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Colorado Livin' / Family Travel

Ski Sunlight as a Family: Manageable and Fun!

Honestly, I didn’t know there was any skiing in Glenwood Springs until last summer when we went to explore. Up top, at the Glenwood Caverns, our guide told us about how the town was a great place for families—with year-round activities—and how his own kids had learned to ski “up at Sunlight.” Our eyes followed in the direction he was pointing, up beyond the red, iron-rich hills to the thickly wooded mountains above. And we thought, Someday, that’d be fun to see.

So we were excited to be invited sooner than later, to experience the Ski Swim Stay package (starting at $89 per person) that’s offered widely in Glenwood. And we came away thinking it was a package we could recommend to anyone. Our family drove up on a Thursday, and enjoyed no traffic, which got us there in under three hours (from Denver), via I-70. You definitely want to take this road at least once—the “most celebrated stretch of highway in the U.S.A.” if you’re to believe the state markers—with its elevated roads that wind along the river, beneath, picturesque, towering cliffs, just before you get into town. And with a dusting of snow? Truly beautiful.

NOTE: Four, count ‘em, FOUR, rest stops are on that stretch of highway. It’s every family’s roadtrippin’ dream! At least at the end….

We settled into the AmericInn, right off 6th Avenue (more on that below) and that night went to eat at the Italian Underground. We returned in time to take advantage of the AmericInn’s fabulous indoor water park, complete with a two-story water slide and generous whirlpool. Given that it was a Thursday night, we had the whole place to ourselves!

SKIING SUNLIGHT

We’d arranged for lessons for our two youngest children, ages 7 (skiing) and 12 (snowboarding). Leaving at 8:30, we arrived on the mountain at 9:00, and that was with a couple of emergency carsickness stops at the side of the road.

NOTE: Don’t head up Grand, thinking you’ll hit major signs for Sunlight! You need directions! Signs are subtle, and it’s on the opposite side of the river than you might think.

This ski area is small, hearkening back to a more simple time. So it’s PERFECT for families. Easy to park, easy to find the ski school window (first one you come to), easy to find the rental shop (fifteen feet away), easy to find the lockers (another fifteen feet). Catching my drift? It’s small. But that means: (1) Easy communication between parents as you negotiate rentals, tickets, lockers, etc (2) Fast movement from one station to the next (3) Simple insertion of children into ski school—that is RIGHT there, no wondering if you’re in the right place (4) Convenient slope review of said ski school children to make sure all is going well, without interfering.

QUICK FACTS:
• “Half day” lessons are 2 hours, beginning at 10am and 1pm
• Lesson, lift ticket and rental = $90
• Lesson & lift ticket = $80
• Lesson & rental = $75
• Lesson only = $60
• Colorado 5th/6th Grade Passport honored at Sunlight
• Check local coupon books, such as Gold C, for discounts
• Kids 12 & under ski free as part of some Ski Swim Stay packages

SNOWBOARDING DAY 1 & 2

It was Emma’s (12) first time on a snowboard, and after the two-hour lesson, she was making turns and stopping, ready for more green runs and some greeny-blues. We went to the top, struggled a bit to get her over the first dip on Grizzly (“Mama, I can’t go straight yet!”) and then slowly encouraged her down Rebel, a little tough for her first afternoon on the board, but she made it. The second day, we discovered that the two-mile-long green Ute run was perfect for our beginning skier, but not so great for our beginner snowboarder (alternately too slopey and flat). We did much better going to the top again and coming down Blue Catwalk to the sprawling Sun King.

I was so proud of Snowboarding Girl and told her so. Her response? “I had a great teacher.” Kevo was the instructor, in case you’re up there with your own Snowboard-Wannabe.

SKIING DAY 1 & 2

Jack (7) had skied for the last two years and was excited to be up on the slopes again, but by the time we arrived, he was feeling a little sick to his stomach. I didn’t want him to hamper a group, so I pulled him out of our reservation for a lesson. However, the team had plenty of instructors and given his level, he was to be the only one in the lesson. That’s right, a private lesson from Chase, at the group price. The ski school director encouraged us to go for it, and we did. All was fine and Jack felt confident enough to tackle the mountain with us, over and over again.

He and his big sis, Olivia (15) particularly loved the acres of aspen that line the slopes, and which make for some fun side trails. Mom and Dad (that’d be me and the hubs) loved the miles of intermediate terrain. (If you’re more hardcore than we are, check out Sunlight’s East Ridge, with one of the steeper runs in the state—a slope on the aptly named “Heathen” trail, which drops at a harrowing 52 degrees.)

On Friday, we practically had the mountain to ourselves, and enjoyed terrific views of Mt. Sopris and the lovely Elk Mountain Range. On our snowy Saturday, it was far more crowded (parking lot, base lodge, restaurant). But even then, the longest we waited in line at the lifts was five minutes, and we never felt crowded on the slopes, especially at the top.

I love that all trails converge at the base lodge, so families don’t get too worried over the spotty cell phone coverage—it’s impossible to get lost.

FAMILIES WITH YOUNGER CHILDREN

Sunlight offers full-day Super Tots programs that include full day lessons, lift, rental, lunch and childcare for your four-to-six-year-old, from 8:30-3:45, for the amazing price of $100. Half-day ($55) and full-day childcare ($80) is also available for children ages 18 months to six years, with no lesson.

FOOD? DID SOMEONE SAY FOOD?

Sunlight’s base lodge has a grill with some decent offerings, or you can pack a lunch. Down in Glenwood, we enjoyed our eats at the Glenwood Canyon Brewing Company ($8-18 per person, kids menu) and the Italian Underground ($10-16 per person, no kids’ menu). If you’re trying to pinch pennies like us, there’s also a nice Safeway on Grand, with lots of food you can bring back—especially if you have a room/condo with microwave and fridge.

ACCOMMODATIONS

This time around, we stayed at the AmericInn, which was very family-friendly. We loved their suite, which offered French doors between the master bedroom and sitting room, a pull-out queen bed, two TVs, microwave, fridge, and breakfast in the morning. The first morning, the special offering was biscuits and gravy (meh) but the second morning, they had carnitas! Aye, carumba! Even the pickiest kid could find something to eat there—a serious boon for a budget-conscious fam—and the pool will win them over every time.

What we didn’t care for? The “view” side of the hotel, on the freeway side, has deep awnings, blocking the view, and a lot of traffic noise, which is a big deal when the police are laying out a speedtrap at 4:45. Take it from me—request the quiet side of the building.

But there are tons of accommodations available in Glenwood Springs. Check out their Ski Swim Stay packages, or Priceline for further deals. If you stay on the opposite side of the freeway, be aware that the trains—which run constantly—are a noise factor too.

SWIMMING IN THE SPRINGS

Everyone knows that kids and water are a magical combination. But our visit to the Hot Springs was far better this time around, then when we went in late May. Maybe it was the cold, winter air and the slightly freaky amount of steam, that thrilled the kids. Maybe it was because there were fewer there. Maybe it was because we were ski-sore and needed the healing liquid from the earth, surging around our bods. But we loved (1) going at night; (2) going in winter; (3) going when it was less crowded. If you go, bring (1) cash for towels ($2.50 per), (2) a change of clothes—full shower facilities available; (3) .50 in quarters per locker; (4) goggles and play things for the kids; (5) disposable bottles of drinking water.

NEXT TIME: SNOWMOBILING &….THE CAVERNS

Given our desire to get two full days of skiing in, we didn’t have a chance to do the snowmobile tour at Sunlight. But the kids and I would love to do it, next time around. One-and-a-half-hour tours leave at 10am and 1pm and are $110 single; $150 double w/ child under 13; $170 double w/ two adults. Longer tours are available too.

I was surprised to learn that the Caverns Adventure Park was open in winter—it wasn’t until we saw the trams running that we found out that the alpine coaster, 4D Theatre, and lazer tag are open year-round. It made my kids seriously cranky to miss it, given our location at the Americinn, directly below the caverns. See if you can sort out a half-day to visit if you’re in Glenwood come winter—your kids will be glad you did.

No doubt about it, Winter is a special time in Glenwood Springs. We’ll be back.

Lisa T. Bergren is a blogger at www.theworldiscalling.com (@TheWorldCalls) and the author of over 35 books. She and her family reside in Colorado Springs, but they frequently dream of a RTW trip and/or living in Italy.

Disclosure: Our stay and ski days were kindly hosted by both Sunlight and AmericInn. And our most recent visit to the hot springs was comped by them. But our reviews are only what we would tell our best friends!

Mile High Mamas
Author: Mile High Mamas

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1 Comment

  1. I don’t think a lot of people realize just how much there is to do in the area in the wintertime. I, too had no idea there was even a ski resort there. Could that with world-class hot springs and you have one killer family vacation!

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