Not just a place to pass through on your way to Aspen, charming Glenwood Springs offers, in many ways, the ideal ski weekend.
Sure, it's got all the ingredients for a perfect ski weekend: authentic town, good restaurants, nice hotels and a great little ski hill just up the road. But Glenwood also has a backstory: Originally a favorite spot among the Ute Indians, who used the natural hot springs to cure maladies from headaches to insomnia, the town was developed by the Deveraux Brothers, known for making a small silver fortune in Aspen. In its infancy, Glenwood was known as Defiance, thanks to the shady types who took up residence here in the 1880s. It's no Aspen, and that's exactly what keeps skiers coming back.
The drive from Denver to Glenwood Springs takes about three hours. (You can also take the train from Denver's Union Station daily at 8 a.m.-it arrives in downtown Glenwood Springs at 2 p.m.; amtrak.com.) Head to your hotel, the historic Hotel Colorado (doubles from $155; 800-544-3998; hotel-colorado.com). The hotel, built in 1893 as a hot-springs resort, hosted presidents Taft and Theodore Roosevelt, along with the Unsinkable Molly Brown and infamous gunslinger Doc Holliday, who hoped the hot springs would cure his advanced tuberculosis. (They didn't-his grave is a short hike off Glenwood's main drag, Grand Avenue.) Kick back in front of one of the three enormous fireplaces and read a book in the renovated lobby until dinner. En route to dinner, cross the pedestrian bridge outside the hotel to Grand Avenue. You can see Juicy Lucy's Steakhouse (970-945-4619) from the bridge; the steaks are excellent. Back at the hotel, stop into the Polo Lounge for a scotch before knocking off for the night.
The drive to Sunlight Mountain Resort takes about 20 minutes. On the way out of town, pull over at Summit Canyon Coffee (970-945-6994) on Grand Avenue for a quick herbal tea, organic coffee or slice of fresh quiche. Things get scenic right after you leave town, as the road winds through a beautiful canyon, gaining more than 2,500 feet of elevation along the way. Sunlight is truly a community hill: The folks are friendly, the vibe is relaxed, and the skiing is the same as it's been for the past 40 years. (Though the resort was bought by a Florida-based company in late 2006, so keep an eye out for expansion news in the near future.) Claim a spot in the dirt lot and climb the stairs to the lift ticket window. Full-day passes are $48. Two days are enough to experience Sunlight, so start at the Segundo double chair, which lifts skiers to midmountain on the eastern side of the resort. You'll have your choice of rolling blues, such as Cornice and Sunburst, which flow into a collection of faster, moderately steep blacks, such as Frying Pan Alley and Snowdown (watch for RV-sized moguls on some of the black-diamonds; grooming is not Sunlight's obsession). Ride up Segundo again, and head down Peace Pipe, which takes you to the midmountain Primero lift, a triple that serves the summit. You can play on the blues and blue-blacks off Primero for much of the day-Joslin and Zephyr are a couple of favorites. Toward the end of the afternoon, try one of the trails to skier's left of the lift for a taste of what's in store tomorrow. At the base, grab a beer in the Last Turn Lounge and hunker down for a set of covers by the Resident Powderhounds, Sunlight's après-ski regulars.
Back at the hotel, grab your swimsuit and cross the street to the famous Glenwood Hot Springs Pools (800-537-7946). If you think a soak in a hot tub feels good after a ski day, the pools set the bar a little higher. These are the largest hot springs pools in the world. The main pool, with its 90-degree water, is bigger than a football field. The therapy pool, at a heady 104 degrees, is smaller and will do a number on aching muscles. Then it's back to the hotel to get cleaned up for dinner at Riviera Restaurant-again, just across the pedestrian bridge (970-945-7692). You can't miss the neon sign-which has cast its glow over downtown since the restaurant opened aas a supper club in 1980. The focus is on fresh Continental cuisine, including Colorado lamb, seafood risotto and duck, plus a lengthy wine list.
There's not too much left of the mountain to ski, but what's in store is the toughest stuff Sunlight's got. You'll need a good breakfast, so hit the Daily Bread Café (970-945-6253; across Grand Avenue from Summit Canyon Coffee). This little spot serves great omelets, plus daily specials such as hearty biscuits and gravy. Back at Sunlight, board the Tercero lift, then ski down to the Primero chair. From the summit, stay skier's left, taking in delicious views of 12,953-foot Mt. Sopris in the distance. Warm up on Beaujolais, a blue cruiser, then ride back up again. This time, it's destination Heathen-one of the steepest runs in Colorado, with a 52-degree pitch. Back at the summit, head for the unnamed glades between Beaujolais and Rebel. There's powder hidden in here even days after a storm, but the trees are tight and the terrain steep. Make Defiance your last run of the day-if your legs are willing. Defiance is Sunlight's longest steep run, split into upper, middle and lower sections. Call it quits after middle Defiance and grab a beer at the Last Turn, or run it out all the way and end up back at the parking lot. Either way, it's a fitting finish.