Moonlight Magic: Outdoor Traditions
During the long nights of winter, nowhere does the full moon shine brighter than in Colorado’s high country. Tucked away from city lights, the silvery moon hangs like a lantern in the black sky, providing enough illumination for doing just about anything at night that you can do during the day.
Mountain residents schedule nighttime activities by the lunar calendar, many of which include a meal or party to celebrate the event that occurs about every 30 days. Here are some ways to play in the snow under the next full moons of winter.
With only the moon to guide her, Beth Sharp spent her most memorable Christmas Eve skiing at Breckenridge. “At midnight, it was bright as day,” she said. Using skins (sleeves of synthetic material ribbed for gripping that fit over skis), she and friends climbed up the slope for a peaceful ski to the bottom. She advises choosing a familiar packed run and keeping a lookout for grooming machines.
Skiing Loveland Pass has been a full-moon tradition for years. It’s not uncommon to encounter 30 to 50 people at the 11,992-foot summit on a clear night when you can see from ridge to ridge. Enjoying a picnic of wine and cheese before diving into the moonbeamed bowl, one skier said,” It’s not about getting in lots of turns. It’s about finding a nice spot to see the stars and bright moon at nearly 12,000 feet.” Take all backcountry precautions, as this area is not patrolled. For a less risky adventure, hike the ridgeline.
The Moonlight Descent is an adventure for lovers of deep snow — first tracks through moon-splashed meadows of Steamboat’s famous Champagne powder at the top of Buffalo Pass. A heated snowcat grinds deep into the forest and arrives at a remote cabin where a hot dinner awaits. But first you take three or four short, but oh-so-sweet powder runs. No moonlight? Headlamps are optional, although the snow is bright enough to see tracks etched by the guide. The cost is $2,700 for you and 11 of your friends, and includes dinner, transportation and all equipment. Steamboat Powdercats 800-288-0543, steamboatpowdercats.com
Mushing in the moonlight is magical, not just for the bright scenery, but Huskies seem to be more alert and run better in the crisp night air. “Moonlight changes everything,” said Lisa Mapes, owner of Cosmic Cruisers. “There’s a magical energy that the dogs really pick up on.” Don’t be surprised if a coyote joins in to run along with the dogs.
Choose from two tours: a long one through Gunnison National Forest and a shorter one just outside Crested Butte Mountain Resort. The latter includes the option to mush your own team behind the guide. Wear warm clothes, boots and goggles for eye protection. Call for rates that vary according to tour and scheduling. Cosmic Cruisers Sled Dog Tours 970-641-0529, gunnisonsleddogs.com
“Over the hill and through the woods” takes on new meaning when you’re guiding a powerful snowmobile on the trail. The adventure is heightened when only headlights and the moon light your way.
Telluride Snowmobile Adventures offers a two-hour evening tour that begins at dusk and takes you through the forest to the ghost town of Alta, which sits in a clearing opposite the moon-drenched Mount Wilson, the highest peak in the San Miguel Mountain Range. Here the guide tells you the history of mining in the area while you sip a hot drink and take in the moonlit views. The cost is $149 for your own sled or $199 to double up, and includes helmet and transportation to the base camp. Wear warm ski clothes, boots and clear or yellow goggles. Telluride Snowmobile Adventures 970-728-4475, telluridesnowmobile.net
The moon reflecting off flowing hot mineral water in the chilly nighttime air adds a new dimension to what Colorado’s native Ute Indians called pagosa, meaning “healing waters” for their therapeutic value. The state boasts nearly 50 hot and warm springs, and some are clothing optional at night.
At Cottonwood Hot Springs, five large stone soaking pools hold gravity-fed hot water from Mount Yale in the San Isabel National Forest. This secluded getaway near Buena Vista also offers a rustic country inn with three creekside cabins with private pools. The cost is $10 for adults weekdays; $15 weekends; less for children younger than 16, although kids are not allowed in the pool area after dark. Bathing suits are required. Cottonwood Hot Springs 800-241-4119, cottonwood-hot-springs.com
One of the best ways to experience the tranquility of the shadowy woods or brilliant peaks is to walk across them on snowshoes. You can go it alone, follow marked trails or take a guided tour.
As night settles in Keystone and the moon rises high, head to the Nordic Center for an invigorating two-hour trek. At the end, warm up with a soup dinner at the clubhouse. The cost of $39 includes rentals and dinner. Keystone Full Moon Snowshoe Tours 888-222-9285 keystone.snow.com
From Breckenridge, take a snowshoe hike up Boreas Pass Road south of town for a spectacular view of the Ten Mile Range drenched in moonlight.
Colorado native Claudia Carbone is an award-winning ski and travel journalist and the author of the book “Women Ski.” She writes for local, national and international publications.