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It’s hard to find an affordable ski hill on the Front Range these days, let alone one with legitimate small-mountain charm. But at Echo Mountain, nestled between Idaho Springs and Evergreen, the culture is down to earth—and the mountain is, well, very small.
With just a handful of trails, Echo’s size and lack of advanced terrain is part of the reason I’d never bothered visiting—that is, until a friend talked me into it a few weeks ago. His pitch went something like this: Night skiing at Echo is a bargain ($35) and close to Denver (45 minutes). It is the only way to spend a full day at your office job, shred a bit, and be home before 9 p.m.
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I warmed to the idea, if only because two decades ago I was a bit romantic about night skiing. As a kid, I learned to ski under the lights at tiny hills like Pat’s Peak and Crotched Mountain in southern New Hampshire. The terrain was nothing special, but it was cheap and accessible, and that’s a big reason skiing became a sport I’ve enjoyed my entire life. I’ll never forget my excitement loading onto the ski bus on Friday afternoons—and I’ll certainly not forget my nervous first kiss on that bus. (I wasn’t kidding when I said I was romantic about night skiing.)
So, with childlike enthusiasm and our ski gear in tow, my friend and I pulled out of Denver on a recent Thursday at 5 p.m. We were in the Echo parking lot by 5:50, picked up our pre-purchased passes, and skied our first run down to the chairlift (the parking lot and lodge are at the top of the mountain). By 6:05, we were heading up for lap number two as classic tunes blared across the entire mountain. Only one trail was open, and it was only about 600 vertical feet, but as Otis Redding, Johnny Cash, and Ray Charles crooned from the speakers, it was easy to forget the chairlift ride took twice as long as the descent.
Even on only one relatively short blue trail, it was still refreshing—by Colorado standards—how few people were out there. We skied six runs over the course of an hour and counted fewer than 40 other skiers and boarders. Some were like us, experienced skiers making after-work turns, while most were kids and adult beginners learning a new sport under the lights—which is probably who Echo Mountain serves best, especially during the day when more beginner terrain is open. While the mountain has had a few different lives over its history, it is now primarily a family mountain with a decent tubing track.
Over the past few years, Echo has embraced that reputation. And thanks to an upgraded lodge and Brother’s Grille, which hangs its hat on affordable food and drink (“no one wants to pay $25 for a bare-bones cheeseburger,” the website proclaims), Echo is also a great place to wind down after a night of skiing. Before leaving, we saddled up at Brother’s, where an accommodating bartender found a gallon of honey and made us $6 hot toddies. “I’ve been in the ski industry for 25 years,” he said, “and there’s just no place like this anymore.”
To be fair, there are still a few hills like Echo sprinkled throughout the country, but as far as the Front Range goes he’s right. Echo’s charm lies largely in its novelty. And as we sat there, I found myself rooting for the survival of this type of ski experience. We watched a dozen more skiers make quick work of the trail, and I was for a moment 13 years old again, falling in love with skiing under the bright lights of a small mountain. Maybe it was the whiskey, or the well of memories I’d been drawing from all night, but as it turned out, I was still romantic about night skiing.
3 Night-Skiing Gear Essentials
Generally speaking, if you can ski during the day, you can ski during the night. Bring along the same stuff you ordinarily would but consider that it will likely be colder and, well, darker.
No matter how bright the lights, night skiing will always come with visibility challenges. Maybe you already have a low-light lens, but you’ll want something even safer once the sun goes down. We’re fans of Boulder-based Zeal Optics, which offers a clear-lens upgrade ($25–$50) for all of its products.
Staying warm in the mountains is largely about layering well, and that only becomes more important at night. The people over at The North Face (based in Denver these days) know a thing or two about layering, so much so that they created a layering guide for men and women so you can find the right base- and midlayer to wear beneath your waterproof shell or parka.
We would never encourage drinking while skiing, but when the temperature drops we wouldn’t blame you for sipping responsibly from a thermos or flask after a frigid night on the hill. If you’re feeling ambitious, grab some local honey from Bjorn’s and a splash of Stranahan’s and you can mix up your own après hot toddy. (In all seriousness, we don’t want you getting a Ski-U-I.)