A marvelous night for a moon walk | AspenTimes.com
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A marvelous night for a moon walk

Janet Urquhart

A full moon creeps over Red Mountain with a burst of silvery light in an indigo sky.In the soft glow of Earth’s flashlight, the winter night sheds its dark, forbidding aura for one of captivating shadow and light. Daytime playgrounds beckon with luminescent splendor.

Let the lunacy begin.Busy by day, Buttermilk bustles by night, as well, when a full moon arcs across a cloudless sky and the mercury hovers comfortably above cold. Such is the night on Sunday, Dec. 26. Denizens of the daylight, donning layers of thermalwear they will strip off and headlamps they will not need, are drawn to the luster of the slopes for a ritual that is best experienced, rather than explained.

They make this monthly pilgrimage to the top of Buttermilk in near silence, except for the rhythmic pole plants and crunch of footsteps or schhh, schhh of skis sliding methodically upward. Chatter comes easily at the start, but gives way to long silences, punctuated only by labored breathing, as they climb.Even in groups, moonlight uphillers tend to find themselves lost in reverie, alone but for the elongated figure stretched across the snow, matching their every step.Only on top, when extra layers are retrieved from backpacks, along with bottles and flasks of liquid rejuvenation, does exuberance return. There is camaraderie and anticipation – it’s all downhill from here.And there’s time to toast the view: The jagged pinnacles of Pyramid Peak jut upward in the southern sky somewhat less formidably under the moon’s glow than in the harsh light of day.

The lights of town twinkle like some miniature village in a Christmas display.Next to the Ski School cabin, some folks who spend their days at Buttermilk are here for the night, too. Matias Fraternali, an Argentinian and lift supervisor at Buttermilk, builds a wood fire in the bottom bowl of a Webber grill. Fellow lifties are making their way up the slopes, packing burgers and sausages for a barbecue.

Fraternali has come early, running from his apartment in the Burlingame housing complex near the Buttermilk base over to the Tiehack side of the mountain and then hiking up the slopes with his snowboard on his back. It’s a workout routine he does some three evenings a week, finishing the loop with a ride down to the base, followed by a quick walk home.”I do it even when we don’t have any moon. Without the moon, you see nothing. You can’t see from here to there,” said Fraternali, pointing at the cabin a few steps away. On those nights, a headlamp lights his path.Kristine Tracz of Aspen Village enjoys the warmth of the fire. These days she is a guest services worker at Buttermilk; she has basked regularly in the moonglow on Buttermilk for years.”I just love the lighting, the shadows. It’s peaceful.”

Fifteen years ago, Tracz remembers joining nurses from the local hospital who brought along heavy-duty hazardous-waste bags for the descent.”We would slide down on those. It was a blast,” she said.Helen McQueeney of El Jebel and Barb Jaksa of Carbondale are nearing the summit. Something about the moonlight eases the trek, McQueeney contends.”It’s gorgeous. You can’t even feel the exertion. It’s surreal.”

With the moon high in the sky, a steady stream of hikers dot the slopes. Some carry snowboards, some are skinning up on skis in anticipation of crisp turns in the duotone landscape. A few thrill-seekers drag sleds.”To be out here alone – it’s beautiful, man. It’s just incredible,” says one trim hiker. “It’s a different thing at night.”Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com


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