Cripple Creek Backcountry's full moon skins

Image: Jack Affleck

Although we’ve been happily married for 22 years (the last 5 of those blissfully here in the valley), my wife and I have irreconcilable differences when it comes to human-powered locomotion. The summer after I popped the question in the middle of a frozen lake on a ski vacation to Wolf Creek, we rented a tandem bicycle on Nantucket Island and discovered that I like to spin and she prefers to coast, resulting in what amounted to the pedaling equivalent of a tug-of-war, a marriage test drive that led us sagely to pilot separate bikes on a monthlong honeymoon cycling tour across Germany. Same thing happens with hiking; I keep a steady up-tempo rhythm over miles without a break; my wife prefers a languid go-and-stop approach. On a 20th anniversary summit trek up the Mount of the Holy Cross, where I had enlisted the help of a local minister to renew our vows at 14,009 feet, our incompatible styles nearly resulted in a Three Mile Island-style marriage meltdown above the Bowl of Tears. 

So you’ll understand my wife’s skepticism when she asked what I wanted to do for my 52nd birthday in December and I showed her an advert for Cripple Creek Backcountry’s once-a-month self-guided full-moon ski tour up Vail Mountain, one of the 15 on-snow bucket list adventures highlighted in this issue’s cover story (“Best. Winter. Ever”).

“You’ve got to be kidding,” she sighed.

While my wife logs an Everest of vertical as a volunteer Mountain Host at Beaver Creek Mountain, I prefer to earn mine skinning up Arrowhead Mountain during pre-dawn solo treks with the family dog. That’s my me time, and I wanted to share it.

“Try it just once?” I asked hopefully.

She humored me.

After picking up her rental rig at Cripple Creek in Lionshead on a Saturday night, we clicked into our bindings in the ski yard as a crowd gathered at the foot of the Eagle Bahn, then merged into a conga line of uphill skiers snaking up Bwana, headlamps illuminating freshly tilled corduroy like a string of Christmas tree lights. After cresting the top of Bwana, we followed a catwalk and climbed the first pitch of Simba. Pausing to catch our breath and strip off layers—we were sweating, even though it was barely 10 degrees—then stood together in silence as the full moon rose above the Gore Range and bathed the deserted trails of Vail Mountain in an ethereal, achingly beautiful glow. Emerging from our reverie, we rejoined the Cripple Creek conga line, gliding silently upward, chasing moon shadows stretching over the snow.

Old habits returned, my skis chugging to a relentless mantra (“I-think-I-can, I-think-I-can...”) my wife dancing a waltz (“One-two-three, one-two three, one-two-three, Stop!”). Before the magic of the previous moment completely unraveled, we called a truce far below our goal, Eagle’s Nest. We donned the layers we shed, ripped the climbing skins off our skis, switched our boots from Walk to Ski, stepped into bindings locked into downhill mode, clicked off our headlamps, and together, we glided silently down the mountain, tracing each other’s S turns in the moonlight, skiing in perfect harmony.

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