Powderhounds take to slopes on Sunlight Mountain Resort’s opening day | PostIndependent.com

Powderhounds take to slopes on Sunlight Mountain Resort’s opening day

Snow flurries swirled through the Sunlight Mountain Resort parking lot Wednesday as Ashly Ditlow and her family piled out of their vehicle at 6:45 a.m.

Accompanied by her daughters, 13-year-old Bristol and 11-year-old Sedona, as well as her 19-year-old nephew, Nicolas Bray, Ashly Ditlow grinned at the prospect of securing the first spot on the Tercero chair lift for the fifth year in a row.

“It’s become a family tradition of ours,” she said. “The first year we came at 7 or 8 a.m., and there was only one person in front of us. I knew it would be easy for us to be the first from then on.”

This year, Ashly Ditlow gave up the coveted first chair to Bray, who’d never had the chance to be the first to break in the mountain.

Warming her hands on a steaming cup of hot chocolate in Sunlight’s cafeteria lounge, Bristol Ditlow’s braces gleamed through her wide smile as she watched skiers and snowboarders ride the lift up the mountain.

“Nicolas has been talking about this for at least three months,” she quipped. “It’s an accomplishment to be the first on the mountain.”

A true native of Sunlight, Bristol Ditlow learned to ski the mountain’s slopes at 3 years old. Later, she entered the Buddy Werner racing competition, but decided racing wasn’t her speed.

“Ski racing isn’t, like, my thing,” Bristol Ditlow said, faking a cringe as her mother snuck a sip of her hot chocolate. “I just like skiing now.”

Another record sales year

When the pandemic pushed everyone to the outdoors in 2020, Sunlight saw record-breaking season pass sales — a phenomenon they didn’t expect to repeat itself.

But, as of Wednesday, the resort set another record for pass sales, said Troy Hawks, the resort’s sales and marketing director.

“It’s been a solid opening day for our 55th season, we’ve seen about 100 skiers and snowboarders so far,” Hawks said. “And with all this fresh snow, we’ll be able to open more terrain by the weekend.”

Only Tercero Lift and Midway Run were available for use on opening day, largely due to lackluster snowfalls prior in the year and warmer than average temperatures.

Where other industries have struggled with labor shortages, Hawks said the resort didn’t have many troubles filling out its employee roster.

“We need a few more ski instructors,” he said. “But other than that, we’re fully staffed.”

A squall barnstorming the Rockies on Tuesday night dropped about 5 inches on the resort, creating a snow base about a foot deep, but Ski Patrol Director Tracy Leese said snowmaking crews are still working through the night.

“Please mind the closures — they are in place for a reason — there are some areas we can’t provide rescue to still,” Leese asked of users. “We’re encouraging people not to up-hill at night right now, because of the snowmaking, but Babbish Gulch is open 24/7.”

‘The mountain blesses us’

A large silver cross hung low over Rev. Kimberlee Law’s flowing white robes as she skied down the Midway Run.

Representing St. Barnabas’ Episcopal Church, 546 Hyland Park Drive, Law followed a decade-long tradition set by the priests serving before her by saying a blessing over the Tercero Lift on opening day.

“We bless the mountain, because the mountain blesses us,” Law said. “We pray for snow, safety and good times.”

A skier with 30 years of experience, Law said she’s skied Sunlight for the last couple years and loves the close-knit community of skiers who frequent the resort’s slopes.

“It’s a hidden gem of a mountain,” Law, adding with a chuckle, “I’m working on getting my congregation out here for a service on the slopes.”

Back in the resort’s lounge, Ashly Ditlow gathered her children as they prepared to take another run at the mountain.

“We were up at 4:30 a.m. this morning getting ready,” she said. “The girls love it. They usually ask to play hookie, so they can get in a couple runs. Their school was closed today, anyway, so it worked out.”

A Florida native, Ashly Ditlow learned to ski at 10 years old, when her family moved to Colorado’s Front Range. About a year later, they moved to the Roaring Fork Valley and Ashly Ditlow has been skiing ever since.

“I love it here at Sunlight,” she said. “It has such a small-town feel. We know everyone, and we’re able to just leave our gear here in the lounge while we ski with no worries at all.”

Gray clouds filled the valley, hiding most of the peaks, as the Ditlows donned their skis, wrapped head to toe in winter gear to protect against the biting wind.

“There’s at least 3 inches of fresh snow on top of the last time they plowed,” Ashly Ditlow said, pushing off toward the chair lift. “It’s like cutting through butter.”

Reporter Ike Fredregill can be reached at 970-384-9154 or by email at ifredregill@postindependent.com.

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