I'm scanning the radio on my car for a weather report as I drive through the quaint mining town of Glenwood Springs, Colorado, on my way to Sunlight Mountain Resort. There's a skiff of something resembling snow on the road - just enough to make things extra slippery. I land on a local station just in time for the snow report.
"Sunlight reporting eighteen inches overnight." says the DJ.
I scoff. Eighteen inches overnight? Yeah right. I figure some sleep-deprived snow reporter has simply put the decimal in the wrong place on his report. One-point-eight inches I'd believe, but there's simply no way there's eighteen inches of fresh up at Sunlight. Certain that I'm in no rush, I stop at a local coffee shop. The woman working the counter sees my brightly colored FlyLow ski gear and raises an eyebrow.
"You're getting an awful late start. Y'know they got eighteen up at the mountain."
I politely inform the barista that she is mistaken, and that somebody really ought to call that radio station because they're spreading misinformation. I then grab my coffee and begin a leisurely stroll back to my car, confident that all these motorists blowing by me with skis on top of their cars must just be people who are late for work at some nearby ski shop.
Twenty minutes later I am standing knee-deep in fresh snow, frantically buckling my boots in the Sunlight parking lot. There are eighteen inches, and I am a moron.
Jennie Spillane, Sunlight's Marketing Manager, looks up at me with a mixture of suspicion and frustration as I burst in to her office. I'm late, and I'm late on a powder day. That puts me ever-so-slightly above door-to-door salesmen and just below parole officer on the list of people she probably wants to be waiting on this morning. I've got to redeem myself. Fast.
"So, do you still want to film the kids' ski school?" she asks flatly, alluding to the plan we'd hatched over the phone the day before. I see my opportunity.
"Kind of thought we might just go skiing."
I can see by the change in her expression that I am instantly redeemed. We grab our boards and head for the chairlift.
Sunlight Mountain Resort is a local's ski area, and a Colorado Ski Country Gem. The mountain has just two lifts that take you to the top, and one beginner lift near the base of the hill. This is what skiing is about, plain and simple. Sunlight is an accessible, unintimidating family ski area that the locals love. It's the mountain on which Jennie learned to ski and snowboard, and it's still the hill she calls home. On the chairlift I learn that Sunlight is home to "The Heathen", the steepest sustained run in Colorado, boasting a 52 degree pitch.
I ask whether we can go to the Heathen, and before Jennie can answer an explosion echoes through the basin. It's an avalanche control bomb, and it means that the extreme terrain won't be open for a while...
Until the ski patrol finishes their work, we content ourselves with exploring the tree skiing. I'm captivated by the varied terrain at Sunlight. There are open glades through Aspen trees, steep little shots through Ponderosa stands, and lots of natural rollers and fun little terrain features.
After a couple runs I convince Jennie to pull some strings and get the Ski Patrol to let us over in to the Extreme Terrain early. We're totally above the law, I think. A journalist and the Marketing Manager - of course they'll let us get first tracks. Heathen, here I come. Jennie emerges from the patrol shack.
"I tried really hard. They said no." she reports as she buckles in to her board. "It's OK, I know a spot that'll be untracked."
We make a couple more runs and then head in to the lodge to upload photos. Even with all this fresh snow, we've got to take a break and get the images online. I much a chicken sandwich and post powder shots to Facebook. I feel like I've salvaged the day, despite my late start. Still, I'm anxious to check out the steep stuff. This year's snow has been slow in getting to the mountains (I can relate) but now that it's here I'm jonesing to get in to the spicy terrain.
We finish our social media promoting and head back up the hill. Unsure of where we'll go, the dry-erase board at the top of the lift is our salvation. Extreme Terrain Re-Opened it reads.
The terrain in Sunlight's East Ridge area is excellent. It's steep, wide open, and surprisingly untracked. Our little crew makes quick work of the zone and stops at the bottom to look up the hill and admire our own handiwork. Hoots and hollers still punctuate the stillness of the trees on occasion. As the sun sets, we retire to the Last Run Lounge to share stories, tell jokes, and revel in the day's glory.
My first day at Sunlight has been an unexpected treat; the terrain's great, the snow's great, and I'm skiing with a group of dedicated locals who know how to put it down the hill. Sure, it would have been nice to do a story on the kids ski school, but c'mon. There's 18 inches. Didn't you hear the weather report?
-John Trousdale, Mountain Correspondent, Colorado Ski Country USA