Outdoors

Eastern Iowa ski resort gets early start thanks to colder-than-normal temps

Slopes already open at Sundown Mountain

Skiers glide down Sundown Mountain in Dubuque on Saturday, Dec. 24, 2011. Despite the lack of natural snow, low temperatures has allowed the resort to produce enough snow to keep the mountain open. Sundown Mountain is closed today (Sunday) but will return to regular hours, opening at 9 a.m. on Monday.      (David Scrivner/SourceMedia Group)
Skiers glide down Sundown Mountain in Dubuque on Saturday, Dec. 24, 2011. Despite the lack of natural snow, low temperatures has allowed the resort to produce enough snow to keep the mountain open. Sundown Mountain is closed today (Sunday) but will return to regular hours, opening at 9 a.m. on Monday. (David Scrivner/SourceMedia Group)

The magic number is 28 degrees.

That’s how cold it needs to be for the machines at Sundown Mountain Resort to whir on and blast man-made snow onto its 21 ski runs.

Colder-than-normal November temperatures have been a boon for the resort in Dubuque County, general manager Mark Gordon said.

Sundown Mountain — where nearly all of the snow blanketing 475 feet of vertical drop is man-made — had one of its earliest opening days ever this season.

For the ski resort “to be operating before Thanksgiving,” Gordon said, “it’d be like winning the lottery.”

By Thanksgiving, Sundown had already seen four days of business. Gordon did not know exactly how many skiers and snowboarders had been on the slopes those days — Nov. 16, 17, 18 and 21 — but said the mountain was crowded.

During a good season, Gordon said, 50,000 to 60,000 people visit Sundown, which is about 70 miles northeast of Cedar Rapids. It is typically open until March.

“There’s some really, truly, highly talented skiers and snowboarders,” he said. “We’ve been around for 45 years, and there are even now some third generations — getting that grandson out and continuing that tradition.”

Skiers as young as 15 months and as old as 95 are regulars at the resort, Gordon said.

“My mom, for example, is 87 and will be out there next week,” he said.

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Staffing the resort exploded in November — from eight employees to 230 — as it prepares for the winter season.

Three of Sundown’s four chairlifts are running, and about half of its 21 runs are open. Regular lift ticket prices range from $30 to $46.

Gordon said staff will keep the runs covered in powder whenever the weather allows.

“Night, day, rain, sleet, dark of night,” he said. “ ... We’ve had some real good snow-making segments, some very hardworking snowmakers, and a lot of technology.”

For hours and more information, visit sundownmtn.com.

l Comments: (319) 398-8330; molly.duffy@thegazette.com

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