Let’s boogie: Sunlight Mountain Resort opens with big early snows | PostIndependent.com
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Let’s boogie: Sunlight Mountain Resort opens with big early snows

Jon Mitchell
jmitchell@postindependent.com
A snow cat grooms the slopes near the base of Sunlight Mountain Resort prior to the early opening last season. Similar conditions are allowing for an early opening this season as well, on Friday, Nov. 28.
Jon Mitchell / Post Independent file photo |

GLENWOOD SPRINGS — Jennie Spillane didn’t hesitate with her answer when asked why Sunlight Mountain Resort was opening 10 days earlier than anticipated.

“Snow,” she said in a matter-of-fact tone.

Lots of it.

Spillane, now in her sixth season as marketing manager at Sunlight, didn’t need to elaborate about why the resort will open at 9 a.m. Wednesday as opposed to the initial Dec. 6 date. The snow measurements are higher at this point than they’ve been since 2008, which is the last time Sunlight opened prior to Thanksgiving weekend.

There’s not a huge limit to the terrain that will be available. When the resort opens, two of the three lifts — Primo and Tercero — will be available. The Segundo lift to the northwest side of the mountain, Spillane said, could be up and running by Friday.

In all, an estimated 75 to 80 percent of the mountain will have skiable terrain when the chair lifts start ferrying skiers and snowboarders to the peak of Sunlight Mountain. And those skiers will be greeted by a 25-inch base, which is a far cry from what the resort opened with last season.

“Let me put it this way,” the 28-year-old Spillane said. “Last year, we had to push opening day back a full week and weren’t able to open until Dec. 14. All we had was a 20-inch base.

“This year, we have 25 already,” she continued. “That says a lot.”

Sunlight always keeps its 200 or so employees on call at this time of year just in case the resort gets dumped on early like it did this year. Not every employee will be on hand for the first runs of the season, but the resort anticipates a steady flow people looking to make their first cuts through the snow.

“Last year, we had an estimated 500 to 700 people on opening day,” Spillane said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s more this year.”

Sunlight follows a long list of Colorado ski resorts that have opened early this season. Snowmass, Aspen Highlands and Vail opened this past weekend. Aspen’s Ajax Mountain, which typically opens Thanksgiving weekend regardless of the conditions, opened on Nov. 16.

The conditions at Sunlight, not just the depth of the snow, also helped Assistant General Manager Tom Hays make the call this past Saturday to move up opening day. According to the resort’s other assistant GM, Ross Terry, the base of the snowpack has a higher water content than in years past. That, coupled with some powder showers and some man-made snow, make it a snow base that typically doesn’t come every year.

“This is as good as I’ve seen it in the past 10 years,” said Terry, who enters his 21st season at the resort. “It’s not so much the quantity of the snow, but the quality of it this year.”

Part of the opening-day festivities include the annual opening-day treasure hunt, where lift riders can scavenge the mountain in search of a Sunlight season pass for the 2014-15 season. Also planned is an annual “blessing of the snow” before the first skiers and snowboarders get on the lifts.

The resort is offering discounted lift tickets for the first weekend as well, down $10 from the regular $57 for a full-day adult pass.

“The phone has been ringing off the hook,” said Tammy Potter, longtime ticket office manager at Sunlight. “We’ve been very busy selling season passes and weekend passes, but busy is good.”

And so is the snow.

“People have been disappointed as far as the snowfall in years past,” Spillane said. “This year, people are getting excited.”


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