Looking for something different in your western ski trip next year? Looking for a real working town, not a created village? Looking to get way from the ski valets, heated side walks, and pampering lodges? Then keep heading West on I-70 from Denver.
Pass the workman-like ski areas of Loveland and Copper. Pass the created Village of Vail. Pass the wide bodies and corporate jets dropping in the Eagle airport. Pass the turn off for the ritzy resorts of Snowmass and Aspen. Keep following the interstate down the twists and turns of the scenic Glenwood Canyon. When you emerge you will find the real western town of Glenwood Springs, Colorado. Here you will find a hard working, rough and tumble place. An honest western town with a hard working western ski area and some very cool other attractions.
For the visitor, Glenwood Springs really has three attractions. The Glenwood Springs Hot Springs (known as the “world’s biggest hot tub”), The Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park, and Sunlight Ski Mountain. This past spring we followed this route and escaped Vail for a day in this “real” town.
The first stop was the Glenwood Springs Hot Springs Pool. Established in 1888, the pool is the largest mineral hot springs in the world. The pool is really two pools. The larger pool is about 100 yards long and 33 yards wide. This pool starts at about 3 feet in depth and ends in a deep area with diving boards. The temperature in this pool ranges from 90-93 degrees Fahrenheit. There is a nice cloud of steam rising from the water. There is a laned lap area as well. I managed to swim laps for about 20 minutes until the heat and the altitude did me in.
The smaller “therapy pool” is more like a traditional large hot tub. The temperatures in this pool are closer to 104 degrees. It has coin operated “bubble chairs” attached to one side. These seemed to be very popular. The pool has locker rooms, towel service, and even swim suit rentals if required. I recommend dashing from the locker room to the pool in your ski jacket!
The waters are very refreshing once you get used to the sulfur smell. It is always neat to swim outdoors when there is snow on the ground! After a couple of fun hours here we moved on.
Like a lot of ski towns along I-70 in Colorado, a ski lift is visible from the interstate. However closer inspection shows no skis perched on the outside of this lift. This lift called the Iron Mountain Tramway does not service a ski resort; it instead services the Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park. This area is a mix of commercial cave, nature park and amusement park. The namesake caverns offer both commercial tours and wild free-ranging cave adventures. The park also has some western themed attractions like a mechanical bull ride, a play fort, a fossil dig and a climbing wall. It also boasts some extreme thrill rides such as “The Swing Shot,” a giant flying swing/bungee jump that launches patrons out over the valley; and “The Canyon Flyer,” a mountain coaster similar to the one installed at Maryland’s Wisp Resort a couple of years ago. Luckily for my pocket book the Canyon Flyer (aka “the Mountain Coaster” - $10 a ride) was not running on the day of our visit so the team decided to give the park a pass.
Swimming and playing are not all Glenwood Spring has to offer. You can ski here too! The Sunlight Mountain Ski Resort is located on the edge of town. Sunlight offers real western skiing in a small town package. Located at 9,895 feet above sea level, the resort has 67 trails covering over 470 acres of terrain and a vertical drop of over 2,000 feet. The diversity of terrain features everything from some nice cruisers to some real steeps, all at a very reasonable price. At $50 a day, lift tickets here go for half of what the other nearby resorts charge.
Sunlight is known as a small local’s hill, but it is really not. For us East Coasters it is plenty big. The trails are long and the snow excellent. Its signature trail Heathen has a pitch of 52 percent and is one of the steepest trails in the state. The East Ridge also boasts some double black glades that cling to powder long after the other resorts in the area are tracked out. Sunlight also has terrain for families. One of the longest trails, Ute, is a cruising beginner slope, winding more than two-and-one-half miles from the summit to the base. Timberline’s Salamander on steroids! The ski area is served by three lifts which, granted, are a bit long in the tooth. But for the most part lift lines and crowds are non existent. Also in contrast to many other ski areas in Central Colorado, there is no view of I-70 from the lifts.
The small base area is best described as rustic day use. There is a main lodge that houses a restaurant, bar, equipment rental, retail shop, ski school and children’s center. There are a few lodging options close by but no major resort village found in other areas.
Sunlight is in keeping with favor of the town. A hard working resort skied more by locals than the jet setters. So if you are looking for a change of pace or looking for an area with more local favor, you can’t go wrong with Sunlight. In fact you can’t go wrong with any of the attractions in Glenwood Springs!
Robbie Allen is an avid small hill skier. He has written several articles on the many small hills he has sought out.