The light outside is beginning to fade and focusing on the words on my computer monitor is taking way too much effort. I reach for the mug of room temperature coffee beside me and take a few big gulps, hoping that it will propel me through the last half-hour of my workday. It's late December and the trees outside my office window are showing too much green to get me excited about going out for a night skiing session with my visiting friends, but I remind myself that it's important to be thankful for what we've got. It's been a dry winter, but by some stroke of luck most of our groomers are well covered at a time when several other resorts in the region can't even open.
The Skyline Chair carries us away from the noise and bustle of the base area and suddenly we are enveloped in a grey mist. A few hundred feet below the top of the lift we break out of the clouds and rise towards a sky glowing dimly with the sharp blue hue of the fading day. Fog uniformly fills the Highway 2 corridor below, and the ridges of Big Chief Mountain, Cowboy Mountain, and Skyline Ridge seem like the steep banks of a long, winding lake.
I drop in and notice that the skiing has improved with time: the wet snow from earlier in the day had created choppy grooves and bumps as it froze, but in the last couple of hours it has been polished by ski and board edges. What's left is smooth patches of hard pack, interspersed with drifts of friendly granular sugar snow. I crest a rise and the world seems to fall away below my skis. I throw them almost all the way sideways, leaning hard on my edges and feel them just barely bite before I hop and twist, putting my weight onto the other sides. I suddenly feel that rush that comes with being balanced and in control in a chaotic situation. The fog that had built up in my mind over the course of my workday is blasted out as I take advantage of the lack of crowds by pointing my skis straight ahead so that they carry me as fast as I dare go.
For four winters I worked as a Stevens Pass Lift Operator. Three of those were spent on the night shift because there are few jobs in the world which allow you to ski more. Conditions are mediocre? You're going up to work anyway, you might as well take a few runs beforehand. Powder day? Wake up early to chase fresh tracks all day, and then rush into the locker room panting and sweating to change jackets and clock in. Work late, rinse and repeat. During the stormy times many night liftys are lucky to get a handful of hours of sleep every night, and even their dreams are filled with fluffy powder and blasting wind. Hygiene, nutrition, and phone calls to their mothers are just a few casualties of a good storm cycle. If the person bumping your chair at night looks exhausted, don't worry: he or she might just be living their dream.
The dry days of the early season are long gone and we're now wrapping up the 2nd snowiest February in over 50 years. These days I spend most of my work week behind a desk and try to make the most of my allotted two days off. A recent stormy day had me skiing all day, then heading over to a friend's RV to trade my shoveling skills for a home-away-from-home cooked dinner. At some point a message pops up on my phone: "this is amazing!" Minutes later: "skyline is incredible right now." It's 9pm. We hurry to don our wet jackets, buckle soggy boots, and head for Hogsback. We take turns showing each other our favorite lines, finding untracked, nearly bottomless powder in the fringes of the lit runs. We seem to have the place to ourselves, but can hear hoots and hollers in every direction. Every time we get back on the chair, one of us asks the other if that had really just happened. A quick stop at the Bulls Tooth, and then back to the RV to get some rest before it all starts over the next day. The next work week seems easy.
Night skiing at Stevens Pass is truly a unique experience; a great way to wind down after work, or just get your turns in without fighting the daytime crowds. Stormy nights serve up quality powder under the lights which can pile up faster than it can be tracked out, and clear nights offer amazing sunsets and surreal lift rides under the stars. On Saturday nights you can head into the Foggy Goggle to get warmed up with some live music and dancing, or go sit down for a good meal at the Bulls Tooth. We'll be open until 10pm on Fridays and Saturdays until March 15th (Update: nights have been extended to inlcude March 21 and 22!). Come on up and see it for yourself.