Ski season is finally here |

Ski season is finally here

Pete Fowler
Post Independent
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Chad Spangler Post Independent

SUNLIGHT, Colorado ” Snowboarders Michael Moser and Skyler Kemp kicked off Sunlight Mountain Resort’s opening day with turns on the mountain instead of classes at Riverside Middle School.

The 11-year-olds were psyched to be at Sunlight instead of a classroom. They were standing second in line for the chairlifts before 9 a.m. smiling in the 20 degree weather. They weren’t ditching school though. Riverside wasn’t in session because Friday was a teacher’s work day.

Kemp likes taking runs through trees at Sunlight and said the resort has always been fun. Moser agreed and said with a hint of scorn, “Aspen’s for rich people.”

Tom McBrayer, who lives between Carbondale and Redstone, took the honor of riding the first chair up and skiing his way into the 2008-2009 season.

McBrayer said it’s his 39th consecutive appearance for Sunlight’s opening days. Sunlight opened 42 years ago in December 1966.

McBrayer grew up in Glenwood Springs and is a minority shareholder in Sunlight and a former resort employee. He used to make it back to Glenwood Springs for Sunlight’s opening days when he was younger and attending college on the Front Range. He now takes days off work to carry on the tradition.

He likes Sunlight in part for its small, community-based character, and because it’s conveniently located and not overly crowded. He gets to know the lift operators each year. But he also likes the terrain.

“(Sunlight) is nostalgic but it’s a fine little ski area,” he said. “When it’s got snow it’s as good as anywhere.”

McBrayer is not upset by Sunlight’s efforts to sell the resort to a company that wants to develop an expanded base village. He doesn’t worry about the resort changing its character. He said he understands the needs of the resort for the future and supports the management’s efforts to improve business.

Sunlight has said it needs the development to survive long term and fund on-mountain improvements like new lifts, a mountain-top restaurant, more snowmaking and more terrain, among other things. The development proposal is going before county commissioners next month.

He hears people talking about how Sunlight needs to put in new hi-speed lifts, but he joked, “I’m old enough I need the rest.”

Despite recession in the U.S., Sunlight marketing manager Dylan Lewis said the resort hired about 150 to 170 seasonal employees for the 2008-2009 season, which is a similar range to previous years. The resort also has around 40 full-time employees.

Sunlight opened with 18 inches of snow at the top and 12 inches groomed into corduroy at the bottom. No fresh snow was reported Wednesday or Thursday. But a potentially huge storm was brewing with over a foot of snow possible for the weekend.

“It’s not ideal conditions of course, but we’re glad we could open,” Lewis said.

“Saturday night is the night that could really open it up for us.”

The Tercero and Primo lifts were taking skiers and snowboarders to a limited amount of terrain including five runs Friday. A planned opening day last weekend was pushed back a week after the resort didn’t receive enough snow and temperatures hadn’t been cold enough for the resort to do enough snowmaking.

A lift-ops for LIFT-UP offer goes through this weekend. People who bring in a grocery bag of food for charity today or Sunday get $25 off an adult lift ticket. Sunlight released a cryptic clue for its Glenwood Springs Mall Treasure Hunt. The clue was, “Set your sights and compasses in the direction of new opportunity. If you don’t find today, there will be no hurray.” The clue leads to a box hidden somewhere on the mountain with $500 and a pass for next season.

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