When I think of Sunlight Mountain Resort, two memories immediately come to mind.
The first is from 30 years ago. Our junior ski team was competing at Sunlight in the Buddy Werner League championships. While we were excited about racing, we were more excited to ski Ute, a 2.5 mile run which claimed top honors as the longest ski run in Colorado.
My second memory is from only 6 years ago. Our youngest son was also competing in the Buddy Werner League championships, now known as the “state race.” He won. He got to stand atop the podium, arms outstretched like an Olympian. To celebrate he went to the terrain park. Long story short, we ended the day at Ski Patrol, his nose bleeding and his face banged up. The ski patroller on duty gave him a beautiful polished rock. My son still has this rock.
So what do these stories have to do with skiing at Sunlight Mountain Resort today?
Actually a lot.
Let’s start with terrain.
Long Runs, Long Views
Like many of Colorado’s smaller resorts, the Sunlight map is covered in blue and green trails. There are three lifts at Sunlight, one of which goes to the top of the mountain and another goes about two-thirds of the way up. There are gentle wandering greens off of both lifts, perfect for building beginner confidence while providing big mountain views.
Although other runs have bested Ute for top honors as Colorado’s longest ski run, this long rolling trail glides remains a local favorite, with “shooting the Ute” a favorite way to end a long ski day.
Rolling Blues With Short Bursts of Bumps and Trees
Fifty-five percent of the terrain at Sunlight is intermediate and many of these runs are immaculate, perfectly groomed cruisers, like White River and Cornice. Joslin, which doubles as the race course, is especially fun, with some nice rollers and a bit steeper pitch.
None of the blue runs is exceptionally long and many of them connect back to the mid-mountain Primo lift. But there are many options for mixing it up. On the west side of the mountain, skiers and riders can intersperse groomers with short bursts of moguls and glades. Charlie’s Glades between Cornice and White River is a great place to practice dodging trees, while skiers need to bring their “A” game to venture into the super tight Joslin Glades.
We hit Sunlight on a day with one inch of new snow. After cruising around the mountain and getting the lay of the land, we took Cornice down to Frying Pan Alley, one of six advanced trails that run out near the Tercero chair. At 2:00 p.m. our tracks were the first of the day. A week after the last big storm, the snow was still soft and was barely skied.
Skier’s left offers similar options with more double black glades and longer blue runs such as Beaujolais.
What really sets Sunlight apart is their double black terrain. Although the resort claims only 5% of its 470 acres as extreme skiing, the steep chutes off in the East Ridge offer plenty of challenge and diversity. There are 13 double black runs in this area, many tight in the trees and narrow. The steepest of them all, The Heathen, has a 52% pitch, making it one of the steepest in-bounds runs in Colorado. There are also two single black runs, Defiance and Inspiration.
Friendly, Family, Fun
As for my second memory, it’s all about the good people who work and ski at Sunlight. Ask any local why they ski Sunlight and they’ll tell you it’s because it feels like family. This certainly holds with our experience.
Sunlight has a traditional, ski/ride-centered vibe. Locals come to Sunlight because they know they’ll find their friends here. Parents ski together while their children are in lessons or ski club. Buddies meet buddies, and on sunny afternoons, the south-facing decks are filled with happy people drinking beer, laughing and enjoying the last rays of sunshine.
Why Visit Sunlight?
Here are three good reasons:
1. Family Fun. Sunlight offers a unique Ski, Swim, Stay package which is an incredible value. Come for the weekend, stay in the historic Hotel Colorado or your choice of another property, enjoy skiing and riding at Sunlight and then hit the Glenwood Hot Springs pool. You’ve just scored a fun, memorable and unique weekend away.
2. Ski and Ride School. No matter how good a skier you are, there comes a time when you may want to take up something new like telemark skiing or snowboarding. As a smaller resort, Sunlight offers a great value in lessons, especially midweek, when you may be one of only a handful of students. PSIA/AASI instructors meet professional standards, so you’ll be learning from the best at a fraction of the cost of a large resort lesson.
For children, the value is even better, especially if you go midweek. Put them in a multi-day lesson and let their skills take off, while you explore the harder terrain or spike your heart rate hiking up the mountain on your skis or snowshoes. Sunlight allows uphill traffic all day long, as long as you get a hiker’s pass from Guest Services. There is also Nordic terrain adjacent to the resort, with a combination of groomed and backcountry cross-country ski trails.
3. The Defiance Challenge. This event, which started last year as a fundraiser for the Sunlight Ski Patrol, tests the best skiers and riders on Sunlight’s extreme terrain and tree runs. Extended lift hours kick off the event on Friday, March 1st at 7:00 a.m. Teams of two must ski every double black run on the mountain. It’s a vertical challenge event, so partners must stay together and finish together. The challenge ends at 5:00 p.m. with an après ski party. If you think you’re a good skier, this event is guaranteed to push you in the steep and deep.
The next day, March 2nd, is Melanoma Awareness Day and a fundraiser for skin cancer research. Click here for more information on the Defiance Challenge and Melanoma Awareness Day.
Colorado’s Gems: Bigger Isn’t Always Better, January 25, 2011.
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