Aspen Times Weekly: Lunar laps |

Aspen Times Weekly: Lunar laps

by Jill Beathard


Don’t miss out on your chance to participate:

March 5

April 4 (also a lunar eclipse)

May 4

June 2

July 2

July 31 (blue moon)

Full Moon Yoga

6-7:30 p.m., Thursday, March 5


Shakti Shala

Ullr Nights

5:30-9 p.m., every Friday


Elk Camp, Snowmass ski area

Snowbiking, tubing, ice skating, live music and more

Owl Walk

6:30-7:30 p.m., Monday, March 16

Free for ACES members; nonmembers $5 or $10 per family

Rock Bottom Ranch

Mountains bathed in moonlight are a sight everyone should see at least once.

In Aspen, the full moon beckons everyone out to play — from locals to first-time visitors. And while everyone has a different way of celebrating, the most popular involve a hike up to some destination where the Roaring Fork Valley below is in plain view, brilliantly reflecting the light from above.

Once you do it, it’s easy to see why the full-moon hike has become an Aspen pastime. Walking in the woods at night, you’re acutely aware that you’ve never experienced the ski slopes so quiet. As you reach the top of whatever hike you’re doing and the view opens up to the valley below, it seems almost as bright as day. Everything is in plain sight and seems almost clearer somehow without the distractions of daytime: the snowcats moving up and down the mountain; the lights in town; the peaks, valleys and minute details of our incredible landscape.

My hike of choice is usually up West Buttermilk to a backcountry area above the warming hut. Having never invested in an AT setup, I usually have to uncomfortably slog my skis and boots up on my back; I stop at the warming hut to drop off my gear and keep it cozy.

I then continue up about 200 yards, where someone usually has started a bonfire in a pit with a direct, breathtaking view of Pyramid Peak and the Castle Creek Valley. Whiskey gets passed around, stories of past adventures and future plans are shared, and every now and then, you just look around in awe.

My most recent excursion there was just last month. Being a “school night,” we started up not long after dark and met up with a group of other young professionals, some of whom had lugged up a small grill and brats, buns and condiments to share. After an hour at the top, we began making our way back down, all the while passing more pilgrims on their way up for the late-night shift.

I was part of that crew when I had a different work schedule, and I clearly remember one year when several people got hurt coming down. After some revelers left litter and vomit in the warming hut one night last year, Buttermilk Ski Patrol temporarily locked the structure.

But it has since been reopened, and Aspen Skiing Co. hasn’t had consistent problems with full-moon hikers, said spokesman Jeff Hanle.

“I don’t think that was a group cultural problem,” Hanle said. “It was a few bad apples trying to ruin it for everyone else.”

Hanle has said before that Skico doesn’t have a problem with people recreating on the slopes at night. The company just asks that users be safe, keeping in mind that no ski patrollers are present but that snowcats and snowmaking employees might be working; they also ask people to clean up after themselves and their dogs.


Buttermilk is probably the most well-known full-moon party in the Aspen area, but smaller gatherings of friends happen on other ski slopes, 10th Mountain Division Huts and open spaces in the valley. Photographer Vanja Cucula, of Aspen, celebrates the full moon with friends almost every month, usually at the top of Snowmass or Buttermilk or at the Penny Hot Springs.

“I don’t miss my full moons,” Cucula quipped.

In the summertime, the group goes camping, and Cucula and her business partner Tamara Susa can often be found lugging camera equipment to capture the beauty of the moment.

“Hiking and riding in the full moon, it’s amazing,” Cucula said. “I think it’s the most beautiful thing you can experience. … It’s also a challenge.”

Roaring Fork Valley organizations also hold lunar celebrations. The Aspen Center for Environmental Studies led a full-moon “owl walk” in January, and Shakti Shala offers a monthly yoga class. Complete with a DJ, the full-moon sessions are more high-energy than other classes, said owner Jayne Gottlieb.

“The theme is centered around the full moon of that month,” Gottlieb said. “It’s meant to use that extra energy that the full moon brings out of you.”

Aspenites seem to acknowledge the full moon more than other communities. Cucula’s not surprised.

“We celebrate nature more than other places,” she said. “People here love nature and love enjoying nature. (The full moon) is kind of a natural thing happening by itself. … Once a month, you celebrate the beautiful thing of this place.”

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Aspen and Snowmass Village make the Aspen Times’ work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.

For tax deductible donations, click here.

Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.

User Legend: iconModerator iconTrusted User