New Gunnison Valley Observatory to Showcase Area’s Prime Stargazing

Publish date:
Big-mountain freeskier Jessica Sobolowski thrives in monster terrain. In 2005, she became the first woman to ski Pontoon Peak, in Alaska’s Chugach Mountains, and last spring she started guiding for Points North Heli-Skiing, which she co-owns with her husband, Kevin Quinn. But for all of her focus, the recovering endurance addict has issues when it comes to the gym. “The outdoors is my gym,” says the multi-sport athlete and adventure racer.Sobolowski’s not alone. Her neighbors, Olympian turned skiercross pro Daron Rahlves and Matchstick Productions regular Ingrid Backstrom, spend the majority of their training hours hammering singletrack and trail running around Squaw Valley. But they know cardio workouts alone won’t build the strength and power demanded by 5,000-foot lines and full-body-contact ski racing. What the neighbors need is an outdoor interval circuit like the one in Rahlves’s backyard. The entire workout takes just 20 minutes, leaving time for an hourlong ride or run. Follow it, and you’ll be ready for Squaw classics like Broken Arrow and Headwall before winter solstice.For each of these exercises, start with 30 seconds on, 30 seconds off before continuing to the next station. Do three circuits (18 exercises total).  As you get stronger, increase the work time to 60 seconds on, 45 seconds off. Emphasize quickness: “These are intense movements that focus on agility and speed,” says Sobolowski. And do them with buddies—not only can they watch the time, they can spew insults when your quads and lungs are on fire.-Dimity McDowell*This article was originally published in the October 2007 issue of Skiing*


— The largest public telescope in Colorado has a new home in the Gunnison Valley Observatory, located in Gunnison, Colo.  A grand opening celebration for the observatory will begin at sunset on June 28, at approximately 8:30 p.m. Public viewing through the new telescope and a variety of "support" telescopes will be available that evening, and an astronomy education program will be offered.  The main telescope also will be available for viewing on June 29.

Following the grand opening weekend, the observatory will open at sunset every Friday night from July through September for open telescope viewing.  The public is welcome, and a nominal fee will be charged. An astronomy lecture series is planned for select Saturdays throughout the summer and early fall.  The observatory, including the classroom and telescope, soon will be available by reservation for private educational sessions, research programs and star parties.

Location & Features

The observatory is located off Gold Basin Road at the base of "W" Mountain, just southwest of Gunnison on U.S. Highway 50.  Located at an elevation of 7,703 feet and with air and light pollution almost nonexistent in what are known as "stable" skies, Gunnison has near-perfect stargazing conditions.  

The observatory features a distinctive dome to house the telescope atop an 800-square-foot building that includes a classroom and star wall.  

The original telescope was purchased from Black Forest Observatory, built and operated by Paul Van Slyke in Colorado Springs from 1986 – 2001.  Van Slyke built the impressive custom telescope so that he could observe Halley's Comet.  After discovering that thousands of other space enthusiasts also wanted to see the comet, he began offering public viewing sessions that earned the telescope a reputation for being an excellent instrument.  

The telescope incorporates a 30-inch f/9 Dall-Kirkham Cassegrain optical system (30" f/3 elliptical primary with 11.75" 3x spherical secondary multiplier) created by Intermountain Optics in Salt Lake City, Utah. Intermountain Optics manufactures optics for the aerospace industry.  Van Slyke found it was difficult to operate both his growing machining business and the observatory so sold the observatory's contents to a visionary group in Gunnison.  The telescope was sent to Texas, where it was re-manufactured for mounting in the Gunnison Valley Observatory.

Observatory Background

The observatory is the result of an ambitious dream of local businessmen Tom Willis and Tod Vandewalker.  The Gunnison Valley Observatory was incorporated as a nonprofit organization with a governing board of local astronomers and interested citizens to bring the telescope to Gunnison.

Gunnison Valley Observatory is a joint effort of Gunnison County, City of Gunnison, Western State College, School District RE1J, National Park Service, Gunnison Valley Astronomical Society, Gunnison Valley Economic Development Corporation and many local businesses and citizens.  

For more information about the Gunnison Valley Observatory and a schedule of events, visit

  or call Gail Davidson at (970) 641-8140 or Mike Brooks at (970) 641-6181.

Other Star-Gazing Activities

Each month, from June through September, there will be programs and telescopic viewings held once a month at Curecanti National Recreation in the Elk Creek Visitors Center and Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park in the South Rim Amphitheater/Campground. The Elk Creek star parties will be on the first Saturday after the neww moon (June 7, July 5, Aug. 2 and Sept. 6) at 7:30 p.m. The Black Canyon of the Gunnison star parties will be on Wednesdays (June 4, July 9, Aug. 6 and Sept. 3) at 8 p.m.

Visitor Information & Personalized Vacation Packages

For visitor information or to book personalized vacation packages, call the Gunnison-Crested Butte Tourism Association's official reservations center at (800) 814-8893 or visit

  . Air service to the Gunnison-Crested Butte Regional Airport is provided by United Airlines year-round and American Airlines during the winter season.