Hidden Valley

Discover Sunlight Mountain Resort

This fifth ski area near Aspen merits a visit for family-friendly pricing, new expert terrain, and old-school charm.

By Cindy Hirschfeld December 23, 2020 Published in the Winter/Spring 2020–21 issue of Aspen Sojourner

In an open letter to skiers last summer, Aspen SkiCo CEO Mike Kaplan predicted that this ski season would be more of an old-school experience. Whereas Aspen Snowmass is indeed dialing back some of its on-mountain amenities this winter, it doesn’t get more genuinely old school than at Sunlight Mountain Resort (sunlightmtn.com), 12 miles south of Glenwood Springs.

Overshadowed by its higher-profile brethren upvalley, family-friendly Sunlight has attracted a loyal cadre of skiers and snowboarders for more than 50 years. One of those fans is 2018 Olympic downhiller Alice McKennis Duran, who grew up skiing at the area and now has a trio of chutes on the East Ridge—A1, A2, and A3—dedicated to her.

With 730 skiable acres—more than Aspen Mountain or Buttermilk—and an expansion underway, Sunlight also merits the 40-mile drive downvalley for its thoroughly unpretentious vibe. The compact base area houses a utilitarian cafeteria/bar (brown-baggers are welcome) and rental shop, plus a food truck that dishes out tasty tacos. Parking is slopeside—and free. There are no on-mountain restaurants, and none of the three lifts are high-speed. If you were to spot a Bogner jacket, it’d probably be because the wearer scored a deal at a consignment shop. As for lift tickets, plunk down a mere $69 ($45 for kids), and you’re on your way to the slopes; buy in advance online, which the area highly encourages this season, and the price drops by $5.

Every year, a new mini-mayor—elected fair and square—rules Sunlight with a small, mittened fist. This winter it’s 6-year-old April Carter, who decreed the addition of more hand sanitizing stations and is lobbying hard for her dad’s yummy garlic chicken recipe to be added to the cafeteria menu (10 percent of sales will go to a local nonprofit).But ultimately, it’s the skiing you go for, and Sunlight’s 72 runs, spread across the flanks of Compass Mountain, cater to all abilities. Moreover, 29 kilometers of quiet and scenic cross-country ski and snowshoe trails lie adjacent to the mountain.

The gentle slopes off the Tercero chair provide a perfect proving ground for beginners. Advanced beginners can tackle all 2,010 feet of vertical from the summit on green-rated Grizzly Road or the winding, 2-mile-long Ute run. And to experience cruising at its finest, check out blue square trails like Columbine and Beaujolais or Little Max to Sun King.

For years, Sunlight’s best-kept secret was its expert terrain, including gladed stashes around the mountain and Heathen, one of Colorado’s steepest runs with a pitch of 52 degrees. No more, as the first phase of a $4 million expansion came online last winter, adding five double-black-diamond trails and 500 feet of vertical on the East Ridge. The expansion’s second phase will focus on thinning trees to open another 100 acres of skiable terrain. Right now, the new trails require about a 20-minute hike at the end to return to the base area; a new lift that will allow skiers to lap the terrain is anticipated for winter 2022–23.

Heads up this season

There are no restrictions on season pass use, and Sunlight doesn’t foresee limiting day ticket sales, but advance purchase online is encouraged...The base area cafeteria is operating at 50 percent of capacity for indoor dining, with additional seating in heated outdoor tents...Ski school offers two-hour lessons for up to six people from the same family or friend group...Lessons for kids 6 and under accommodate one or two learners only.

Filed under
Show Comments