52nd Season of Operation Brings So Much To Smile About
Officials at Sunlight Mountain Resort announced the ski area will open for it 52nd season of operation at 9 a.m. on Friday, November 23. New snowmaking infrastructure and equipment has allowed the area to open three weeks ahead of its planned Dec. 14 opening date. The last time Sunlight opened for Thanksgiving weekend was in the 2014/15 season.
This weekend Sunlight will operate its lower lift, Tercero, with $30 lift tickets for kids and adults. The first 52 skiers and riders will be offered free donuts at the lift and adults can enjoy a free celebratory glass of champagne all day long. The Sunlight Grill will also offer a $10 hamburger and beer special for the weekend. After this weekend, Sunlight will continue to operate the Tercero lift Fridays through Sundays until it receives more natural snow to open the upper mountain.
Last season Sunlight built a new snowmaking pond that doubled it’s available water to about 3.25 million gallons. A second new pond was built this fall that when filled with runoff next spring will add another 2.2 million gallons of water available for snowmaking. In addition to more water, Sunlight invested in new, energy efficient snowmaking heads that produce more snow using less energy and water.
The new equipment and ideal snowmaking conditions in November are credited for the early opening. Sunlight also installed an additional 740-feet of snowmaking pipe equipped with fixed snowmaking guns allowing it to make snow further up the mountain without having to run long hoses.
When more natural snow does arrive, skiers and riders at Sunlight will find renamed runs on its famed East Ridge, home to more than a dozen double-black diamond runs. Last spring Sunlight dedicated Aligator Alleys to World Cup skier and two-time Olympian Alice McKennis. McKennis, a native of New Castle, Colo., first learned to from her father who took her to Sunlight before the age of 2. She went on to race in the local Buddy Werner league and later the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club. McKennis’ handle on Instagram is @thealigator, hence Sunlight decided to name the dedicated run Aligator Alleys.
“I have memories on pretty much every trail at Sunlight, as a kid, a lot of time our last run of the day would be on East Ridge, I have a vivid memory of tomahawking down one of those steeper trails,” McKennis said at the time of the dedication.
Sunlight has been busy in the off-season forming season pass partnerships with a number of new ski areas including Loveland, Colorado, Brundage, Idaho, and more than other two dozen resorts throughout the U.S. and Europe. On July 4, Sunlight signed on to the Freedom Pass, an add-on value that includes three free days of skiing and snowboarding at ski areas in Maine, Michigan, New Hampshire, New York, and Vermont.
Also new this year, pass holders get three free days at Hochkossen, Austria, and Hochfelln, Kampenwand, Wendelstein and Oberaudorf, Germany as well as three free days at Snow Valley, Calif. All tallied Sunlight season pass holders now have access to nearly 100 free ski days at other resorts, and that number is likely to continue to grow, according to Troy Hawks, marketing and sales director.
On top of additional free days, Hawks said this year Sunlight season pass holders also enjoy more local discounts as part of the resort’s new Friend’s of Sunny VIP Value Program. Through the program Sunlight has formed more than a dozen new partnerships with local restaurants, gear stores, athletic clubs, spas, among other businesses, all offering special discounts to season pass holders.
“We strive to continually add value to our season pass, and we’re excited to partner with each of these like-minded ski areas and local businesses,” said Hawks.
Earlier this fall Sunlight named Tom Hays as its new general manager. Hays has been the assistant general manager for base operations since 2012. He replaces Tom Jankovsky who retired after serving as general manager since 1985.
Hays began his career at Sunlight in 1982 working as a volunteer ski patroller. From 1992 to 1997 he served as the Avalanche Program Advisor for the Rocky Mountain Division of the National Ski Patrol and he continues to teach avalanche safety classes. In 2006, Hays began working full time at Sunlight as the mountain operations manager overseeing the ski patrol, buildings and grounds and marketing and events departments. He was promoted to Assistant GM six years later.
With 72,073 votes, 6-year-old Colby Rogers of Rifle, Colo., won her bid for re-election in Sunlight’s third annual Mini-Mayor Election. The two month campaign saw record voter turnout with more than 100,000 votes cast, fueled by aggressive and heartfelt campaigning by political newcomer and runner-up Piper Arnette, 6, of Silt, Colo. Arnette tallied an impressive 58,927 votes, and earned many followers with daily posts to her constituency through Facebook.
Other candidates in the “Race to Mini-Mayor” included Elijah Mattson, 8, of New Castle, Sunlight’s first-ever Mini-Mayor, and 2016/17 Mini-Mayor Gabby Noyes, 10, of Silt. Sienna Kemp, 6, of Frisco, Colo., ran on a platform supporting SOS Outreach, a non-profit with the aim of getting more kids on the slopes. Earlier this month, Rogers, Arnette, and Kemp appeared on a Two-Minute Town Hall Meeting on Denver’s FOX 31.
In the end, Rogers showed that she has grown a large and loyal constituency during her first year in office that has included the successful passage of the Spaghetti Act that raised $500 for Make a Wish Colorado. She also campaigned in several local parades and lobbied to paint the chairlifts pink at Sunlight.