Vail Mountain’s sunrise Easter service starts in darkness, but bring your sunglasses |

Vail Mountain’s sunrise Easter service starts in darkness, but bring your sunglasses

Vail Mountain's sunrise Easter Service begins a day of religious celebrations across the valley

The Easter sunrise service at Eagle's Nest atop Vail Mountain always draws a big crowd.
Ethan Moore/Courtesy photo
If you go Vail Mountain’s sunrise service on Easter is Sunday, April 6. The Lionshead gondola starts running at 6 a.m. The service at Eagle’s nest is set to begin at 6:30 a.m. Parking and the gondola ride are free, but don’t bring your skis or snowboard. Everyone is welcome.

Vail Mountain is cold and dark at 6 a.m. But hundreds will brave the cold and dark to celebrate Easter at Eagle’s Nest.

The sunrise service was a staple of Eagle County life for decades before the COVID-19 pandemic canceled that and so many other events. The service returned last year to great acclaim, a great surprise to the Rev. Ethan Moore.

Moore, the recently-retired lead pastor of Trinity Church, said before the big turnout last year, “I wondered if this is even going to happen again; I feared that this is something that could be killed.”

But that worry was misplaced. Executives from Vail Resorts and town of Vail officials were as all-in as they’d ever been.

That cooperation is essential. Parking is free at the Lionshead parking structure for those attending, and Vail Resorts is opening the Lionshead Gondola at 6 a.m. for a service set to start at 6:30.

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The resort company also clears the tables from the restaurant on the third floor of the Eagle’s Nest building. People from the resort company also put out coffee and pastries.

Moore noted that the ski company “has no moral obligation” to help with the service. “But they really make it happen for us.”

Music at the sunrise Easter service atop Vail Mountain includes music by musicians from Trinity Church, the Vail Church and Mountain Life.
Ethan Moore/Courtesy photo

As in the past, a team made up of musicians from Trinity, the Vail Church and Mountain Life will provide the music, with the sound system paid for by Vail Valley Cares. The offering collection is donated to that nonprofit.

Starting before sunrise

When the service begins, Moore noted that it’s still dark enough that reading programs is difficult. Then the sun rises over the Gore Range and streams in through the restaurant’s windows. The light of the new day is so bright people almost need sunglasses, Moore said.

This year’s biblical telling of the Easter story comes from the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 28.

Those readings will come from Father Brooks Keith of the Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration.

Keith and Moore have long led the mountaintop service, and the two have traded responsibility for the Gospel readings and the sermon. It’s Moore’s turn for the sermon this year.

As you’d expect, that sermon will focus on aspects of the resurrection, but not just Jesus’ resurrection described in the Gospel.

Moore said resurrection is often discussed in the past tense, and looking to the future, when the Gospels say Jesus will return. But Moore plans to speak about the present, and resurrection now.

“Because of faith the old is gone,” Moore said. Belief in Christ informs how believers relate to other people, through kindness and patience.

“We can’t be afraid,” Moore said. “We’re bringers of goodness, kindness” and humility. It’s believers’ responsibility to bring those qualities into the world.

Keith said it’s “an honor” to serve with Moore in this, his last Easter of full-time ministry.

Ministers across the valley are extraordinarily busy in the week between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday. At Keith’s church alone, he and his ministry team have 14 “worship events” set.

‘Christianity in a week’

“This entire week is Christianity in a week… and if you only had one weekend to experience all of the Christian experience, this is the weekend,” Keith said.

All the activity through Holy Week “Help me access the resurrection,” Keith said. Noting there’s been a lot of death and loss over the past few years, Keith noted that the Christian message is that “there’s always new life” that follows death and loss.

The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John all tell the Easter story, with some significant differences.

Keith noted that the story as written in Matthew describes that the Roman soldiers dispatched to guard Jesus’ tomb were knocked down by a blinding light.

“They were knocked down by love,” Keith said.

Besides the reading and preaching, Keith said one of the most striking things about the mountaintop service is the gathering of people of all ages, and from all backgrounds, to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus.

The Easter sunrise service atop Vail Mountain draws people from multiple generations and backgrounds to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus.
Ethan Moore/Courtesy photo

“It’s four generations of people who come together, regardless of status or political ideology, and to hear children squealing (on an Easter Egg hunt),” Keith said. “It’s so loud you can’t hear the background music. People are just so excited to be together.

“What’s happening is, it’s the churches that are being resurrected,” he added.  

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