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.
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.
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.
The first salvo in the U.S. multi-mountain season pass competition comes from Indy Pass: A spring sale that includes a Switch Pass with a small discount for skiers and riders who have a 2021-2022 Epic, Ikon, or Mountain Collective pass.
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.
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.
Over the years, mountain biking has become the most popular activity at Colorado ski and snowboard resorts during the summertime -- and most resorts have upped their game with "bike parks" and networks of trails.
The effect of the coronavirus has rippled across the U.S., and the domestic ski and snowboard industry is no exception.
As all but a handful of U.S. resorts either suspend operations or shut down for the season, a number of them still permit skiers and riders to climb their slopes and get a few turns.
Once there was a time when you reached age 60, you'd skied for free. Then you had to be 70. And now, at a half-dozen Western resorts, 80 is the new 60.
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.
Gettin' to the ridge is top priority at Silverton. (Silverton/Facebook)
You’d expect the offseason around Silverton Mountain to be more about tourist trains, wilderness backpacking and RV touring than on-the-snow news. But the summer of 2017 has been busy time for the powder-only ski and snowboard area tucked into a crease of Colorado’s San Juan Mountains.
Cut into the powder at Sunlight with discounts from Gems Card (Sunlight/Facebook)
For many years, a regular in the wallet of Colorado skiers and snowboarders has been the Colorado Gems Card – providing discount lift tickets at the state’s less glamorous mountains.
Before Epic, before Mountain Collective, before the M.A.X. Pass, there was the $25 Gems Card that gave skiers and riders deals on day tickets at eight off-the-beaten-track resorts – what some may call “smaller” areas but many see as more nostalgic and authentic. Among Gems resorts, only Loveland Ski Area sits on busy I-70, and it’s always been known as a locals’ mountain.
In hopes of attracting more folks to these hidden “gems” this season, Colorado Ski Country USA has increased the discounts on the card.
To wit: Previously, the Gems Card got its holder two-for-one tickets at Arapahoe Basin, Ski Cooper, Eldora Mountain Resort, Loveland Ski Area, Monarch Mountain, Powderhorn Resort, Ski Granby Ranch and Sunlight Mountain Resort. In 2016-2017, the card holder can get the same deal twice at these resorts, plus 30 percent off day ticket twice during the season. Or, the holder can get one of each deal at all resorts.
The card costs $25 and can only be purchased online. There is a limit to the number sold, and photo ID is required when presented at a ticket window. Blackout dates are Dec. 18 to Jan. 3.
“The Gems card has been instrumental for savvy skiers looking for the best value, increased flexibility and access to more of our resorts all over Colorado,” said Colorado Ski Country USA President and CEO Melanie Mills.
April will be the cruelest month for skiers and snowboarders who want to stay on the slopes but must stand down as Colorado resorts begin to shutter for the season. But there's still plenty of sliding' and riding' left.
Winter’s cold is loosening its grip on the Rockies as the sun stays in the sky longer, and skiers and snowboarders begin to shed a few layers of clothing. The coming of March also means it’s time to party in the out-of-doors at Colorado resorts.
Quite clearly, the future of the ski and snowboard industry will rely upon a younger generation that wants to get onto the slopes and trails at a winter resort.
More than a few people likely called in sick with the powder flu in and around Salt Lake City this week as a couple of feet of powder fell on the Wasatch – and quickly.
Many a Colorado skier or snowboarder first learned to carve it up at one of the smaller mountain resorts around the state. Carrying on this tradition, these “local hills” offer multi-day clinics for kids who are beyond the beginner stage and want to get better … fast.
Getting young skiers and snowboarders onto the slopes is a key to the future health of U.S. winter resorts – and why you see so many Kids Ski Free deals.
Many season passes add extra value through discounted rentals, food, ski shop apparel, and other perks, but several Heartland season passes also include alliances with western and eastern ski resorts. Check them out. There are some good benefits if you’re planning a ski vacation outside the Midwest this winter.