Sunlight Resort looks ahead after COVID closure sours season

Glenwood Springs Post Independent staff report
Skiers and riders fill Primo lift at Sunlight Mountain during the 35th annual skier appreciation day.
Kyle Mills / Post Independent file

Sunlight Mountain Resort is predicting a 25% to 30% decrease in overall revenue for the 2019-20 season, but staff still found something to smile about.

With the uncertainty of the pandemic, Sunlight has an updated season pass policy called the Sunlight Smile Guarantee, Sunlight sales and marketing director Troy Hawks said in an email.

If Sunlight is open less than 50% of its planned 2020-21 season, passholders may be eligible for a 50% discount on 2021-22 season passes. If Sunlight is open 50% to 74% of the season, the discount drops to 25%, Hawks said.

“The words ‘may be eligible’ are included in the Sunlight Smile Guarantee primarily as an indication that should the circumstances arise, we will look at each season pass transaction on a case-by-case basis to confirm that each season pass does indeed qualify for a particular credit, refund or no refund,” Hawks said.

“If it turns out we are closed, say, 52% of our season, we will review our policy and determine the appropriate credit at that time,” he said.

There will be no discount offered if Sunlight is open 75% or more of its planned season, as was the case in 2019-20. Sunlight was closed for 22 days out of its planned 114-day season, which means it was open for 80% of its season.

While that’s 20% shorter than the resort planned to be open, those three weeks included spring break, so it affected revenue by a greater percentage.

“Spring break is our second-most important period in terms of revenue,” Hawks said. “Our out-of-state and international guests generally ski here two to four days during their stay.”

Prior to COVID-19, Sunlight was having an excellent year, Hawks said.

“At the end of February, our revenues were on-pace to eclipse that of our 2018-19 season, which was the best season on record in terms of revenues in Sunlight’s 53-year history. … Strong season pass sales last season (up more than 40 percent) has played a primary role in helping us weather this storm so far,” Hawks said.

Sunlight’s finances also were helped by strong sales in the downtown bike shop, Hawks said.

“Our revenues are ahead of budget at Sunlight Ski & Bike, attributable to strong demand for bikes in April and May. Success at our downtown shop helps offset expenses we incur at the mountain as we have staff employed doing our regular lift maintenance, etc.,” he said.

And it wasn’t just revenue that got a boost.

“This spring there was so much uncertainty that the strong response at our downtown shop really infused our entire company with confidence,” Hawks said.

Sunlight expects to escape the pandemic slightly on the positive side financially, Hawks said.

“Our fiscal year ends at the end of August, and we do anticipate closing the year in the black, but not by a large margin,” he said.

The resort has reserves to dip into for next season, but doing so comes at a cost.

“We will head into the 2020-21 with financial reserves that we can tap into for payroll or other operational expenses as needed as next season unfolds. Unfortunately some of those funds are being drawn from the reserve we intended to dedicate toward the installation of a new $4 million lift on East Ridge,” Hawks said.

Work is still being done on the project, though.

“The East Ridge Expansion is in progress (Phase II) this summer with trail crews doing more glading east of Perry’s Plunge. There will be additional glading within our existing terrain in concert with Forest Service mitigation efforts,” Hawks said.

Even without a lift, the new terrain will be available this winter, Hawks said.

“For the coming season skiers and riders can look forward to limited shuttle service from the new East Ridge terrain, returning them to the lifts. We are still working out details, but on days that we are able and when snow conditions warrant it, we plan to have a shuttle available near our lower lot, making it a cinch for skiers and riders to return to the lifts after scoring fresh powder on lower East Ridge,” he said.

And that would probably put a smile on anyone’s face.

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