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MAGIC AND MARVEL UNDER THE MIDWINTER NIGHT SKY

By Lindsay Warner

Low-hanging clouds scuttle across the winter sky as my husband Chris and I arrive at The Cottage at Spruce

Peak for a guided snowshoeing adventure through Spruce Peak Outfitters, which organizes recreational programming.

The air is clear and not as cold as you'd expect for a mid-February day in Stowe, but I glance anxiously at the horizon as we get out of the car. The snowshoe excursion we've booked is dubbed "The Snow Moon"—but the eponymous orb is currently hidden by clouds, making me wonder how, exactly, we'll see the ground in front of our snowshoes.

Still, the lights from The Cottage shine brightly, and other guests are already adjusting their snowshoes and sizing up poles. Zipping up our coats, we head over to put on snowshoes of our own.

This isn't our first time on snowshoes; some of my favorite memories as a child are of snowshoeing and cross-country skiing with my grandmother, Nan, at her home in western New York. I grew up in Pennsylvania, and while we got some snow there, Nan and Moo's house was a frequent recipient of lake-effect snow off Lake Erie. I always looked forward to the moment when Nan and I would strap on our snowshoes and trek around the pond, crossing the dyke and tramping down into the fields beyond.

Made from wood and rawhide in the Huron or Algonquin style, our snowshoes weren't modern—and with their long skinny tails and teardrop shape, they were better-suited to open fields than tight woodlands—but we got along fine. At 96, Nan no longer snowshoes, and I, too, have mostly given it up in favor of fat biking and skiing. Yet the feeling of floating over deep snow still mesmerizes me, and a pair of Nan's old snowshoes hang in our garage, reminding me of the adventures the two of us had together.

Tonight, though, the snowshoes are state of the art, and we grab a set of poles and a headlamp to go with them. As we chat with the rest of the tour members, we learn that we're in the company of a diverse group; some have never stepped foot into snowshoes before. Others, like the older couple who showed up with their own top-of-the-line pairs, are practically pros.

We all fall into line behind our guide and begin crunching across the snow.

At first, the walking is easy. As we stride down a well-traveled, dimly lit path that winds through the golf course, Chris nudges me and points at some dog tracks in the snow. "Look, Linds," he says in mock seriousness, "wolves!"

One of the guides quickly jumps in to reassure other guests that there aren't likely to be wolves on the golf course—or anywhere in Vermont. He then recounts a few of the wild creatures you could see here in the surrounding woods, including coyotes, fisher cats, bears, raccoons, skunks, and porcupines.

At this point, we deviate from the path and head northeast, perpendicular to the Sensation Quad. The lights fall off and the snow gets deeper. We reach a spot where, without snowshoes, we'd be floundering. I hear the wonder in people’s voices as they experience the otherworldly sensation of floating over snow.

The group stretches out across the hill and we start climbing. But just a few minutes later, we all stop and gaze upward. The clouds that had been obscuring the sky drift lazily apart, revealing the full moon.

Nicknamed the "snow moon" by The Farmer's Almanac, it's a hat tip to the typically heavy snowfall that arrives in February. Although there aren't any flakes flying tonight, we're gliding across a deep base of powder, and I'm grateful for the wide, sturdy platforms beneath my feet.

Glancing around at the group, it's easy to see that they, too, are captivated by the magic of being out in the middle of a winter night. With the landscape illuminated by moonlight, we marvel at how the lush fairways and rolling greens of summer have been transformed into a landscape of undulating hills that melt into the dark peaks rising above us.

Too soon, the clouds roll back over the frozen moon, leaving just a memory of its reflection glimmering on the snow. We're all a bit quieter as we travel south and then west again, skirting the banks of Peregrine Lake, a 110 million-gallon reservoir used for snowmaking that on this particular night seems even larger and more mysterious than usual.

Making our way back toward the welcoming glow of The Cottage, where warm drinks await, Chris pokes me again. "Hey, look," he whispers. "I'm sure that's a bear track!" I roll my eyes at him—it's another dog, and he knows it—but I'm reminded that out here under the snow moon, anything is possible.  

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