Vail Pass: Ski by moonlight for beautiful Easter sunrise

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My favorite Easter sunrise ritual began a few years ago when I realized there would be a nearly full moon in the western sky during the pre-dawn hours of Easter that year. Because I love moonlight ski touring in the backcountry, I immediately realized this was a chance to ski from Vail Pass to Shrine Pass by moonlight as Easter sunrise approached.

After checking sunrise and moonset data, I set my plan: I would park on Vail Pass and ski northwest for 1.8 miles to Shrine Pass, alone with the moon and the stars, kicking and gliding for a little less than an hour as the eastern sky behind me began to brighten. If I timed it just right, I would get to my favorite spot at Shrine Pass just before sunrise with a glorious 360-degree panorama at 11,200 feet.

My plan worked to perfection. There was plenty of light from the moon to ski without a headlamp. As the eastern horizon brightened, the higher peaks around me turned pink as their summits caught the first rays of the rising sun. I watched as the Wingle Ridge on Shrine Mountain caught fire in the alpenglow, first purple-pink, then orange, in the final moments before sunrise.

Then, as I drank in the stunning beauty of the scene at my spot just a few feet off the trail on Shrine Pass, sunbeams exploded over the peaks to the east, creating a scene of indescribable beauty and peace. And I had it all to myself.

It wasn’t long after that adventure that I learned this sort of pilgrimage can be experienced every Easter, so long as it’s not an overcast morning. Easter always occurs a week or less after a full moon. And, because it follows the full moon by a matter of days, the moon is always in the predawn sky when the Easter sun rises. It can vary from low in the western sky to overhead, depending on how many days have passed since the full moon. The fewer days there are between the full moon and Easter, the lower the moon will be in the western sky.

This year, for example: The next full moon occurs on March 28 and Easter follows on April 4. On Easter, the sun will rise at 6:38 a.m., about 45 minutes before the moon — appearing as a half moon or “third-quarter” moon — passes directly overhead.

As long as the weather forecast calls for a clear sky, I will be there on Easter morn, parking on Vail Pass by 5:25 a.m., heading up the trail by 5:40, and arriving at my special spot five or 10 minutes before another glorious sunrise in a very special place.

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