It’s 6pm and the sun is setting as I click into my skis, my breath sharp in the February cold snap. The summit of Snow King glistens almost 2,000 vertical feet above me, and I turn to my friend just to make sure we really don’t want to bail.
“Oh, come on,” he says knowingly, and he starts to make his way up the steep incline, the skins on his skis setting our rhythm. I sigh and gear up for a good sweat. Before we reach the first switchback, the stress of the work day dissolves, and we’re chattering on about last week’s storm and the spots we want to ski over the weekend. Other headlights dot the skinning trail above and below us, a small community created each morning (for the truly brave) before work and each evening after work.
It’s quite possible we’re taking part in one of the oldest traditions in Jackson Hole. All year long, the steep hills stretching to the summit of Snow King linger over its residents, calling us to the outdoors, a centerpiece of the town that doesn’t give us the excuse of a long drive or any other reason to blow off a work out. In the summertime, we scatter the hills walking, running, biking — in the winter, it’s skinning time.
About the time we reach the midway station, the view really starts to glamour up. The lights of our small town glow, cozy cabins dotted below lazy smoke streams from wood stoves. A group passes us on their way down, hollering out hellos and biding good wishes for the summit. The mountain is open for night skiing, and kids are still hopping off the chairlifts and gliding out under the night skiing lights. There’s a reason they say there’s no place like home….
The second half of the switchbacks is where it gets good; the lights end at the midway station, leaving room for the western sky to open, stars laid out horizon to horizon, the milky way bold and outspoken without any cloud cover.
About an hour after we start, we’re at the summit. It’s a night with no wind, so we take our time putting our layers back on and pulling off our skins. Our gift is standing between two views that never grow old — the entire town of Jackson and the entire open sky (filled with shooting stars on the clear nights….no, seriously) — both indescribably beautiful until you see them for yourself.
Then we’re off, a single, perfect ski run waiting for us. With new powder at the top, we grab fresh tracks and giggle our way through pillows of snow. My stomach bubbles with utter joy when I see the grooming machine has already been out: that means the second half of our run is warm, buttery, delightful corduroy. There’s really nothing better — except knowing now we can go out to eat anything we want without feeling guilty.