen Mountain, which tops out over 11,000 feet – Sunlight’s snowfall is uncertain. Jankovsky would like to see snowmaking equipment up to midway, and eventually at the top, of the mountain.”We’re now making snow to 8,500 feet to [the top of] Tercero lift. We’d like to make snow on Segundo [lift],” Jankovsky said. To do that, the ski area needs to store water for the snowmaking machines. A reservoir in nearby Babbish Gulch would fit the bill, but that would require an environmental assessment and permit since it would be on Forest Service land.”It’s been done by other ski areas on Forest Service [land],” he said. With the reservoir, “we could move the snowmaking up the hill.”With a combination of strong marketing and good business practice, Sunlight’s lift ticket remains the second cheapest in the state, behind Ski Cooper near Leadville, Jankovsky said.