Heading to Colorado this winter? Take a day away from Aspen and Vail to explore the brilliant, double diamond peppered Sunlight Mountain Resort. You won’t regret it
The essence of this section is to root out places you’ve never heard of, that offer a banging good day’s skiing. Ideally not that far from bigger resorts, so you’re encouraged to actually give the small fry a try. After all, even the most optimistic adventurer is not going to travel 4500 miles across the Atlantic for 470 acres.
We know that size of terrain is a tough sell, even if you’re in fairly nearby Aspen or Vail (60 and 90 minutes’ drive respectively). So, best fire up the heavy artillery, as breaking friends out of the usual mega-resort rotation can take an explosion or two…
Barrage one: the glades are way better than they should be in a resort of this size (three lifts). I’d say right up there with Colorado’s finest, Steamboat. I know, I know, it sounds preposterous, as no one ever writes about how fine this zone west of Denver is (with nearby Powderhorn’s Aspens just as glorious). But, I’d definitely have it in my American trees top five, sticking it to most of the rest of the state, all of Utah, Wyoming and lots more. Pick of the bunch? For putting the hammer down, it’s Wishbone Alley under Charlie’s Glades. Light, airy, no one around, decent pitch – I’d say pretty much perfect. Blink and you could be in Niseko, shredding silky bamboo.
Skier’s left of Primo under the main lift is just as strong, but tougher. That said, the denser stuff is easy to orientate and that generally means you can keep your flow. No issues about getting cliffed out either; while if in a mixed group you can dip in and out of nearby blue Joslin.
Direct hit two: the place is peppered with double diamonds. I don’t think I’ve ever been to a resort where the percentage is anything like this – 60 odd trails and a quarter of them nasty-ass, brilliant challenges. Not stupid stuff like Corbet’s or Squaw’s Palisades, where you’re more thinking medical insurance than joy-packed runs. Just really varied, really testing, great fun, if you can handle yourself.
Get online, look left of the piste map and you can’t fail to feel excitement brewing. I loved all the stuff clustered under Gibson Glades and skier’s left of Beaujolais (butting up to Rebel), with a couple of main tracks funnelling into a dozen serious options. I’ve no idea what my friend Ben and I were skiing all the time, as the area just begs you to dive in, cutting as you see fresh snow. Plus, he’s rapid (former racer, Kandy club and all that nonsense) so I was having to engage full power and turn brain onto standby, just to keep up. But hell, it was fun to barrel down Alley Oops, Alamo, Perry’s and a load more in a happy mix of shallow pow and mild disorientation.
Strike three: those runs not enough? Nor the ski area’s five double-diamond glade sections? OK, best fire up the steeps, with The Heathen hitting 50°. That’s pretty much top of the gnarl pile even for a big resort. What is it doing in this tiddler? God knows, but don’t waste it. And the same goes for Defiance into Lower Defiance. This goes and goes, and bust it all the way down and it’s definitely worth the five-minute hike out from the car park. All the time you get that perfect mix: serious sidecountry feel, but also pretty safe, as you’re still in the ski area.
Cluster bomb four: possibly I’m losing my marbles (turning 40 soon, mid-life crisis, starting to think Spyder gear looks quite good etc). But, I really, really love the ski shop here. No corporate nonsense (the rest of the hill is wonderfully free from this, too), just awesomely bearded beanie men techs, bashed up kit, and (Sir) Seth Morrison quotes scrawled all over the walls and work benches (he’s a Summit County local). I can’t even think of one other decent hire stop; they all merge into one big magnolia boot-fitting meringue. I sat down on the bashed-up leather sofa, touched fists with a passing ski dude (I never do this, but somehow it felt right) and thought: “Yes, this place may look like an end-of-the-world garage sale, but it’s rather fantastic. We must send readers, and possibly razors…” FL