Photo by Milan Loiacono
Flying down the ski slopes of Mount Alyeska is a typical December night activity for junior Carolyne Van Den Hoogen.
Van Den Hoogen said she and her friends often spend their nights downhill skiing in almost complete darkness when at home in Girdwood, Alaska, for the winter.
“Being active outside in the winter is very difficult,” Van Den Hoogen said. “People gain a lot of weight during the winter. I’m so thankful that I had the opportunity to downhill ski, that my parents would pay for a season pass for me.”
Home to just over 2,000 people, Girdwood lies at 61 degrees north and 149 degrees west, which means the town can experience up to 20 hours of darkness during the winter.
“I would go to school with kids with vitamin D deficiencies because there’s barely any sun,” Van Den Hoogen said. “It’s pitch black when you get to school, then the sun rises at 10:30 a.m. You get out of class at 3 p.m. and the sun is setting at 3:30 p.m. So I [didn’t] see the sunlight until the weekend.”
Residents of Girdwood are exuberant when they see the sun for the first time after months of darkness.
“If it’s a Saturday and it’s sunny, people will just be in a different mood,” Van Den Hoogen said. “It’s like, ‘This is the first time I’ve seen the sun in a month!’ There’s just a euphoric experience when you see the sun for the first time in a really long time.”
While Van Den Hoogen cherishes Malibu’s radiance, she reminisced fondly about Alaska’s gloom.
“I definitely had a unique experience growing up,” Van Den Hoogen said. “It was just me and my dad in the house. He drove me to school and back every day in the darkness, and it was a 45-minute-long drive, so we got really close.”
Van Den Hoogen said late nights in Alaska spent outside inspire her Malibu evenings.
“It’ll be midnight and my friends and I will go on a hike and take lamps, or it’s so fun to go to the beach at night,” Van Den Hoogen said. “You can definitely take a random activity and make it extreme by doing it in the middle of the night.”
At the end of the day, Van Den Hoogen said her passion for night skiing is what she loves most about returning to Girdwood. She said powder days (when blankets of fresh snow coat the mountain) make it hard to stop skiing when the day is done.
“If it’s a powder day, we’ll ski all day and then continue on into the night,” Van Den Hoogen said. “Some days, I would ski for like 10 hours.”
Van Den Hoogen said there is nothing quite like the feeling of barreling down Mount Alyeska in the twilight hours, carving out the snow while the cold Alaskan air rushes past her.
“It’s just magical, you know?” Van Den Hoogen said.
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