Last weekend to shine at Sunlight
Special to the Post Independent
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
SUNLIGHT MOUNTAIN RESORT, Colorado – Tammy Gabriel showed up at Sunlight on Thursday wearing shorts and flip flops. It was warm enough that the Silt resident had her summer garb on.
“I changed out of my flip flops into my ski boots,” she said with a smile. “People think that it’s cold up here because there’s still snow on the ground. I’ve seen people wearing jackets and even ski masks. But they don’t keep that stuff on for long. It’s beautiful up here.”
Such a beautiful day was an ideal time to ski for the very first time.
Two-year-old Caitlyn Glunz of Chicago took her inaugural turn on the slopes, with her more seasoned big sister, 5-year-old Ellie, and her parents, Karen and Joe Glunz. The family was in town visiting the girls’ aunt and uncle, Brian and Shannon Abernethy of Glenwood Springs.
Spring break week is winding up for public schools in Garfield County, as well as other schools across the state and the country. But while the warm weather is drawing crowds to the Glenwood Hot Springs Pool, those who are skiing and riding – or just hanging out in the sun on the Sunlight Lodge’s deck – have the mountain pretty much to themselves.
At the bottom of Primo lift, a lift operator known simply as “Travis” made a head-count guesstimate.
“Counting you?” he said, as he loaded this skiing reporter onto a chair. “Like, four.”
“No, really, there are probably about 50 people here today,” he said.
Not one of those 50 people needed to worry about waiting in a lift line. A few people in alpine touring gear were avoiding the lifts altogether, doing the reverse commute, heading uphill under their own power.
Up on the nearly deserted hill, there was almost the feel of a belonging to a private club without any of the pretentiousness. The occasional skier and boarder could be spotted picking a line around big bare patches, carving turns in wet snow that had the consistency of slushy, slightly sticky glue.
Turn after turn, the distinctive sound of “shhhh-shhhh-shhhh” made it clear that the snow underfoot was melting fast. In fact, several runs – among them, Showdown and the bottom part of Beaujolais – had more exposed ground than snow left on them.
Around noon, the Cowan family from Superior – Ross and Lisa Cowan and their kids Ryley, 12, Corbin, 10, and Chase, 6 – was having lunch and sharing a picnic table on Sunlight’s big wooden deck. The Cowans were in Glenwood Springs for a few days on a little ski holiday.
“I’ve skied all my life and I’ve skied all over Colorado,” said dad Ross, “but I’ve never skied Sunlight before. I think it’s the best-kept secret in Colorado. There are plenty of steeps, and lots of places that the kids can ski, too. It’s got something for all abilities.”
“I like the weather!” Corbin interjected, as he peeled off his sweater in the 50-degree heat.
“It’s a fun, quaint and family-oriented place,” said mom Lisa. “It’s a perfect place to go while the ski season is winding down. There aren’t a ton of people here, so the kids even got a private lesson today.”
“Well, not totally private,” said Corbin. “It was me and my sister. But we were the only ones.”
A few tables over, the kids’ instructor, Jack Petersen of Glenwood Springs, was sitting with friends having lunch, too.
“I moved to Glenwood seven years ago, and that’s when I started teaching skiing here.” Petersen said. “I taught adaptive skiing in Minnesota.”
Joining Petersen were Lynn McConnell of Battlement Mesa, Michael Blackett of Paonia and Tammy Gabriel of Silt.
“This is what spring skiing is all about,” said Gabriel. “The conditions are good. It gets a little soft by 10, but this is spring skiing.”
For Blackett, a self-described ski bum, the sun may be out and the snow may be melting fast, but as long as the lifts are running, he’ll be on them.
“I’ve skied 120 days this season,” Blackett said, “but I’m not done yet. Actually I’m dual discipline – I ski and board. You’ve got to be disciplined about something!”
One thing Blackett is extremely disciplined about is sunscreen.
“It’s Neutrogena Face Shield,” he said, holding up his sunblock with an SPF rating of 110. After two bouts of skin cancer, Blackett is adamant about keeping his skin protected – especially at the high elevation under the late-March sun.
McConnell drives the Rifle Recreation bus, transporting skiers and riders to and from Sunlight to Silt, Rifle and Parachute.
“What I love about Sunlight is that all you have to do is open your mouth and say hello and you meet the greatest people from all over,” McConnell said. “Today there’s a gal here from Egypt. She’s here with her kids. I’ve met people here from New Zealand, the Ukraine, and South America. It’s incredible who finds their way here.”
Gabriel said even though Sunlight attracts people from all over, its appeal to locals is undeniable.
“This is such a locals’ mountain,” said Gabriel, looking around the deck and up the mountain. “I think people come up here as much for skiing and snowboarding as the social element.”
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Interstate 70 through Glenwood Canyon closed around 9 p.m. Thursday for a flash flood warning.