Dan Galleri, mountain host at SolVista Basin, doesn’t know what it’s like to wait in line to get in the parking lot at a ski resort.
“If I showed up at a ski resort and had to wait in line, I’d be having a bad day,” said Galleri.
Apparently, Galleri isn’t exaggerating when he says he only rides at SolVista, 2 miles off U.S. 40, about 10 minutes south of downtown Granby. And he definitely hasn’t witnessed the throngs of spring-breakers crowding the big-name resorts across Summit and Eagle counties. Otherwise, he’d know that parking lot, ticket window and lift lines are just part of the experience, especially during the busy spring season.
It’s a different scene, though, at SolVista, one of Colorado’s eight “Gems,” smaller ski areas and resorts designated affordable and family-friendly by Colorado Ski County USA. Families hang out together, the sounds of highway traffic are completely
out of earshot, a great cup of coffee costs a joyous $2 and the people are downright pleasant.
One of the ways SolVista keeps it down to earth is with volunteer mountain hosts. Galleri and Ken Taylor can’t remember the year the Broncos beat the Packers in the Super Bowl, but they’re pretty sure that’s when they began their stint as volunteers. As two of the resort’s original hosts, they’ve been returning lost gear to their owners, flowing cars through the parking lot, guiding visitors to the best trails for their abilities and helping folks out since about 1998.
“Nobody tells us what to do, we just make sure that the guests have a positive experience,” said Galleri.
I joined the two for a sunny morning snowshoe tour. We didn’t come close to covering the 15-plus miles of Nordic and snowshoe trails, but I did make new friends. Taylor showed me the marks on aspen trees where deer scraped the velvet off their antlers. I learned about the area’s winter adventure races and how to identify evidence of pine beetles in the tree bark. We stopped to admire sweeping views of the Indian Peaks Wilderness and a few hours passed quickly. With so much silence, I forgot about the ski runs close by.
“Where I get the biggest bang is on a snowshoe trip,” said Galleri. “People are just always amazed — ‘This was so beautiful, I can’t believe I never thought of trying it before.’ They thank me for twisting their arm to go.”
In a place that gets 300-plus days of sunshine a year, arm-twisting really isn’t necessary. Reservations for a guided tour are recommended, though. For $23, you get gear, a lift ride to the top and a guide. Anyone’s welcome to trek up the ski runs, but a mere $5 gets you one lift ride that drops you off right by the trail system.
After lunch, Galleri was anxious to show off the runs on his home mountain. On the Quick Draw Express lift, we chatted with a young, Midwestern mom who admitted that Sol Vista was the only place she skis. “No, wait. Tell everyone it’s terrible,” she laughed, when she found out I’d be writing about it.
While some Coloradans don’t even know where SolVista is, others recognize it as one of the state’s best-kept ski secrets.
“So many people have driven by on (U.S.) 40 a billion times and never knew it was there,” said Galleri. “For years, though, Sol Vista was the only place I’d ever gone to. It’s the family part that I like the best. I starting coming here when my kids were little and I couldn’t ski with them. I guess it’s a dad thing, hoping my kids don’t get hurt out there by some maniac. We just don’t allow maniacs. It’s family-friendly. We do everything we can to make sure a family — mom, dad, kids, grandparents — have a good day.”
It’s not just Galleri, Taylor and the other mountain hosts looking out for the guests. Instead of laughing, the liftie actually encouraged me as I nearly wiped out getting off the lift. Galleri and I cruised down a mellow groomer, perfect for my fifth day of the season. Within minutes, Galleri spotted a lost scarf, and picked it up to pass on to ski patrol. No experts flew by at 30 mph, and when I was ready to graduate to harder terrain, an entire hillside of blue runs awaited.
SolVista consists of East Mountain and West Mountain, with about 1,000 feet of vertical drop from each. Between the two, learning lifts service a small bunny hill. Greens and gentle blues cover East Mountain and mostly blacks drop from West Mountain. The setup makes it easy for newbies to gradually advance to harder terrain. And the great part for parents is that everything funnels back into the Base Lodge
In time for the opening of the 2007-2008 season, the SolVista crew made $5 million in renovations to the lodge, which includes a remodeled cafeteria with indoor and stunning outdoor seating. Additions also include a sit-down restaurant, the Slopeside Grill. It’s casual enough for a mid-day meal, but it’s also a welcome (and affordable) break from burgers and fries. Huge windows allow parents a perfect view of the bottom of East Mountain, the bunny hill and the (free!) sledding hill.
Those who may have visited SolVista years ago would be shocked by the growth. New homes dot the ranch landscape and lodge renovations seem to have cut the base parking lot in half. You’d think such major development might turn away SolVista devotees. But not Galleri.
“I think (the real estate development) is going to promote even more of a friendly place, because the people moving here are just fantastic. They’re meeting more people from the neighborhood, and they all just seem to be happy. It’s almost like being at King Soopers, where everyone asks if you’re having a good day, if you’re finding everything OK. Everybody’s in a good mood and they pass it on.
Besides families, SolVista is making appeals to the mountain bike crowd. As the snow melts and the spring mud dries, the ski hill becomes a maze of downhill and cross-country trails, all built by local riders. Colorado mountain bikers visit the resort much for the same reasons skiers do — it’s an affordable local’s secret and a great place to ride.
If You Go
SolVista Basin at Granby Ranch www.granbyranch.com
From the Editors: We spent a heap of time making sure this story was accurate when it was published, but of course, things can change. Please confirm the details before setting out in our great Centennial State.