I, like many other skiers in Maine, got my start at night. Night skiing, while nowhere near as widespread or popular as its daytime counterpart, is an important entry point to the sport for a lot of skiers.

The first few years I spent skiing were under the bright lights of the Camden Snow Bowl, making laps on the now-retired Big T-Bar.

Night skiing, surprisingly, comes from fairly altruistic roots. As the story goes, night skiing lights (really just old gas station floodlights aimed at the slopes) were installed at Washington’s Snoqualmie resort in 1945. The fixtures, invented by resort founder Webb Moffet, were put in place so the resort’s employees could ski after Snoqualmie closed for the day. Before long, customers wanted to stay to enjoy the trails after dark as well, and commercial night skiing was born.

In terms of total tickets sold, night skiing is just a small piece of the pie – according to the National Ski Areas Association, just 7 percent of annual ski visits. However, if you’re just starting out as a grade school kid, it may be your only avenue to get on the hill. My entire early ski career, from lessons to equipment to transit, was thanks to an after-school program at MSAD 40 in midcoast Maine.

There’s no better example of this tradition in Maine than Auburn’s Lost Valley. On any given weekday afternoon, hundreds of students from local school ski groups descend on the mountain en masse. This is echoed at places like Shawnee Peak, Titcomb Mountain and the aforementioned Camden Snow Bowl. These are all small resorts, but their proximity to larger Maine towns makes possible an after-school or after-work trip.

This isn’t, however, to suggest that night skiing should only appeal to school kids. There are benefits to skiing under the lights that should appeal to all ages. High among them, the price – almost across the board, skiing at night is less expensive by the hour than a regular day ticket. And if you’re only going to be able to ski for a few hours, post-noon or evening rates beat not using all seven hours of a day ticket.

There’s also the fact that (and this might sound like sacrilege to some skiers) light can often be better under the night lamps. During the day, we all experience flat or gray light that washes out the dips, bumps and ruts on a slope. Under the direct light of night skiing, every bit of the slope is shown in high relief.

There’s also the social appeal of skiing at night. It’s a time where people can cut loose a bit, burning off energy from a day at school or in the office. At many mountains, there’s music pumped out of speakers at the base area or even from the lift towers. The bars and on-hill concessions are busier than during the day, and the atmosphere of night skiing just strikes me as more jovial – not a small feat, considering it’s often much colder after sundown.

Despite my rosy view of night skiing, there are a couple fresh concerns to take into account for hitting the hill after dark. Skiing with at least one other person, while always good advice during the day, is a real necessity under the lights. While the open trails are well-lit, the rest of the mountain (and the woods) is pitch-black, and you don’t want to be alone if you somehow take a wrong turn. Also – and this falls under the umbrella of common sense – you’ll want to bring a few extra layers for night skiing. The real and psychological warmth of the sun is nowhere to be found in the cold night.

The majority of Maine’s ski areas offer night skiing. Of the 18 members of the Ski Maine Association, only Big Squaw, Mt. Jefferson, Quoggy Jo, Sugarloaf and Saddleback do not (though Saddleback does have occasional night “rail jams” under lights). Predictably, prices for night skiing vary from hill to hill, from rates in the teens at smaller resorts to around $30 at the marquee spots. Night skiing is also a good time to watch for deals; Lost Valley, for example, offers two- and four-hour tickets at a discount, and Shawnee’s “Monday Night Madness” has a 3:30 to 9 p.m. ticket for $13.

For a truly unique night skiing experience, I recommend the Downhill 24 at Mt. Abram. The event, a team ski race and fundraiser to benefit Winterkids, is a skiathon that spans from noon Saturday to noon Sunday over the first weekend in March. The event features entertainment around the clock, with (per the event’s FAQ) “live bands, a DJ, mechanical bull, comedy, snacks, dinner, breakfast, (and) a beer garden.” The cost of entry is pretty low, too – $25 to register, and a minimum of $175 raised for charity.

While this column reminded me of my love of night skiing – indeed, many of by best memories of skiing occurred under the lights – I’ll admit that I haven’t been that often in the years since school. That’s something I plan to rectify this season at one of the many Maine resorts that offer evening skiing. I hope you’ll join me under the floodlights.

Josh Christie is a freelance writer and lifetime outdoors enthusiast. He shares column space in Outdoors with his father, John Christie. Josh can be contacted at:

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