Driving from Denver to Aspen, Colo., one passes the country’s most expensive ski resorts: Breckenridge, Vail, Beaver Creek and Sunlight.
Yes, Sunlight Mountain, an upstart in Glenwood Springs, Colo., that is home to a $700 a day lift ticket, new for this season.
With only three chairlifts available to them, most Sunlight skiers are content with the standard $63 ticket for a day on the slopes, and may feel virtuous when comparing that with the price of peak-season walk-up lift tickets at other area resorts: $189 at Vail and Beaver Creek, $171 at Breckenridge and $159 at Aspen Snowmass.
Yet, there are those who are happy to pay for the Sunny 700.
“I get bragging rights: I got the most expensive lift ticket ever,” said Jennifer Belle, of Santa Fe, N.M., who bought one as a Christmas gift for her son, 21.
It is not as indulgent as it sounds. The ticket comes with a pair of Meier skis, handmade in Colorado from beetle-kill wood with graphics commemorating Sunlight’s 50th anniversary, and a ticket for a soak at Iron Mountain Hot Springs. If bought separately, the three things would cost slightly more.
“What we like about the Sunny 700 is that you’re left with a great pair of skis at the end of the day, not just a sore pair of legs,” said Troy Hawks, the resort’s marketing director.
He would not reveal how many of the $700 tickets ($600 for snowboarders) have sold, but said it was in the “double digits” with buyers in Colorado, Indiana, New Mexico, Texas and Utah.
“For me to give my son this $700 ticket is kind of an inside joke,” Ms. Belle said. “Sunlight is a local kind of ski resort.”
Sunlight markets itself as an easygoing place for families, and gives local fourth-grade students free season passes.
Seventy-five percent of the terrain is rated as beginner or intermediate, and all 67 trails lead to the lodge, making it difficult for children to get lost.
But to appreciate Sunlight and its tongue-in-cheek ticket price is to understand that the resort has always been overshadowed by Aspen, which sits at the opposite end of the Roaring Fork Valley in western Colorado.
The first ski hill on Compass Mountain, where Sunlight is, opened in 1946 under the name Holiday Hill. That was the same year the Aspen Skiing Company was incorporated.
By the time Sunlight resort opened in 1966, Aspen Skiing Company had acquired Buttermilk Mountain, and the next year it opened Snowmass.
In 1993, the two companies hit simultaneous milestones. Aspen Skiing Company bought Aspen Highlands to create a single four-mountain resort. Sunlight, opened up new territory that added a dozen black and double black diamond trails, including one with a seriously steep 52-degree pitch.
Today, Aspen Snowmass has 5,547 skiable acres served by 41 chairlifts. Sunlight has 680 acres, two double chairs and one triple. Aspen has twice the vertical drop, and its longest run, at 5.3 miles, is twice that of Sunlight’s.
Aspen evolved into a playground for the rich and famous. It is where Ivana Trump, while married to Donald J. Trump, had a public confrontation at the end of 1989 with his then-girlfriend, Marla Maples.
Aspen Skiing Company is even owned by billionaires: the Crown family, which also has stakes in the New York Yankees, the Chicago Bulls and Rockefeller Center, according to Forbes.
Also privately held, a majority of Sunlight is controlled by two families, with a handful of others, mostly local residents, owning the rest. A decade ago, they listed the resort for sale for $50 million but could not find a buyer.
In contrast, the publicly traded Vail Resorts Inc. spent $1.05 billion last year to buy Whistler Blackcomb in British Columbia, adding to its stable of ski resorts, which also includes Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge and Keystone in Colorado, and eight others in the United States and Australia.
Resigned to the fact that the big boys get most of the attention, Sunlight still could not resist taking a little dig at them with its $700 lift ticket, because, as Mr. Hawks said, “sometimes our voice goes unheard.”
But now, he said, “We offer one of the most affordable ski days as well as the most expensive.”
And the competition? Let’s just say they are not feeling too threatened.
Jeff Hanle, the public relations director for Aspen Snowmass, said, Sunlight’s promotion “is fun and a great way to bring some attention to the smaller unique resorts that are an integral part of the Colorado ski experience.”
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