Skiing the Dark Fantastic

Lacey Middlestead
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Lacey MiddlesteadLacey Middlestead is a Montana native and freelance writer currently living in Helena, Mont. She loves meeting new people and helping share their stories. When she’s not busy writing articles for newspapers like the Independent Record and Helena Vigilante, she can usually be found indulging in her second greatest passion–playing in the Montana wilderness. She loves skiing and snowmobiling in the winter and four wheeling, hiking, boating, and riding dirt bikes in the summer.

Looking to kick the adventure level up a notch on your favorite winter sports? Nothing does that better than adding in a twist of darkness.

A few weeks ago I found myself, along with my husband and another close friend, winding our way up the narrow road to Great Divide Ski Hill. We’d gotten the brilliant idea days earlier that night skiing on Friday would be the perfect way to jumpstart our weekend.

When Friday finally arrived I kept a close watch on the mountains in the direction of the ski hill throughout the work day. They were hazy white most of the afternoon so I knew fresh snow was falling and would give us a fluffy top coat. A bitter wind stirred up first thing in the morning, however, and grew with intensity as the day progressed. I started wondering whether the ski trip would even be possible. But the boys were completely undeterred by the potential blizzardy conditions up on the hill and told me we were still going. I must admit I admired their determination to see this activity through.

After layering up our base and mid layers and piling our skis in the back of my friend, Chris’, truck we were on our way. As we approached the hill, the winds began to still and the clouds overhead parted to reveal a clear night sky. It was about 5 or 5:30 pm. when we finally pulled into a parking space near the lodge. Even though night skiing had started at 4 p.m. there weren’t many cars there yet so we were able to get a pretty good spot.

After suiting up in snowpants, boots, helmets, goggles and facemasks, we propped our skis up on our shoulder and began clomping up to the lodge to purchase our lift tickets. Something told me this was going to be my best skiing outing all season.

As we skated our way into the lane for the chairlift we were delighted to see that only a few people were in front of us. We quickly shuffled our way up to the front and slid onto the frosty chair lift seats. As we inched our way up the hill, I found myself mesmerized by all the flood lights staggered up the main bowl casting sepia globes of light onto the snow and skiers below.

The snow conditions were perfect that evening. Several inches of fresh powder dusted across the surface of the hill and hugged our skis as they drifted through. Snowflakes continued meandering down from above like tiny dancers under the spotlights. It all created a magical ambiance for our ski trip that night.

At the top of the chair lift you could either take off down a run along the side of the mountain or go straight down the main bowl. The bowl was steeper and further challenged our skills so it was the run we frequented most. While Andy and Chris preferred to dash toward the darkened edge of the bowl where deeper snow lay, I chose to weave down the middle where I had clearer views of the city lights in the distance. It was a soft glow that was both beautiful and comforting.

After a few runs, I took a brief detour off the hill to use the bathroom while Andy and Chris headed up for another run. While inside the lodge, I couldn’t help but pause to grab a bag of Wild Berry Skittles to carry me through until dinner. I figured I could stash them in my coat pocket and enjoy them on the chairlift. What I didn’t realize was they would soon turn into hardened but fruity little pebbles after a few minutes outside. Still not a bad snack though!

By the time we made our 11th run, or 10th for me, my hands and feet burned from the cold and desperately sought to be back in the warmth of inside. After reaching the bottom of the hill we carefully maneuvered through the parking lot on our skis till we reached the truck so we wouldn’t have to tote them down from the lodge. Even with my gloves still on, my hands trembled as I quickly detached my boots from their bindings and loosened the buckles to pull my feet out and nestle them back in furry boots.

After we all finished changing, we climbed back in Chris’ truck and made our way back down the dark road through Marysville and onto the highway. Just on the outskirts of town, we made a pit-stop at the Grubstake for some burgers and chicken strips and regaled each other with stories about other ski trips the three of us had taken together.

Most people dream of blue bird days up on the hill, but for me, a few hours of skiing in the dark under the lights and twinkling snow was a far more memorable adventure.