One of the earth’s greatest gifts is the daily show of light and color as daytime gives way to night. Whether we are warming our hands around a fire, hiking through westfacing woods, or best of all, skiing along the rooftop of Vermont, the hour or so leading up to nightfall is like no other. During the sun’s descent toward the horizon, its rays are diffused through layers of atmosphere, resulting in a soft amber glow that has earned this enchanting time of day the nickname “golden hour” or “magic hour.”
And because of Vermont ’s northern latitude, the sun’s path tracks at a lower angle across the sky in the winter. That means that during the cold months, it takes more time for the sun to set compared to in the summer. As a result, golden hour lasts longer.
From the summit of Mt. Mansfield—or as the native Abenaki call it, Mozodepowadso (“moosehead mountain”)—the golden hour is especially spellbinding, framed up close by the sweeping contours of powdery peaks. As the sun dips below the crests of New York’s rugged Adirondacks, light scatters across Vermont’s ridges and valleys, transforming the mountainsides from aquamarine to deep purple to bright pink. Tree forms and drifting snow are set aglow, as if on fire.
Skis on our our feet, sliding through the steadily fading light, we feel both at peace and exhilarated, knowing we need to reach home before nightfall. Luckily, the snow-covered landscape reflects even the faintest hints of light by which we can navigate. No matter how late it is, our headlamps rarely come out of our packs.
Still, despite the lingering light, skiing safely through the golden hour demands the utmost focus on terrain, stray branches, and ever-changing snow conditions. Getting lost or hurt, even mildly, can quickly escalate into a life-threatening emergency. So we are always prepared to spend the night in the mountains—something we’ve practiced extensively through countless backcountry expeditions from the Andes to the Arctic.
Of course, if you are well prepared and accompanied by a highly experienced friend or qualified guide, then by all means take your time. Find a spot out of the wind and slip your headlamp over your helmet. Break out the puffy down jacket stuffed into your pack and a thermos of hot, creamy ginger tea. Then sit back and enjoy.