Even before I made a turn at Sunlight last year, I noticed there were nearly as many people hiking up the slopes as skiing down. OK, that might be a slight overstatement, but the resort caters to the locals, and that includes letting them work out by skinning up the slopes. Such generosity might not be typical at a ski resort, but Sunlight isn't trying to be typical. The resort sits above Glenwood Springs, 40 miles from Aspen but far less flashy. At Sunlight, you're more likely to see L.L. Bean jackets from the Reagan era and 205 cm skis.
Sunlight rivals Aspen, however, in one respect: its breathtaking scenery, with dramatic hillsides of aspen trees and stunning views of Mt. Sopris and the Maroon Bells. The skiing doesn't disappoint either. The area sits at the base of a big, treed bowl that offers 2,000 feet of vertical and everything from glades to steeps to cruisers. In fact, for a small ski area (470-acre), the terrain is remarkably intriguing. Defiance, a spruce-dotted expert run, drops almost 2,000 feet along the shoulder of a steep ridge; Heathen, at 52 degrees, is one of the steepest in-bounds runs in the country.
Another Sunlight advantage: at day's end, you can dip your weary body into Glenwood's historic hot springs and pool. Sunlight's Ski Swim Stay package includes lift tickets, lodging and admission to the hot springs. My favorite place to stay is the Hotel Denver, an elegant, art deco downtown hotel that gunslinger Doc Holiday called home for a while. For dining, try Juicy Lucy's steakhouse, Italian Underground or the Glenwood Canyon Brew Pub, or head to nearby Carbondale, where the locals rave about upscale Russets and groovy Phat Thai.