The night is black, moonless and starless, sky indistinguishable from the forest. My headlamp is dim, the batteries probably dying in the cold air. In the pale glow, my brother and I strap on ski boots and clip into skis, the freshly groomed snow slick beneath the boards. Muscle memory takes over as I kick off, sliding into the darkness.
In moments, my brother is gone, the beam of his headlamp piercing through the trees.
My own light casts a small halo around me, barely enough to see the trail directly in front of me. I pick up speed, leaning into the wind I am making. The cold of the night fades in the heat of moving muscles, and when I eventually catch up with my brother and we stop to catch our breath, steam rises in clouds from our clothing. The droplets of moisture diffuses and amplifies the light of our headlamps, lighting up the glade of trees that shelter us.
I stow my gloves and ski barehanded, the 12-degree temperature feeling practically warm.
When the trail begins to slope downward, I know it not because I can see it but because I am picking up speed without effort. Each stroke of the skis propels me faster into the night, and I straighten my feet, tuck the ski poles between elbows and ribs, and follow the sweep of the trail downhill into darkness.
It is something of an act of faith to ski downhill with such a limited view of what the trail ahead holds. I trust the groomed sweep of trail, the muscles in my legs, all the hours I have practiced this craft, and lastly — I know that if I do fall, I will simply get up and continue.
Yet I do not fall, and instead slide to a breathtaking finish in the opening of a meadow. My brother is waiting for me there, far more familiar with these particular trails than I am. I barely catch up before he is off again, and I just behind him.
It does not escape me, even in the rush of the moment, how precious this time is. Someday we two may not find the time to drop everything and spend a winter night skiing through the forest on a crust of snow so perfect it feels we are flying. As one year winds into the next, I can not think of a better way to spend a few hours than this — the silent forest, the dim glow of headlamps, and the trail stretching seemingly endlessly ahead of us.