For former U.S. national champion freestyle skier Tom “Flyaway” Hathaway, the proximity and affordability of his childhood ski hill in Minnesota, the now defunct Cedar Hills, were a big part of the formula for his athletic success.
While the 220-vertical-foot ski area, just a 15-minute drive away from his parents’ house, may have lacked the stature of Rocky or Selkirk Mountain resorts, it was all he knew.
Tom is convinced that without after-school night skiing, Minnesota would not have produced more than its share of freestyle champions, not to mention Lindsay Vonn among others on the racing side.
“I moved to Spokane in 2013, and when I saw the night skiing terrain at Mt. Spokane and its close proximity to town, it was a no-brainer,” Hathaway said. “I’ve had a season pass ever since. I have also noticed the overall skier skill level go up since 2013. My theory is that it’s a combination of night skiing and the excellent race program.”
Since the sport came into existence, skiing has seen innovations that border on miraculous: Chairlifts haul us up the mountain so that we can enjoy 25 runs a day rather than three; leashes on mittens keep us from continually dropping them onto the run below as we ride those chairlifts; fat skis enable us to ski powder without the need to lean back; and lights, like those at Mt. Spokane and Schweitzer, give the residents of the Inland Northwest the opportunity to enjoy the thrill of skiing after they’ve spent a day at school or work.
If you’ve never given it a shot, it can be difficult to see the appeal of leaving a warm house, driving up a snowy mountain in the dark and getting geared-up in a cold parking lot. But a short walk to the lift is generally all it takes to forget about the cold and late hours. Make a few turns, and you’re warmed up, hooting and hollering, and wondering why you had any doubts about making the trip up the hill.
The crowd at night differs significantly from the day-ski crowd. It is, on the whole, much younger. And – a possibly related side effect – much more acrobatic.
Riding Mt. Spokane’s Chair 2, or “Illuminator,” at night, you’re likely to see snowboarders performing lightning-fast front flips off the Rulon Run cat track. Or straight-lining down the moguled steeps of Two Face at 45 mph. Or hitting the rails and kickers in the terrain parks, which both Mt. Spokane and Schweitzer light up at night.
Using powerful headlamps, many skiers and boarders head into the woods, seeking undiscovered powder stashes where they weave and float around trees like they were moguls.
Most nights, you’ll find the local ski-race team out running gates, taking full advantage of the extended hours of skiing.
“If they’d add a few more lights, it would be perfect for them,” Hathaway said as we stopped to watch the racers hone their skills. “When you’re moving that fast, vision equals confidence.”
On our next run, as we ventured down Allison’s Way, I gained an appreciation for Hathaway’s skills as he pulled away from me quickly, and for the chance to enjoy one of the season’s better powder days – an opportunity I would not have had without the marvel of night skiing.
Night skiing is available at two of the region’s ski areas, and, compared to day rates, it’s affordable:
At Mt. Spokane, skiers and boarders can ride from 6–9 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday, from mid-December through mid-March for just $27.
Twilight skiing at Schweitzer Mountain Resort runs from 3–7 p.m., Fridays, Saturdays and select holiday weekdays until March 6, with the exception of Friday through Sunday, when twilight skiing will be suspended to address a lack of COVID compliance by a number of the resort’s patrons. Tickets are just $20.
Day tickets at both mountains are valid until closing. Make ticket reservations in advance, as both ski areas have had to limit capacity due to the pandemic.
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