Warmer than average temperatures and a lack of snowfall could push back Sunlight Mountain Resort’s opening day, but staff remain hopeful for a Dec. 10 opening, a Sunlight spokesperson said.
“We’ve been able to make snow on some of the colder mornings up here,” said Troy Hawks, Sunlight’s marketing and sales director. “We started our snowmaking preparations about two weeks ago with testing the systems. Since then, when we see a small window of opportunity, we turn the snow guns on.”
The National Weather Service has no historical snowfall data for the resort during the off season, but NWS Meteorologist Megan Stackhouse said during November the agency recorded zero snowfall in Glenwood Springs and less than an inch in Carbondale.
“We’re in a La Nina pattern, so many of the systems coming through are weak and preceded by warmer than usual temperatures,” Stackhouse explained.
On average, Glenwood Springs receives about 4 inches of snow and more than an inch of precipitation in November. This year, however, Stackhouse said the area received less than an inch of precipitation and no snow.
Like many ski resorts, Sunlight makes its own snow to supplement natural snowfall. But the process calls for cold temperatures, which have been scarce so far.
“In the last two weeks, we’ve probably only seen about six days where we could make snow,” Hawks said.
Snow making typically occurs from 3-9 a.m. when temperatures are lower than 28 degrees.
“We’d like to be able to turn it on and leave it for a couple weeks like we normally do,” Hawks said. “But it’s just not cold enough this year.”
Despite being among the smallest snow-making operations in the state, Sunlight’s mountain manager, Mike Baumli, was recognized in 2019 as Colorado Ski Country’s snow maker of the year.
In recent years, the resort invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in upgrading its snowmaking operation for efficiency and output. The upgrades included two additional ponds, containing about 1 million gallons each for the snow makers to use, Hawks said.
So far this season, he said the resort has used about 500,000 gallons of water to create the first layers of snow.
“Turning the system on and off right now is much less efficient than we’d like,” Hawks said. “But, we’re remaining hopeful that we can at least open the Tercero Lift on Dec. 10.”
Hawks said the date of opening day could change if cold temperatures don’t settle in soon.
Sam Brager skis Sunlight with his 10-year-old son, Donavin, as often as he can, but he said this year could be a challenge.
“At this point of the year, I’ve usually snuck in at least one skin hike, but not this year,” Brager said, explaining a skin hike is when a skier wraps their skis in “skins,” allowing them to climb the slope without need for a chair lift.
Born in Wisconsin, Brager learned to ski at age 2.
“Even during a dry year like this, I won’t quit for some other hobby,” he said. “You just gotta enjoy the snow in front of you and not look at the forecast as much, because it will bum you out.”
Brager said his gut doesn’t believe the warmer temperatures will impact the entire ski season, but it’s at odds with his head, which thinks this season might continue to be dry. Either way, he plans to hit the slopes as often as possible.
“There’s nothing like strapping two boards to your feet and sliding down the mountain,” Brager said.
The good news for Brager, Hawks and snow enthusiasts throughout the valley is colder weather could be on the way, Stackhouse said.
“There is hope of a stronger system moving into the region early next week,” she said. “It’s early, and things can still change, but it’s the first hope of cool enough temps for snow this season.”
Reporter Ike Fredregill can be reached at 970-384-9154 or by email at email@example.com.