Skiing under the lights at Howelsen Hill in downtown Steamboat Springs is one way to maximize a day on the slopes.

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Skiing under the lights at Howelsen Hill in downtown Steamboat Springs is one way to maximize a day on the slopes.

Night skiing offers bright dimension

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How to ski at night

- Readjust your priorities. Keystone's (and the other resorts') illuminated trails are greens and blues, not blacks. If you're not an expert skier, this is a great time to practice your technique. There will be no prying eyes from people on the chairlifts, and the trails are uncrowded. If you're an expert, take it easy. This is edge-to-edge time.

- Trade out your goggles. Clear lens goggles are best for night skiing. Visibility is surprisingly good at night, but just like in the daylight, goggles also will help keep your face warm.

- Dress for all conditions. That means layer, layer, layer. Sometimes, especially on clear nights, it will be warmer at the top of the mountain than at the base.

- Don't skimp on gloves, and don't overdo the socks. There's no sunlight to warm your hands on that ride up the mountain. And too many socks - that's more than one pair - aren't necessary or comfortable. Let your ski boots do their job, with just one layer in them.

- Plan your trip for a full-moon night. Even with the lights on, there's nothing like moon shadow to make the mountain look like, well, the moon.

- Plan ahead and save money. Night ski-lift tickets cost less than day tickets.

- Don't go out alone. This is a perfect time to bond with your friends.

The sun falls behind the mountains at Keystone Resort. Parking lots empty as day-tripping skiers leave for home. Vacationers who had crowded into lift lines now crowd around pizzas and pitchers of beer.

It's dark.

It's cold.

It's time to unwind.

Relax.

Ski.

Yeah, that's what Craig Simson is talking about. Simson is assistant ski patrol director at Keystone, and when he gets off work, he often heads back to the mountain.

Simson has worked at Keystone since 1991, and he has been skiing at night just as long.

It's not an experience unique to Colorado - according to the National Ski Areas Association, 192 member resorts offer some kind of night skiing. Most are in the Southeast and Midwest, and most of them are smaller than Keystone.

In Colorado, skiers and boarders can play under the lights five days a week at Echo Mountain. Howelsen Hill lights up in downtown Steamboat Springs three nights a week. SolVista's East Mountain, dark at night for several years, is bright at night again.

But Keystone is the largest resort in Colorado to turn on the lights at night, offering an experience Simson calls "magical." This place goes big at nighttime, lighting up 15 trails and its A51 terrain park.

The experience is exhilarating. Take away the sunlight, and the silvery snow seems to undulate under the lights. Take away the crowds, and the trail seems to have no beginning and no end.

"It's just one of the coolest things," Simson says. "Every other ski area closes at 4. When you go up after that, you can see the sunset. Then, the lights come on. If you want, you can ski 12 hours a day. Or you can skip the crowds and only ski at night."

Night skiing is popular among ski resort workers and locals who aren't intimidated by the idea of navigating their way down a mountain in the dark.

(Note to the timid: It's not really dark on the trails - giant lights do a good job of illuminating the terrain.)

Simson says the experience of "skiing in the dark" is surreal. "You put together the beauty of the scenery with the freedom you feel from skiing anyway. Throw in a snowstorm, and you feel like you are skiing in a snow globe."

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