Community profile: Sunlight’s Joe Sims wears multiple hats to help keep mountain operations in top form
If you’re not lucky enough to have the head of the Sunlight Mountain Resort Ski School himself as your ski instructor, there’s a good chance Joe Sims might greet you in the parking lot or point you in the right direction at the top of the stairs to get your day on the slopes started.
And if you see a new structure on the mountain or notice that something’s been spruced up at the base lodge during the off-season, good chance that’s Sims’ handy work also.
As a 25-year veteran employee of Sunlight Mountain, Sims is one of those “man of many hats” who steps in wherever needed on a given day to help keep things running smoothly.
“He’s always willing to jump in and help everyone, and he knows pretty much everything about ski area operations,” Sunlight General Manager Tom Hays said. “He’s a lift mechanic when he needs to be, and a carpenter when he needs to be, you name it.”
“And he just always keeps a super positive attitude to do what is best for our customers.”
Sims got his start as a ski instructor at his hometown resort right out of college, after graduating from what was then known as Mesa State College (now Colorado Mesa University) in Grand Junction.
He quickly ascended to a supervisory position, and within five years was named director of the Sunlight Ski and Snowboard School.
“I actually ski raced in high school, so I had a passion for the sport already,” said the Glenwood Springs High School alum. “I didn’t know that it would be my career path, but teaching skiing is definitely a passion that I have. And, it’s fun.”
A builder by trade along with his father, Bill Sims, and brother, Bob Sims, Joe Sims is also the head of construction at Sunlight.
Sims, 49, grew up locally, living and attending school in Glenwood Springs but also spending a lot of time at the family-owned guest ranch, the Diamond J, located up the Frying Pan Valley outside of Basalt.
There, he and his brothers honed their construction skills alongside their dad.
After high school he was off to Mesa State where he earned a degree in communications. He applied that skill doing internships at KSPN radio in Aspen and KREX TV in Grand Junction.
“I’ve always had a love for music, and so radio kind of pushed me that way,” Sims said. “So, I did a little bit of work in radio, but then when I got into teaching skiing I loved it so much and it just kind of took off from there.”
On the side and during the summers he would build houses with his brother, who is a general contractor.
Eventually, he built a house in Glenwood Springs for his own family, including wife Sara and two children, son Jacob and daughter Grace, who both attend GSHS.
The house includes an accessory unit where his parents, Bill and Martha, live. His oldest brother, Chuck, also lives with them. Sara works as the executive director of Mountain Valley Developmental Services based in Glenwood Springs.
Naturally, those construction skills came in handy at Sunlight, where Sims is in charge of any building project, repair or renovation that comes along from season to season.
Ski School yurt opens
The big project for the 2022-23 season was to build a new deck next to the on-mountain rental shop at the top of the main stairs, which now houses a yurt.
On Tuesday last week, Sims was busy putting some of the finishing touches on the inside of the yurt, which will provide a dedicated space to handle ski and snowboard rentals for people who are registered for lessons.
The yurt itself was purchased from the Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park, and preparations for the deck took some significant excavating on the downslope toward the parking lot to accommodate.
“The reason for this is just for more space for the rental operations,” Sims said. “That’s our bottleneck when people come up here, and it tends to get backed up in the rental department.”
To help move things along, especially for customers who are awaiting a lesson and have a time constraint, all the paperwork and fitting for that group of clients will take place in the yurt.
“I’m literally just now buttoning up little things in here, so we can finish up before the inventory comes in,” he said.
“There’s nothing more I can’t stand than watching people stand around waiting, so this will really help speed things up and get people out on the hill as quickly as possible.”
In coordination with Hays and Mountain Manager Ross Terry, Sims helps oversee a crew of about a dozen construction workers over the summer, and a regular maintenance crew during the ski season.
Other projects that will be noticeable for the season are the new digital trail map signs at the bottom and top of the mountain, and a few upgrades in the kitchen area of the base lodge cafeteria.
On the slopes
Sims’ true passion is teaching people how to ski.
The Sunlight Ski and Snowboard School has about 60 instructors altogether, with around a dozen of them giving lessons at a given time.
“The majority of what we teach here are beginners,” Sims said. “That’s the exciting thing for me is to see somebody learn something new in the span of just a couple of hours. That beginner lesson is very important, from just learning how to ride the lift to skiing down and turning a little.”
Lessons are two hours each in the morning and afternoon, and oftentimes those who take a morning lesson will upgrade to an afternoon lesson, he said.
Sims has a particular passion for teaching people with disabilities, including children with autism or developmental or physical disabilities.
“That’s where my heart really lies in this, is people with disabilities,” he said. “Our theory with ski instruction is, if you can walk, you can ski. But I’ve had people who can’t walk who are able to ski.”
With the assistance of adaptive ski equipment, like ski bikes or seated mono-ski sleds, or through the use of specially trained guides for people who are vision-impaired, more and more people with disabilities are finding their way to the slopes.
“Getting that group of people out on the mountain and teaching that specialized set of skills is a lot of fun,” Sims said.
In recent years, Sims has helped with the Kirstie Ennis Foundation’s Women Vets Snowboarding Clinic, held at Sunlight in January. The program is back for two dates this season.
Over the years, Sims has taught beginner skiers as young as 2 or 3, including his own children, and as old as 90.
“I get to share my passion with them, and they really enjoy it a lot,” he said of his own teen-aged children who now help at Sunlight, as well.
“We see a lot of people coming up to give it a try that are in their 60s and 70s, which is fun to see,” Sims said. “That’s my thing is, if you have the motivation and you’re willing to try it, let’s do it.”
Hays notes that the Ski and Snowboard School and the Children’s Education Center at Sunlight have both grown about 50% since the pandemic under Sims’ direction.
“That’s a combination of affordable rates and excellent instructors,” Hays said.
At $155 for a two-hour lesson plus a lift ticket and a rental package, Sims said it’s hard to beat that in an industry that’s gotten more and more expensive.
It’s one of those things that makes Sunlight unique in that world.
“I have a special spot in my heart for Sunlight,” Sims said. “It’s important to me, and I want to see it succeed. And to make it a fun place for people to come and experience skiing and snowboarding.”
Post Independent interim Managing Editor and senior reporter John Stroud can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 970-384-9160.
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