Sunrises, Sunsets, and Why the Golden Hour is a Lie

Joe skinning into sunrise

Joe skinning into sunrise

In years past, racking up an abundance of ski days was easy; with my days off occurring on the resort’s slowest days, I would commonly show up once the sun had risen, letting the snow soften, the temperature rise, and ensuring I spent the best part of the day at the mountain. I also sampled a bunch of cool mountains thanks to a shop pass and the ability to be there on days the mountains were desperate for visitors. With evening shifts, it was fairly common for me to get a great morning’s worth of skiing in at the mountain before heading into work—skiing from 9:30 AM to 1:30 PM was as much a part of my day as showering, brushing my teeth, and eating dinner. The hours I skied also happened to be the resort’s slowest times, so skiing onto the lift went from luxury to expectation.

Grey afternoon at Crotched

Grey afternoon at Crotched

With my new, fairly flexible position, I am able to create my own Monday though Friday schedule to some degree. Of course the normal requirements apply of having to work my forty hours and, for the most part, be in the office during normal business hours. With ski season in full swing, I have been busy working on maximizing my time on the slopes and out of the office. After some trial and error, I have concluded that the two best solutions to getting my time in on the slopes are: 1) wake up super early and skin the mountain before it opens, or 2) go into work early and sneak out in search of snow in the early afternoon.

Sunset at Crotched Mountain

Sunset at Crotched Mountain

While I miss the convenience and luxury my old schedule afforded, the new schedule is not without its perks. Lately I have found myself skiing in what photographers commonly call the “golden hour”—that is, the first hour following sunrise or the first hour preceding sunset. I feel like I have seen more sunrises and sunsets in the last two months than I have in the last ten years. Thanks to the cold, crisp, clear winter air, these sunrises and sunsets are truly magnificent and have led to me toting my GoPro around with me everywhere I go in an effort to capture these fantastic natural occurrences. Not satisfied with merely capturing these incredible moments, I’ve also blown up Instagram with a more-than-reasonable number of these photos (in part because I am truly taken by their beauty, but also to brag about what I’ve done while most people I know are still in bed or just sitting down to dinner).

Joe fighting the early morning crowds at Mount Wachusett

Joe fighting the early morning crowds at Mount Wachusett

While seeing epic sunrises and sunsets on a near-daily basis is pretty incredible, it is not without its drawbacks. If I am seeing sunrise while skiing, that means it was really, really, really early when I left the house and headed for the mountain. As I write this and scroll through my pictures, I get super stoked about being out in the cold air, witnessing an incredible natural occurrence, and preparing to take my first run in the morning. If you ask me what I am thinking when the alarm goes off at 4:30 in the morning, I assure you my opinion is more like “this is stupid,” “why do I do this to myself,” or “fuck it, I’m staying in bed.” Getting up sucks! Whoever tells you it gets easier or you get used to it is a liar. At best you learn to tolerate it; most likely you learn not to hate it.

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Stripping skins early in the morning

If skiing early in the morning sucks, logic would dictate that skiing in the afternoon would be a reasonable alternative. On mornings I get to the office early, I can typically sneak out around 3 or 3:30 putting me at the mountain around 4. The first hour is typically pretty great—soft snow, reasonable temperature, and, of course, perfect light often followed by a perfect sunset. In the aftermath of sunset, the temperature typically begins a fairly rapid drop. Lining up with the drop in temperature the snow begins to harden, progressively getting firmer and less forgiving. Not to mention that you immediately move from the best possible light to flat light and the weird dark spots associated with night skiing.

It's nice not having to compete over the fresh inch of snow

It’s nice not having to compete over the fresh inch of snow

As easy as it is to complain about the drawbacks, I don’t see myself slowing down this schedule anytime soon. I’ve grown to not hate waking up early, and the solitude of skiing the resort’s slowest times pales in comparison to skinning the resort before it opens. I’ve also learned to dress better in preparation for the evening temperature drop and, as stated last week, skiing crappy conditions is step one in the Dirt and Ice Training Program. While I do miss some of the perks my old job offered, my new position allows me to set a schedule and keep to it…and, with any luck, by the end of the season I may even graduate from not hating waking up early to tolerating waking up early.

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