Sunday, December 11, 2011

Sunlight Moonlight

Moonlight Ski Tour on Sunlight Mountain (Glenwood Springs, CO)


With a full moon (and eclipse) earlier the same day, I had planned on a nighttime ski tour of Sunlight Mountain near Glenwood. Sunlight is a smaller, friendlier local's mountain, and it would give me an excuse to visit it for the first time. It permits uphill hiking on all trails, has a nice network of free cross-country trails adjacent to the mountain (which also would lead most of the way to the summit), and puts on a 24-hour ski race.

I began my ski tour just after 6pm, in full darkness with the moon cresting nearby hills. A few cars were scattered in the lot, but it seemed as if it would be lonely out there. I started on the Old 4-Mile Road leading into the Babbish Gulch x-country trails, but ended up following a side trail right onto the Ute Trail. The Ute Trail is a green groomer leading all the way to the top, but takes 2.5 miles to do so. Every other trail (including the 24-hour race course) is much steeper and much shorter, but I was happy with my conservative choice, which allowed for me to take a mellow ski up on a wide, moonlit trail.

As I got nearer to the top, I thought I saw a headlamp in the distance. Sure enough, right as the final pitch under the lift came into view, I saw a party of 3 heading up. I caught up and greeted them, and then consciously thought about the fact that the light on the summit house was on.

It turns out these 3 were up for full moon shenanigans -- and more were on the way. Another couple was in the summit shack (which also had the fireplace on). They were just out for a moonlit ski like me, but the rest of the crowd was up for a party. As was explained to me, sometimes the lifties party up on the hill, sometimes the ski patrol; and on full-moon nights like this, they all come up. How cool is that?
"Hey, what do you guys want to do tonight after we're done with work -- which is skiing?"
"Uh, how about some skiing?"

Some of the goods, including hot apple cider, were courtesy of Meier Skis, a good ol' U.S. of A. local shop which custom-builds skis using Colorado wood. Despite my status as an interloper, these guys also freely offered burgers and brats which they were grilling outside.
More friendly folks showed up, and 80's music started blaring on a stereo. The inside of the shack had an unsurprising damp, sweaty smell, while the outside smelled decidedly more herbal.

I hung out with the guys a bit while waiting for some of my clothes to dry, and checked out awesome views from the proper summit of Compass Peak. I had a long drive ahead, so I thanked them for the fun and began skiing down. I stayed on the Ute Trail again, as I knew what to expect from the ascent. I barely needed a headlamp at all, heading instinctually for the lighter pitches of moonlit snow, absentmindedly expecting the surface to be noticeably softer as it would be in sun exposure. At the bottom, another group had just begun hiking up, with loose dogs chasing glowing frisbees. Having the run to myself under the stars was both surreal and sublime.

My preference is wandering through the woods, but I'm just as happy knowing that folks are occupying the local mountain for a fun time. No jostling in lift lines, no credit card or electricity needed.
Who said resort skiing can't be fun?

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