Despite Modest Size, Sunlight And Powderhorn Offer Up Complete Package

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Shunning the glitz, a pair of mid-sized mountains on the Western Slope of Colorado bring a bit of the old-school and historic experience back to skiing and riding in Rocky Mountains

Perched on the east edge of the Grand Mesa, Sunlight Mountain opened in 1966, and its front side of Sunlight Mountain appears much as it has been for the last five decades: A ton of blue groomers, a couple of long top-to-bottom greens, and a sprinkling of black glades and pitches.

However, the big change came a couple of seasons ago when the East Ridge came onto the trail map. Its dozens of double-diamond plunges doubled Sunlight's skiable acres to 730, and gave gnarl-seeking locals a reason to eschew the fancy Aspens and take the 13-mile drive up from Glenwood Springs.

This season, Sunlight joined the Indy Pass network for two days at any of 120 resorts in U.S., Canada and Japan. An adult Sunlight season pass includes free days at Loveland, Monarch, Powderhorn and Ski Cooper.

In 2023, skiers and riders will find a new ski school yurt at the base area, along with a new outdoor food station for grab 'n' go. Never-evers get a good deal at Sunlight with the Learn-to-Shine combo of rentals, three half-day lessons and five day tickets anytime afterwards.

Sunlight's three chairlifts are dated ("youngest" went in 1987). So it's big news for locals and day-trippers that the 50-year-old Segundo double chair with a triple fixed-grip next season.

About an hour's drive down-valley sits Powderhorn, off the northern edge of the Grand Mesa near Grand Junction. The trail maps spreads between two 9,800-foot elevation high grounds with 1,600 acres, three chairlifts and two surface lifts.

From a rope tow in the 1940s through multiple owners of varying successes, Powderhorn was bought by experienced Colorado ownership in the last decade. The first step was to put up high-speed quad in 2015. The quad reduced lift lines at the base and ramped up access to Powderhorn's long, groomer blue runs and expert terrain on its east edge.

Novices can ride to the top and wander down the switchbacks of Stagecoach-Pacemaker green run to the novice-friendly base area. Across the way, the two-seater West End chair drops off above some the Powderhorn's steepest terrain.

This summer, crews added capacity to the mountain's snowmaking system, cleared out about 100 new parking spaces, and installed the second beginner surface lift.

Powderhorn season passes include three reciprocal days at a dozen mountains in the West, including Colorado partners Sunlight, Loveland, Monarch, Ski Cooper and Bluebird Backcountry.

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Western Slope: Colorado's Summertime Playground In The Mountains

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The west side of the Continental Divide in the Colorado Rockies is home to about half of the ski and snowboard mountains in the state, and a half-dozen of them have built up summer activity infrastructures to lure flat-landers into the mountains.

Several resorts don't run their lifts in the summer -- Powderhorn, Sunlight, Aspen Highlands, Buttermilk -- but remain open for hiking and mountain biking, and general summertime leisure time.

If you're looking for a full-on summer menu, check out Telluride. On and off the mountain, there's plenty to keep young and old busy -- from via ferrata to bike parks to kids camps to rafting and Jeep tours. Highlight on the hill is Canopy Adventure, a tree-top complex of zipline, aerial bridges and rappels that begins with ride up the Village Express chair.

At Purgatory, MTB-focused lift access, trail prep and downhill challenges are the norm. The first U.S. resort to host a MBT world championship (1995), "Purg" sells single-ride, day, and season passes-- the latter includes massive Spider Mountain bike park in Austin, Texas.

Another mountain bike mecca is Crested Butte. Its Mountain Bike Park opened in 2009, and its more than 30 miles of single track downhill and X-C runs have been improved ever since. The bike-friendly Red Lady Express does the heavy-lifting to get riders onto the mountain.

Steamboat hosts a ton of attractions around its under-construction base area. Featured is the Outlaw Mountain Coaster with a descent of more than a mile long. With that length, there's plenty of track for loops, turns and twists.

Aspen Mountain and Snowmass crank up their gondolas for summer visitors. A ride up the Silver Queen gondola reaches the11,212-foot summit of Aspen Mountain. The summit area has been developed as the main magnet for the resort, with hiking trails, wildflowers, live music, good food and 360-degree views of Maroon Bells and Roaring Fork Valley.

Across the way, Snowmass turns on a gondola of its own -- the Elk Camp Gondola -- to get folks to the trails, vistas and food in and around mid-mountain Elk Camp. New this summer is the Lost Forest Adventure Center at Elk Camp, with ziplines, bike trails, climbing wall and mountain coaster.

Winter Park is playing off on the popularity of e-bikes this summer with 90-minute tours for pedal-assist mountain bicycles. Three tours run daily from the top of the Explorer Express chair at Sunsport Lodge (also headquarters for renowned Trestle Bike Park). E-bikers head up another 600 feet of vertical to Lunch Rock. No charge for views of Continental Divide.

 

 

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Colorado’s Independent Ski Areas Thriving In Shadow Of dueling, Consolidating Resort Giants

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In the shadow of battling behemoths, smaller, independent ski areas are thriving.  Arapahoe Basin, Echo Mountain, Loveland, Monarch, Powderhorn, Ski Granby, Silverton Mountain and Wolf Creek all report record visits, and revenues in the last two seasons.

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Powderhorn, Newest Indy Sunlight Form A Down-Home Pairing

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The Indy Pass has finally signed up a Colorado ski and snowboard mountain -- Sunlight Mountain -- so it may be a good time to pair it up with another of old-school, Western Slope day-trip resorts, Powderhorn..

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SnoCast: Active and Wintry Presidents' Day Weekend

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A busy weather setup from coast to coast with an active pattern taking shape for the upcoming Presidents' Day weekend. Here’s the latest forecast scoop in this week’s SnoCast.

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Wonder Of Gold: Relish The Color Of Autumn At Colorado Mountain Resorts

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In Colorado, the most definitive way to know that summer is over and winter is not long off comes when the high-country aspen groves put on their brilliant yellow coats.

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Western Season Passes For 2021-2022 Loaded With Extras

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The options keep on coming, as single-mountain season passes for next season have more add-ons than ever before to compete with the multi-resort mega-passes.

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Headin' Uphill Rapidly Rising In Popularity In Colorado

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Whether it be Covid-distance crowds, the high price of lift tickets, or simply a need to breathe the Great Outdoors, the participation in uphill skiing has exploded in Colorado this season.

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Off-Season Projects At Half-Dozen Colorado Resorts Ready For Season

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Believe it or not, there are actually some "what's new" news emanating from Colorado ski and snowboard resorts that aren't related to precautions and adjustments for Covid.

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SnoCast: Who Gets Tricks, and Who Gets Snowy Treats?

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Halloween weekend and first days of November will feature forecast tricks and treats. With a leftover hurricane delivering snow to New England and ski areas opening in the west, this time of year is always a treat to build ski season excitement.

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Go Beyond: Find Summer At Smaller Resorts In West

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If you're venturing up to resorts in the West this summer -- but don't want to fight the crowds -- you might want to check out some smaller resorts for some warm-weather fun.

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Colorado's Powderhorn Opens to Biking, Works on Snowmaking

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After ski and snowboard season was cut short due to COVID-19, Powderhorn Mountain Resort became one of the first ski resorts in the state to reopen for summer activities on June 12, and now biking and hiking trails are busier than ever.

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Summer At West Ski Resorts With Covid-19 In Mind

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Many of the usual summer activities -- mountain biking, ziplines, hiking, scenic lift rides -- will be in place in the West during the warm months. But the Covid-19 pandemic has forced resorts to tone down or fully eliminate offerings for the time being.

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Ikon, Western Resorts Extend Preseason Pass Deals

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The effect of the coronavirus has rippled across the U.S., and the domestic ski and snowboard industry is no exception.

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Colorado’s Small Ski Hills Don’t Need To Be Ikon Or Epic To Run With The Big Dogs

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Ski Twitter recently blew up when videos of nightmarishly long lift lines at Vail Ski Resort made the rounds. People bemoaned the traffic, the $200-plus lift tickets and Front Range folks in general. 

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Variety Is Spice Of Colorado Day-Trip Mountains

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Tucked in among the mega-resorts of the Colorado Rockies you can find a 10-pack of lesser-known mountains that bring skiing and riding to their local communities -- and a taste of the sport's history in the Centennial State.

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Powderhorn Celebrates Season’s End with So Much Pow Luau

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Celebrating abundant snowfall this season, Colorado’s Powderhorn Mountain is hosting the So Much Pow Luau encore weekend of skiing and riding April 5-7.

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Seven Mountains That Are Great for Spring Skiing In And Near Colorado

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Spring skiing: when we wear fewer layers, swap goggles for sunglasses and don’t put on enough sunscreen. Strong storms in February and early March this year buried central and southern Colorado in many feet of snow, leading some resorts to extend their seasons and setting spring up for epic conditions.

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Kids Getting Active At Summer Mountains

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Willy Booker, head of Burke Mountain Academy which hones some of America’s finest ski racers, bemoans that kids are less active and athletic today and don’t get outdoors enough. 

One way to remedy that is to have fun at a mountain resort this summer.

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What’s New On The Mountains At Colorado Resorts

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Easier to get around Purgatory this year. (Purgatory/Facebook)

Each ski and snowboard season brings upgrades, improvements and just plain new stuff at Colorado resorts, where the competition for visitors is fierce.

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