Sunlight ski resort keeping things bright despite uncertainty
Strong pre-season pass sales has Sunlight optimistic heading into winter
For the Post Independent
At this point, you wonder if snowboarding and skiing regulars at Sunlight Mountain think COVID-19 is a new black diamond run.
Pass sales are good as they’ve ever been, even after Sunlight enjoyed three of its best years in the resort’s 50-year history of the last four, said Troy Hawks, sales and marketing director for Sunlight. The virus, so far, doesn’t seem to scare them, or perhaps they are counting on the fact that skiing is much better outside, where the virus isn’t nearly as potent.
“We are trending ahead of last year, and last year was the best on record, and the season before that was the best,” Hawks said. “That’s really encouraging.”
Hawks says that, of course, but the success of the slopes rise and fall on the fickle Colorado weather. COVID-19, after all, isn’t a ski run, and cases continue to climb this fall. This winter could bring a second (or third) wave of cases.
“There’s a lot of unknowns,” Hawks said, “but we are making the best plans we can.”
Whether Sunlight closes at all is really up to the local, state or federal governments, Hawks said. In the meantime, Sunlight will do its part by limiting the numbers of patrons indoors the same way other businesses are and maintaining social distancing in lift lines.
“Those lines may be longer and probably will stretch out farther than to what people are used to seeing,” Hawks said. “We know people want to hit those lifts on powder days, but we really want to encourage people to maintain that distance between each other.”
One change this year is Sunlight allowing a $49 down payment on season passes, so skiers could take advantage of the good early-season deals without committing too much in what’s been a rough year for many. Hawks calls that one of the good things to come out of the pandemic. Another is the assurance of 50% discounts on next year’s season passes if Sunlight is open less than 50% of this year’s ski season. If it’s open up to 74%, the discount drops to 25%.
Even with pass sales remaining strong, ultimately a great year comes from good snow and a good economy. Hawks understands that both may be hard to come by this year, if fall is any indication. Sunlight isn’t making any projections as a result. Sunlight was having a terrific year until COVID-19 hit and closed its spring break. Revenue was down by as much as 25% as a result, but season pass sales helped cushion that number. Hawks remains optimistic about this year.
“If we can stay open all season and have average snow, we will be in good shape,” he said. “But that’s a capital I on both of those ifs.”
Sunlight’s relatively small size is an advantage in weathering the pandemic, Hawks said, as the resort isn’t as reliant on ski school sales or other revenue generators. He compares the resort to a Jet Ski that can scoot through choppy waters as opposed to an ocean liner that can’t change its course. Two years ago, for instance, Sunlight still made a profit despite a horrible snow year.
“We couldn’t predict that, but this hit we were able to see coming, and we were able to cut back,” Hawks said.
At this point, the resort isn’t limiting numbers of lift tickets, but Sunlight will watch them, especially on traditionally crowded weekends such as President’s Day, Christmas and, of course, spring break.
“Right now we aren’t at that point,” Hawks said. “We don’t want to restrict mountain access, but we may have to take those sales into consideration.”
Sunlight probably still will be less crowded than its neighbors in Aspen and Vail as well as those in Summit County, which helps explain why season passes continue to spike in recent years.
“We hear that daily,” Hawks said. “We come across people every day who still value that old school experience of driving and walking right to the lift. Frankly some of it was long overdue, as we are in between two world-class ski operations. We are seeing more and more out-of-state license plates.”
Hawks also hopes the pandemic doesn’t hurt Glenwood’s local businesses, as they’ve been a part of Sunlight’s success. One example is the “soak and ski” package offered in partnership with the hot springs.
“It’s community-wide, and there’s plenty of positivity seen out there,” he said. “We’ve done some nice things here, but frankly we owe a lot to our local businesses.”
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