Sunlight counts record numbers of skiers, riders |

Sunlight counts record numbers of skiers, riders

Carrie Click
Post Independent Staff

Sometimes bigger is not always better.

Take Sunlight Mountain Resort, for instance. At a time when gargantuan, state-of-the-art ski areas like Vail and Aspen are in fierce competition to increase skier numbers, Sunlight is breaking records by keeping its operations small and laid-back.

“That’s what makes it so great,” said skier Lance Hanson from Hotchkiss. “It’s a ski area without attitude.”

“We’re busy,” said Turi Nevin-Turkel, Sunlight’s marketing, sales and communications director.

That’s for sure.

Last Saturday, Sunlight counted more than 1,800 skiers and boarders on the mountain, resulting in a rare phenomenon: lines at the area’s three chairlifts.

The resort’s parking lots filled up too, forcing cars to park on Four Mile Road that leads up to the resort.

Skiers and boarders queued up in droves for rental equipment and lessons, while lines formed at lunchtime at the outdoor barbecue, and indoors at the base cafeteria-style restaurant.

Even with lines, Sunlight manages to keep its low-key atmosphere in check.

“The longest lift line is still only about a 10-minute wait, max,” said Nevin-Turkel.

And while Sunlight is managing to break records, it’s meeting the challenge of serving more customers.

“In terms of lessons, we’re having a record-breaking holiday season,” she said. “Typically, we average about 10 instructors on the mountain per day, but this holiday, we have up to 30 instructors working. And, on an average day, we usually have about 15 to 20 lessons.This holiday, our instructors are teaching 65 to 70 lessons a day.”

Sunlight’s rental business has also been breaking records. Nevin-Turkel said on a typical day, the rental shop averages about 75 rentals.

“Last Saturday, we did 250,” she said. “And over the entire Christmas season, we have seen over 1,000 rentals go out.”

No hype, no boredom

Nevin-Turkel said the resort is up 10 percent in skier visits over Christmas break 2001.

“I think we’ve been doing well over the last few years because of our affordability,” she said. “Also, since Sept. 11, people have been wanting to stay closer to home. We’re appealing to people who’d rather drive than fly.”

Sunlight finds itself in an enviable position. Without giving in to big resort amenities, such as detachable lifts, high speed gondolas and thousands of acres of terrain, the area is increasingly appealing to winter sports enthusiasts who love to ski but don’t need the hype and expense associated with a glitzy resort.

The area has 67 runs, 20 percent of which appeal to first-time “never-evers.” There’s 55 percent of intermediate terrain, 20 percent advanced, and 5 percent

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expert. Called Sunlight Extreme, the double diamond area has one of the steepest pitches in the state. At Sunlight, no one is bored.

Although the terrain is varied, Sunlight’s lifts are not. You won’t see speedy, detchable quads here. The area is only to happy to reuse (after an extensive overhaul, of course) lift equipment deemed archaic by other resorts.

“Segundo actually was the 1A lift on Aspen Mountain,” said Nevin-Turkel, of Sunlight’s double chair that climbs three-quarters of the way up from the resort’s base on skier’s left. “And Tercero came from Snowmass and was the Big Burn lift,” she said of the three-person chairlift that carries its passengers from Sunlight’s base to the mountain’s midway.

These retro lifts are just fine with Anna and Lance Hanson of Hotchkiss.

“We’ve skied all over the world, including Canada and Europe,” Lance said. “So many areas lose sight of skiing and the wonder of the sport, but Sunlight doesn’t.

The Hansons are visiting Lance’s parents who live in Carbondale. Anna had skied Sunlight before with the kids, and she suggested the area to her husband.

Even out-of-towners who don’t have friends or family to stay with can get a good deal with Sunlight’s Ski, Swim and Stay program, which combines lift tickets, Glenwood Hot Springs passes and lodging into one affordable package.

Lisa and Bill Roberts of Denver, their daughter, Jenna, and Jenna’s boyfriend, Scott Ciecko of Portland, Ore., took advantage of the Ski and Swim package.

“We planned this trip kind of at the last minute after Thanksgiving,” Lisa Roberts said. “We’re staying at the Hotel Colorado. Having access to the Hot Springs and to skiing, plus staying at that great old hotel really clinched the deal for us. Plus, we’re not interested in the hype of big resorts. Sunlight is an incredible contrast.”

Former Glenwood Springs resident Todd Mellon, a 16-year-old snowboarder, agrees. He and his family live in Twin Falls, Idaho, but they were back in the area for the holidays.

“I miss Sunlight,” he said. “We go to Sun Valley now, but people are so much nicer here.”

Steve Denes of northern Virginia came to Sunlight for the first time this year with a group of friends who get together every New Year’s Eve.

“We pick one place and meet,” he said. “This year it was Sunlight.”

Denes said he’s skied at Breckenridge, Copper Mountain and other “mega-resorts,” but likes Sunlight because, even with crowds, it’s not crowded like other areas.

“It’s a fun, friendly place,” he said. “We’ll definitely come back.”

For Sadie, Tim and Adam McCrays, a Sunlight Christmas is a no-brainer. The Kansas City family has been coming to the area over the holidays for 16 years.

“We first learned about Sunlight through some Kansas City friends who’d moved to Glenwood,” said Sadie. “We’ve been coming here for the Christmas holiday ever since.”

The family stays at the Red Mountain Inn every year.

“When we leave, we make a reservation for the following Christmas,” said Tim.

And although they’ve tried other resorts, they’re sold on Sunlight.

“I’ve skied at other places in Utah and Colorado, and Sunlight’s lift lines are nothing in comparison,” said Sadie McCrays. “Even at the busiest times at Sunlight, we’ve never waited longer than seven minutes.”

“I’ve skied at Keystone, and once we went to Breckenridge for Christmas,” Tim McCrays said. “Never again. Even last Saturday, when it was the most crowded I’ve ever seen it here, it was nothing like the crowds at Breckenridge. That’s why we drive an extra three hours to ski here.”

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