Sunday Profile: Love for skiing snowballs into an amazing career for Sunlight GM Tom Hays [with video]
January 12, 2019
Skiing has been a life-long passion for Sunlight Mountain Resort General Manger Tom Hays.
Hays can't recall missing a season since he strapped on his first set of sticks over five decades ago.
A native of Colorado Springs, Hays first learned to ski at 11, at Ski Broadmoor, a now-defunct ski area in Colorado Springs.
"I took lessons at night," Hays said. "It was so cold my feet hurt, but I ended up loving it. I've been skiing ever since."
“I remember skiing on wooden skis, with screw-in edges, lace-up boots and cable bindings.”
— Tom Hays, Sunlight Resort general manager
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His commitment and affection for the winter activity grew with each passing day as a young man.
Although his parents weren't skiers, Hays was able to find friends who shared his interest for the sport.
Hays and his sixth grade teacher, who was a national ski patrol member, used to talk skiing any chance they could. He thought being a ski patrol member wouldn't be a bad way to spend the cold winter months in Colorado.
"First off, I love the thought of being able to go out and ski all the time," Hays said. "When I was 15, I joined the national ski patrol as junior patroller. I've been a patroller since."
Hays worked at Holiday Hills at the base of Pikes Peak throughout his high school years.
"The more I learned about it, I really enjoyed helping people on the slope," Hays added.
FINDING THE ROARING FORK VALLEY
Hays remembers coming to the valley for the first time with his dad around the time Snowmass opened up.
"He was doing construction work there, so I tagged along," Hays said.
Hays attended Western State College in Gunnison, where he studied geology and business.
Hays fell in love with the area and moved to Carbondale in 1977 with his wife Marilyn. The couple, who have been married now for 45 years, have three grown children and eight grandchildren who all live in the surrounding area.
"The recreation opportunities are great. We can fly fish, hike and ski," Hays said.
Hays owned and operated a custom cabinet shop for 26 years in the valley.
In the winter of 1982, he started working as a volunteer ski patroller at what was then known as Ski Sunlight.
"I knew I wanted to ski the rest of my life and patrol as much as I could at the time," Hays said, adding he really got into learning about avalanche and avalanche mitigation.
"That has really been my passion for most of my patrol career," Hays said.
For seven years in the 1990s, Hays served as the Avalanche Program advisor for the Rocky Mountain Division of the National Ski Patrol.
part of the sunlight family
In 2006, he started working full time for Sunlight as the mountain operations manager, and six years later he was promoted to assistant general manager alongside longtime former GM Tom Jankovsky.
"He's always been a top end professional, working ski patrol and all the other departments he has worked for," said Kevin Horch, manager of Sunlight Ski and Bike Shop in downtown Glenwood Springs.
Horch, who has worked for Sunlight for 23 years, said he has known Hays the entire time.
"Since he has become my boss, I've seen that same professionalism come my way, helping me in the rental and retail department," he said.
With the retirement of Jankovsky, who just entered his third term as Garfield County commissioner, Hays was named the new general manager in September of last year.
"I never really expected to move up to the GM — Tom Jankovsky has done such an incredible job over the years," Hays said. "He's been a super mentor to me, and I'm privileged to follow in his footsteps."
CHANGES IN THE INDUSTRY
When you have been in the industry as long as Tom, who is 66 years old, you witness many changes.
"I remember skiing on wooden skis, with screw-in edges, lace-up boots and cable bindings," Hays said.
Besides the dramatic changes in gear over the years and the evolution of skiing, Hays says lift design and ski area design as a whole has evolved.
"It wasn't uncommon to wait an hour in line," he said.
As the future unfolds and the industry continues to change, Hays plans to keep evolving in an effort to keep Sunlight a local favorite.
"He sees the vision of the future for Sunlight very well, and he is directing us in a successful way," Horch added.
As he gets older, Hays said he appreciates the technology developments as it helps make skiing a little easier.
Personally, he still tries to get out skiing at least once a week, regularly hitting the slopes with his children and grandchildren.
He also enjoys just walking around the Sunlight base area and interacting with visitors.
"If it's a powder day, I'll probably sneak in a few extra runs," Hays said with a smile.