Vail skiers have an ‘amazing time’
VAIL, Colorado ” The 45 minute drive from Vail turned out to be a chance for me to get a little more skeptical. I didn’t think a lot about the logistics of the outing during the couple days before we left, but it was getting hard to ignore the fact that it was dark out.
My friends and I knew some people in Summit County who were headed out that night and it sounded like fun. I don’t really remember talking about it much more than that.
It was 9 p.m. on a Wednesday in March and I was going skiing.
We were going on this particular night because the moon was full. By 10 p.m. we were headed up U.S. Route 6, which leads to the top of Loveland Pass. The moon was starting to rise in the cloudless sky ” Iit wouldn’t reach its peak until a few hours later ” but it was still pretty dark, though.
Would we really be able to see enough to ski?
‘An amazing place’
The top of Loveland Pass is just shy of 12,000 feet. The Arapahoe Basin and Loveland ski areas are on either side of it, but the pass itself is a popular backcountry skiing spot ” which isn’t affiliated with either ski area ” and is usually skiable well into June.
After the mountains close, it’s a great place to get in some extra runs and skiing the pass on a full moon is an “amazing time,” said Jay Reinhardt, who lives in West Vail and has spent three or four full moon nights skiing Loveland Pass.
“I was a little skeptical myself,” Reinhardt said of skiing at night. “I’d skied it during the day, but once you make that first run, all the jitters went away.”
There’s a small parking area at the top of the pass and most people spend a few minutes hiking off either side of the road before picking a line to ski. It’s best to make the trip with someone who has skied the terrain before.
“Loveland is an amazing place,” Reinhardt said. “There aren’t many places in the world you can do that.”
Most groups designate someone to drive to the bottom of the road and shuttle people back to the top of the pass.
A cloudy night could obscure the moon enough to make skiing difficult and it isn’t a bad idea to carry a headlamp or flashlight, but there’s usually plenty of light, said Dillon resident Duncan Maxwell.
“Usually the moon does a great job,” said Maxwell, who suggests that people who aren’t at least advanced-intermediate skiers stay away from skiing the pass.
Sometimes the visibility can be better at night than it is during the day, said Denver resident Matt Schaefer.
“You may only have 5 feet of visibility in a blizzard (during the day),” Schaefer said.
Schaefer, who grew up in Colorado and has skied the pass on a full moon at least 40 times, likes to do it without a headlamp. Without it, his eyes adjust to the moonlight instead of focusing on the small spot a headlamp illuminates.
Maxwell, Reinhardt and Schaefer all bring their avalanche gear with them when they ski Loveland Pass, which is exactly what Ethan Green, the director of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center suggests doing.
“People should do the same thing they would during the day, the snow doesn’t care that it’s dark,” Green said. “In addition to anything you would take any other day in the backcountry you probably want to have adequate lighting to deal with anything that might happen.”
That means at least carrying a beacon, probe, shovel, water and food.
Avalanche danger is relatively low this time of year ” if there hasn’t been any new snow and it’s been below freezing at night, the pass should be pretty safe, Green said.
The avalanche center posts advisories three days a week on their Web site, avalanche.state.co.us, and are worth checking before heading out.
When I first called Schaefer and told him I was doing a story about skiing Loveland Pass on a full moon, he wasn’t exactly thrilled.
It’s a locals thing, the kind of gathering that’s best left to be spread by word of mouth. But Schaefer started skiing the pass on full moon nights in 1993 and quickly conceded the cats probably already out of the bag. He’s probably turned 50 people onto the activity himself.
“It’s amazing how it’s changed,” Schaefer said. “Back then we’d get fresh tracks during the full moon.”
It’s more of a social event, now, he said.
“I think the people that want more of a riding experience, they’re going somewhere else,” Schaefer said.
But although the skiing itself may not be spectacular ” Maxwell described it as often firm and choppy ” there’s usually plenty of people up there.
There were at least 40 people on top of the pass the night I was there. And after getting out of the car and putting on my gear, most of my skepticism was gone.
It was clear and the moon was bright.
Staff Writer Chris Outcalt can be reached at 970-748-2931 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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