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Full Moon Folly

A short story about four friends feverishly foraging for fresh pow under the full moon.

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Full Moon Folly

  1. 1. [2010.03.02] Two days ago was the full moon. For a week my friends Orion, Jason, Clarence and myself had anxiously planned too utilize its light for some midnight skiing at Loveland Pass. Loveland Pass is located immediately off of Interstate 70 in Colorado and adjacent to Loveland Basin Ski Area. Though none of the four of us had ever skied under the full moon (at Loveland or otherwise) we had heard that a number of people regularly gather at the pass late at night on and around the full moon for moon lit runs. We weren’t anywhere near positive about how true this was but having skied there during the day just recently, and having had a great time we felt the experience could only be amplified by the cool steel glow of a Colorado full moon draped across fresh fallen snow. We met at Jason’s around 6:30pm and by 7:15 had my Subaru Forester packed with four dudes, four packs, two snowboards, two pairs of skis, and other essentials. Spirits were high, but a slight, though still tangible air of apprehension (the weather being less than agreeable for what we had planned) permeated our troop. In good conditions, meaning sunny, dry and little to zero traffic hiccups, snafus, or other inconvenient caveats, it should take around two hours to drive from Nederland to Loveland Pass. In bad conditions, meaning dark, snowy, and wet (coincidentally, the conditions we were blessed with) it takes, well, longer. The first half of the drive winds up, down, left and right through the Northeastern Rocky Mountains, along a road called the Peak-to-Peak Highway, also known as Colorado State Route 119. Traffic through this corridor is usually pretty minimal and apart from the casino-ridden reservation town of Blackhawk there is little reason for most people to travel this way. We were making good time despite less than ideal road conditions; my Forester’s four brand-new tires making sure to keep us on good footing while motoring at a calm and comfortable 50 per. As we came coasting down an easy hill that banked slowly left at the bottom two Gilpin Country Sheriff pick-up trucks sat, facing opposite directions, next to each other in a way that made it easy for the drivers to talk to each other without having to get out of their idling behemoths. Based on what happened next it wouldn’t be unreasonable to wonder if, as we passed, one said to other, “…Twenty bucks says that Subaru is doing something we can arrest them for. Let’s got pull them over for some made up reason and see what we can find.” Which is exactly what happened…except for the finding ANYTHING part. As I passed the pair of deputies I watched the headlights of the truck facing my direction turn on in my rear view mirror and knew then that the good time we’d been making and having were both about to take a hit. Sometimes you get a cop that treats you with respect and dignity, at least at first, and other times, they just seem to want to be hated right off the bat. This particular sergeant of The Gilpin County Sheriff’s Office is the latter, and he satisfies the requirements of that role very well. With indignation spread across his voice and body language like Jif on Wonderbread, he explains that he clocked us going 49 miles per hour in a zone designated with a maximum speed of 45 miles per hour. Yes, I’ll say it one more time, 49…in a 45. “What are you in such a hurry for son?” the sergeant asks, I had no idea how to answer his question without sounding like a disrespectful punk
  2. 2. kid, which is the last thing I was trying to appear as, but how do you answer what you’re in such a hurry for when you clearly and simply aren’t. I answered something to the effect of; I don’t feel as though I was driving at an unreasonable speed for the conditions based on my car’s proven ability to maintain excellent control in unfavorable weather. Seemingly very dissatisfied with my answer, the sergeant asked for the ID’s of everyone in the car and returned back to his. We waited a while, which is never good, for him to come back. When he finally did, I was bummed, but far from surprised when he asked me to step out of the car and follow him to his. Long story short, each of the four of us was remove from the car, searched and then instructed to stand by the side of the road while every inch of my very cluttered car was combed over for any shred of illegal activity…no such shred was found. Reluctantly we were sent on our merry way, and in spite of it all we actually were quite merry. We made Interstate-70 at around 9 o’clock. Nearly two hours into what is normally a two-hour drive in total, we’d made it slightly beyond the halfway point. However, in theory, it would only be another 30 to 40 minutes before we were strapping in at 12,000 feet under the full moon, which up to that point, had yet to show its beautiful white- cratered face. It occurred to me that all of the characteristics I usually hope for on a ski day were exactly the things, that for this trip, it was necessary to be without. First, it was dark, and we were panning to ski in the middle of the night. Also, having heard that it can be quite a party we were hoping to see lots of other adventurous riders out there with us and, instead of relishing the now fast-falling snow, for the first time in my life I wanted it to stop. Snow means clouds, and clouds mean no light from the moon. No light from the moon makes high-speed tree skiing a whole different ball game, if not an altogether bad idea. You may have heard of Loveland Basin Ski Area. It’s a good looking, but smallish, resort right along side I-70. I’ve never skied the resort before, so can’t say much about it, but this is about Loveland Pass immediately neighboring the resort to the east. The road that goes over the pass mainly serves as an alternate route for trucks with freight prohibited from driving through the Eisenhower Tunnel. The top of the pass roosts at 11,990 feet above sea level. The beauty of this place for skiers is that the design of the road allows for immaculate slack-country road runs. With a group of friends, accessing acres of steep and variable terrain via your car is a great and relatively cheap way to ski endless backcountry lines without having to hike for hours. Standing at the top of the pass the view to the north and west is of a giant horseshoe shaped bowl that can be traversed to the west all the way around until you are facing south. The south facing aspect is more prone to slides though, so be aware and ski with a friend. The north aspect doesn’t hold as much snow generally, plus it’s not quite as steep in most places so it’s generally considered safer. Which of course means it’s skied more so, choose your poison. When you get there, if the fact that your only 10 meager feet below a solid 12,000, is driving you a little crazy, don’t fret. You’ll see immediately to the west of the elevation sign is a conveniently sized 10-foot-tall mound. Climb it and twelve grand is yours. From there you have some choices to make. You can drop straight into some nice steep trees with good coverage even after its been skied, or start traversing west. About a half-mile traverse from the drop point brings you to a section that opens up onto a face
  3. 3. covered in big shoulders and natural half pipes. This is a great place for big long powder turns; also, keep an eye out for a number of handmade kickers, if you’re into that sort of thing. Below that is a really fun tree-pocked canyon run-out to the bottom. Be sure to harness your inner child through this section. That’ll shoot you right out to your buddy running shuttle that round, who’ll be there waiting for you because the drive down takes only a few minutes. Skiing Loveland Pass is not an “earn-your-turns” epic type of ski day. It is a ton of fun on a good day (which there are stocks of). You’ll never ski alone, because on any given powder day there’s guaranteed to be at least a few other groups of riders trying to hitchhike laps. You’ll find them popping out of the trees at the bottom and tossing out their thumbs in hopes of a quick lift. It’s easy access to fun terrain with good snow, extensive exploration opportunities and with a good crew can be lapped more in a day, than many resorts, essentially for free. Just imagine what all that would be like on fresh snow under a brightly smiling Luna. Imagine… Imagine, because it never happened. Not for us, not on this night. I suppose we should have seen it coming. Bad weather and illegal searches aside, we blazed on tenaciously through a third foreboding omen; traffic jam. The electric sign over the highway told us we should expect to wait an hour to get to our exit just before the Eisenhower Tunnel that we knew was no more than 15 minutes away normally. Blinders fully engaged, our naiveté powered us head long into a crawling sprawl of motorists spread haphazard across the interstate. Whereas we had assumed the sign was grossly over-estimating our ETA, they reality is that it was being optimistic. It was more than 90 minutes before we were moving at pace again. Yet still it was simply not to be. No more than five minutes after escaping the rolling blob of steel and glass and rubber a second electric sign was kind enough to inform us that the road up Loveland pass was closed. Tenacity turned to full on bull headed stubbornness as we took the exit anyway determined to get as far as humanly possible before turning around. We’d been through enough that we owed ourselves that. We rolled up to the retractable gate, red lights flashing and “CLOSED” in large red letters emblazoned on several signs. We stopped. We took a moment and stared in silence. We watched in silence as our plans, our efforts, and our hopes dissolved into the flashing red lights of that gate, and the flashing red lights of the traffic, and the flashing red lights of the cops, and finally, the flashing red lights of what turned out to be the only successful part of our odyssey; the flashing red lights of Burger King.