Under the lights

It's a short list, but plenty of fun to be had night skiing

The undulating slopes of Ski Granby Ranch at SolVista Basin are lighted for an evening of night skiing and riding. Colorado has an intricate history of night skiing but today SolVista is one of the few resorts in the state to offer after-hours skiing, with two lifts serving 1,000 feet of vertical terrain.

A ghostly snowboarder hits the jump line at dusk in Keystone’s A-51 terrain park, one of the features open to night visitors. Keystone began night skiing in 1985.

Skiers and riders enjoy a night out on the slopes under the new lights at Steamboat Ski Resort. The resort this year opened night skiing on five trails with 1,100 feet of vertical terrain.

If there is a throwback to earlier days of Colorado skiing, it would be night skiing under the lights.

There are a surprising number of skiers, some of them not as old as you might imagine, who recall frigid nights streaking down the shadow-play of near-deserted ski runs while the crowds of day skiers were soaking in the hot tubs.

Night skiing isn’t common here in Colorado, where only a handful of Colorado resorts, big and small, offer the opportunity to channel your personal Night Rider.

“Gee, I can’t think of very many at all,” offered Jenn Rudolph, spokesperson for Colorado Ski Country USA, the industry trade group based in Denver, when asked about night skiing.

The list is short. Keystone, which started night skiing in 1985, and Steamboat, the newest of the resorts to offer lighted riding and sliding, head the pack with the most terrain and lights.

But night skiing used to be more popular.

Many Gunnison residents recall skiing down the broad, sparsely lit sagebrush bowl of Cranor Hill, a small area north of Gunnison that even boasted some rudimentary snowmaking when it opened in 1966. Cranor Hill closed four years ago.

Eldora offered night skiing until a few years ago, and there are stories about skiers zipping off the lighted runs into the tree-crowded dark, getting lost, or worse, and needing a rescuer with a light to find the way out.

No matter how good the ski-run lights are (the lights at Keystone at bright enough to see from the top of the 10 Mile Range), there is never complete coverage, which adds to the excitement of zipping from light to dark (and at night, dark is really dark) along with a certain loss of depth perception and the funny corona of shadows that tends to distract you and throw you off a bit.

One group of hard-core night skiers at Eldora called themselves the Nighthawks, and everyone agreed you weren’t a real Nighthawk until you skied with a headlamp.

At one time, night skiing also was found at Ski Broadmoor, which opened in 1959 and closed in 1991. Skiing on the two, gently sloping runs at the “B” mostly was on man-made snow (the equipment was purchased from the closed Magic Mountain ski area near Golden), an exciting prospect for the many first-time and beginner skiers the area attracted from nearby Colorado Springs.

“We didn’t dare call it ice, but it was slick,” said former Broadmoor ski instructor Iris Draper in a 2007 interview with the Colorado Springs Gazette. “People would say, ‘If you could ski Broadmoor, you could ski anywhere.’ “

He said the area earned the nickname Ski Icemoor. But because it was so convenient, the area thrived.

As you might expect, night-skiing means gentler runs, and it’s not uncommon for the slopes to be filled with people still learning to ski.

Weekends, they head off with more-skilled friends for the steeper slopes elsewhere.

I recently met up with some friends for a night of skiing and riding at the gentle slopes of Ski Granby Ranch, the four-season development just outside of Granby.

The ski area isn’t visible from U.S. Highway 40 but a large sign along the highway welcomes visitors to owner Marisse Cipriani’s Granby Ranch and its multiple outdoor recreation developments.

The initial ski development, then known as Silver Creek, started in 1968 but it wasn’t until 1981, when developers Bud Gettle and Kelly Klancke purchased the property, that construction on the ski area began.

Ski lifts went up in 1982 and four years later the resort reported 101,837 skier days.

After a 1986 plane crash claimed the lives of Gettle, Klancke and Klancke’s wife Pat, the 5,000-acre resort languished until 1995, when Marisse and Celso Cipriani bought it for $12 million.

Today, the area is known as Granby Ranch with the SolVista Ski Basin.

It’s a small ski resort, with three lifts and 406 skiable acres, 245 of those with snowmaking. The night skiing is an amenity for the homeowners and other visitors who find in SolVista relief from the more-crowded and busier resorts (Winter Park is 20 miles away and Steamboat is 75).

Because night skiing is shorter — 8 p.m. seems a common last run — it’s also much cheaper, with lift tickets ranging from $10 to $29, depending on the area. SolVista charges $14 for skiers/riders of all ages.


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