Cross-country skiing even more fun in the dark

Skiing in the dark is magical. When I signed up to take a cross-country ski course this year, I was remembering moonlit skis when I was in middle school. On one trip, we saw a fox floating along like a ghost and heard a frozen lake cracking with eerie, musical tones.

So, when a trip leader said she was heading a nighttime ski, I signed up immediately.

We headed out to the Mountain Loop after work on Monday, a lovely clear day after a nasty weekend. The nasty weekend meant there was several inches of fresh snow on our route. We skied up the Mallardy Ridge road, an offshoot of Forest Road 4030. We simply drove until the snow coverage was decent and then found a place to park.

Skiing up was lovely. The sun was setting, and we got a few peekaboo views of the sunset. We also enjoyed some lovely wide views — with the trees covered with a rich layer of new snow. It was gorgeous, the hilltops were completely white, shading slowly to deep green in the valleys.

We skied uphill as the light faded. Our eyes adjusted as we went, letting us hold out for as long as possible before pulling out our headlamps.

We stopped at a wide-open spot. We could just see the last bit of sunlight, a tiny glow on the horizon. The trip leader pulled out her stove and made hot cocoa. Another skier pulled out thin mints and shared them around. We talked about the constellations we could see.

Fueled by cocoa and thin mints, we headed back down. By this time, the clouds had truly rolled in. We pulled out our headlamps and headed downhill.

The downhill was a fun challenge. I’ve skied in the dark before, but never on a long, downhill slope. I discovered that my willingness to go fast is totally based upon the slope in front of me. If it’s gradual, or flattens soon, I’ll go fast. If it’s super steep and long, I want to control my speed. In the dark, though, you can’t really tell.

You also can’t clearly see the snow. Unexpected rough spots tossed me around. The problem was worsened by the fact that I tended to direct the beam of my headlamp at the tips of my skis. Staring at the tip of your skis is a great way to end up on your face. And I did, but only once.

It was a challenge, but it was also rather magical. The headlamp narrows your focus to a tiny pool of light. It was peaceful to slide along, with just a small patch of snow to examine. And without the distraction of scenery, it was easier for me to concentrate. And I needed to concentrate. I had to be constantly be prepared for the snow texture to change or for a small bump to try to toss me to the ground.

By the time we reached the truck, I was tired and very, very happy. We never did see that full moon, but none of us complained.

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