Snowshoeing by moonlight |

Snowshoeing by moonlight

Illustration by Ali DoyleCheck with the Gore Range Natural Science School for a list of guided snowshoe tours at (970) 827-9725.

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado ” You have left the clopping, ski-booted bar-hoppers and the women in fur coats carrying shopping bags.

You have left the lights of your hotel lobby and the street lamps of the village.

You are away from all that.

It’s night, and you are on snowshoes, and the sky is black, and you are not near civilization.

Once your eyes adjust, you find a peculiar brightness. With the moon so full and the snow so white, everything is illuminated as you break trail through soft powder.

It is clear and cold and quiet except for the whisper of your snowshoes. The shadows are secretive and thrilling.

Moonlight snowshoeing is an intimate and subdued date with Colorado. It is away from the ski lifts and the posh lodges. It is at an unlikely time.

It won’t give you the rush of downhill skiing in powder or the thrill of soaring out of a halfpipe. It won’t leave you pampered like a day at the spa will. But it will give you a chance to experience the mountains at their most serene, and an opportunity for simple reflection and lots of solitude. Snow transforms a landscape into a beautiful, otherworldly place, and at night, it feels even more sublime.

You can go to a bar and shoot Jager in any city. You can watch a DVD with the kids on any weekend. For couples or families, moonlight snowshoeing is a great activity.

Oh, and it’s also a really good workout. It’s hiking, but with extra weight on your feet and on shifting, sinking ground. You can make it as easy as you want, but if you’d like your thighs to hurt at the end of the trek, that’s par for the course.

Of course, nighttime snowshoeing is most ideal ” and most brilliant ” when there’s a full moon. An excursion with a new moon might make way-finding a bit difficult.

There are plenty of places you can snowshoe around the Vail Valley.

Take a stroll up Vail Mountain, starting in Vail Village and criss-crossing the catwalks. A 10-minute walk will bring you to the top of Pepi’s Face, where you can gaze down at the lights of Vail Village.

The Vail Golf Club, just to the east of Vail Village, includes snowshoe trails in the winter. Parking is available at the clubhouse, and buses serve the golf course from the Vail Transportation Center. The course is made up of a series of loops.

Vail Pass is another popular snowshoeing trail. Go to East Vail and travel all the way east on Bighorn Road. Park in the lot at the end of the road and snowshoe through the gate. You’ll be walking on the old Highway 6 up toward Vail Pass.

For a more remote experience, head to Meadow Mountain near Minturn. Go west on Interstate 70 from Vail to the Minturn exit. Head south on Highway 24 toward Minturn, and take the first right into the parking lot at the Forest Service ranger station. Head up the gentle, wide-open slopes, and you’ll soon feel completely isolated from the influences of man.

To combine moonlight snow-shoeing with fine dining, check out the Tennessee Pass Cookhouse at Ski Cooper near Leadville. Go south on Highway 24 past Minturn and Red Cliff and turn into Ski Cooper at the top of Tennessee Pass. Rent snowshoes and take a short jaunt to the yurt that is the cookhouse. Feast on elk tenderloin or oven-roasted chicken in the warmth of the small dining room.

Call (719) 486-8114 for reservations.

Many local ski shops rent snowshoes during the winter. If you’re going to venture into unpacked, fresh snow, make sure you get a larger-framed set of shoes.

Just strap the snowshoes onto some sturdy boots, and you’re set. Using poles can make things a little bit easier.

And it’s a winter night in the Colorado mountains, so it’s going to be cold. Bundle up ” especially if you’re going to be snowshoeing slowly. If you’re more active and will be walking briskly ” or even running ” wear fewer layers.

Yes, after a long day of skiing on your vacation, you may not want to do anything but have a few cocktails, watch a movie or sit in the hot tub.

But a moonlight stroll will give you a chance to see Colorado drained of colors, a moonscape of glowing white and pitch black under winking stars.

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