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“It’s 3:57!” My 10-year old daughter called over her shoulder. “If we hurry we can go one more time!”
How often have you heard those words on a ski trip? Catching the last chair is one of the quintessential moments of a skier’s day and timing that second-to-last-run to make it down before the clock strikes four is an art form. There’s a particular thrill that comes with jumping onto the lift seconds before the attendant hangs the Last Chair sign–and kids love it. I have to admit that I do too.
The week my family skied at Bolton Valley this winter was cold—the kind of cold that inspires weather people to make ominous statements about “life threatening, arctic wind chill” and other such hyperbole. Partly because it was hard to fight the meteorological hype, and partly because it actually was negative 50-degrees at the summit, we opted to take our time the first two mornings, lingering over breakfast as the temperature struggled to reach zero. The late starts meant that four o’clock snuck up on us far too quickly and both of those days concluded with our making the aforementioned Last Chair Dash.
But on our third day there was no need to rush because it was Wednesday–and Wednesdays through Saturdays are the days when Bolton’s lifts spin well into the evening.
Bolton After Dark
Located 25-miles south of Burlington, Bolton Valley is the only Vermont resort to offer night skiing and we were excited to check it out during our recent visit. Despite being a skier for most of his life, my husband had never been on the slopes after dark. For newbies like our girls and myself, night skiing at Bolton Valley would be one more novelty. As nighttime novices, we did have a few concerns. Would the girls be wiped out after skiing all day? Would we be freezing out there after the sun set? Would we be able to navigate in the semi-darkness? We’d find out soon enough.
The plan was to once again head out a bit later in the morning. Doing so, we thought, would help ensure that the kids had the energy to ski into the evening. Yet when Wednesday morning dawned with bright sun, a bluebird sky and temperatures finally approaching double-digits, we couldn’t help but hurry onto the mountain. The next few hours saw us making the most of our last day, spending some time over at the Timberline section of the mountain and taking several afternoon jaunts through Bolton’s easy woods.
As the sun crept lower on the horizon, it was time for a break and an afternoon magic show provided the perfect opportunity to rest before heading out for round two under the lights. We went inside to find the base lodge a hive of activity – pair after pair of boots were lined up in the rental shop while a gaggle of jabbering adolescents streamed through the doors, eager to begin their evening on the mountain.
Night Skiing at Bolton Valley for All
On Wednesday, Thursday and Friday afternoons Bolton offers an extracurricular program for elementary, middle and high school kids, which allows them weekly time on the slopes at a great price. Schools and recreation centers can opt to take part in either a 5 or a 10-week program and youth participants receive a deep discount on lift tickets, weekly lessons and, if they need them, gear rentals. I was thrilled to see Bolton present such a great opportunity for kids to learn to ski and get outdoors each week.
It was just past five o’clock when we climbed onto the Vista chair headed to Sherman’s Pass. Ten well-lit trails, including 3 terrain parks, are open during night sessions and Sherman’s is the longest run of the bunch. Meandering and tree-lined, this easy-green winds down from Vista Peak and offers intermediate and advanced skiers the chance to jump off on Beech Seal (blue) and Spillway (black diamond) on the way. Having skied it many times over the course of our three days at Bolton we were all familiar with the terrain, yet it felt different at night and we all enjoyed the unique atmosphere of skiing under the lights.
There were more than a few rambunctious, pre-teen boys zipping along the trail, but there were also plenty of quiet stretches when the only sounds were our own voices and the swish of our skis over the snow. I hung back a bit behind everyone, watching my girls’ shadows glide along the sparkling trail, their breath coming out in small, specter-like puffs in the darkness.
After a couple of runs off Vista, our oldest and youngest announced they were ready to call it a night, pleading frozen fingers as their defense. I was keen on getting another run and convinced our middle daughter to come along, enticing her with a fresh pair of hand-warmers. My husband decided to join and the three of us headed up the Mid Mountain lift for a nice, easy cruise down Primer before meeting up with our other girls in the lodge.
A Relaxing End to the Day
Cozily ensconced in the James Moore Tavern a short while later, we watched with the other diners as the last chair drama unfolded through the windows, as though we were at the theater. The folks at the table next to us clearly had kids who were still on the mountain and we listened to them wager over whether or not they’d make it back onto the lift another time. The number of skiers coming down began to dwindle as the hands on the Tavern clock ticked toward eight. We looked on as a small group of diehards come tearing around the bend toward Vista and applauded as they made it on for what we figured had to be one of the final rides of the night.
“Those people had to be the last ones!” one of our daughters exclaimed. Just as the words left her mouth, a crew of boarders zipped down the mountain and caught the lift.
“Do you think there are still people up there?” asked our youngest?
“I would be freaked out to get stuck up there if they turned out all the lights!” said another.
“Do you think they go up and check to make sure nobody got stranded?” asked the third.
We watched as yet another pair of skiers made it onto the lift, this time seconds before the attendant hung the infamous sign from the seat behind theirs. Last Chair.
Soon, the final tenacious skiers came down the mountain. Through the Tavern windows we watched ski patrol head up the trail for their final check. Staff members who manned the booths at the tops skied down with their backpacks while the chairs slowed to a stop under the night sky. All at once, the lights were extinguished and the mountain went dark as the shapes of four people, skis balanced over their shoulders, appeared as silhouettes in the moonlight. Bolton’s day had ended at last and I realized that whether you stop at four o’clock or at eight, it’s tough to have to call it quits either way.