We got there before dark and spun a few laps on the two-seater up top. The terrain, which I hadn’t seen yet because it was my first time at Skibowl, was exciting. Fall line from the top chair was a series of cliffs, narrow rock slots, and sparse trees. You head skier’s right, and a wide-open bowl follows a cliff hip. Small side hits peppered themselves throughout, meaning whichever route you ultimately chose, you’d be entertained.

In the daytime, this was all gravy, perfect fodder for hot laps, the occasional beer, and maybe a natural 360 if my companions or I were feeling up to it. But the light doesn’t last forever.

As gray bird skies turned black, lift tower light fixtures flicked on, humming with age. A storm had been teasing its debut the whole day, and now that night had fallen, streaks of fat, Pacific Northwest flakes shot across the patches of light streaming from the lift towers. Outside those bright safe zones was a no man's land -- moguls and snow snakes circled in the darkness, waiting to bite.

I was in college then, so the MO was this: ski quickly and drink beers while desperately trying to get a lighter to work in soggy conditions on the chair. I’m not sure if the lighter sparked, but the beers didn’t seem to run out. We hot-lapped til our legs burned.

Making laps in the dark is inverse to the standard ski day routine. Usually, you rise at the ass crack of dawn, slam some coffee, and hit the road. The sun rises partway through the drive, and you catch glimpses of your destination -- sharp peaks cloaked in pinkish-orange alpenglow. In the lot, everyone boots up, chattering excitedly about where to ski and what to do.

Driving to the hill, knowing full well that the moon isn’t going to budge, feels wrong at first. The mountain is no longer naturally lit up, and the base area glows with a different sort of bustle, more kitschy Christmas decoration than bavarian village. In contrast to the crystalline blues, whites, and greens of the daytime shred, everything’s a shade of orange or black, in thrall to artificial lights slung from lift towers or trees.

The dark, while the enemy at first (getting punted by a mogul you never saw coming isn’t fun), holds an allure. Slipping off a bright groomer and entering the void is like peeking behind the curtains. The din of churning chairlifts quiets, and everything sits still. The trees and snow are oddly dead. Seeing them this way, under a shade of stars, isn’t quite invasive, but it is more personal. You’re there during their downtime before the curtain draws back up.

Back in the artificial light, it’s fast and uninhibited. You know how conversations seem to become more intense the later in the day it gets? I like to think nightskiing’s the same way. Maybe the grooming crew hasn’t had a chance to mop the fresh snow off the landings of the jumps, making it prime time to chuck some meat. Or that enormous transfer is finally looking just right for a high-speed gap. Either way, it seems the brake lines got left at home, and caution’s in a tangled heap on the side of a frontage road miles away -- everyone’s looser with their sticks when night falls.

This looseness may or may not be encouraged by another factor -- inebriation. To some on NS, skiing and drinking are non-negotiable; you can’t have one without the other. I tend to stray towards sober when skiing, spurned by an experience involving a 9 AM Four Loko, a travel mug that never smelled the same again, and some hideously ugly turns. While I’ll crack a beer on the hill here and there, it’s not routine. Night skiing is a different ballgame, though. Bars bustle after dark, a human pattern that applies to drinking elsewhere, making the juice flow more readily during skiing’s after-hours.

That combination of libations (if you’re of age, I don’t have a lawyer) and inhibition gives night skiing a distinct flavor. It’s sharp, distinctive, and comforting despite its hectic nature, as potent as neat whiskey.

Every buzz has its crash, and when the dulling hits, it’s time to take a break. Thankfully, the comforts of a warm lodge are undisputed. At the ancient and supposedly mature age of 25, I still find hot chocolate stops irresistible -- sue me. A night ski only elevates these recuperation periods, and contrast is the key. Outside: cold, dark, windy. Inside: toasty, cozy, inviting. The more striking the conditions outside, the better it feels to take a load off inside.

At Skibowl, we eventually hit this burnout point. The wind was too much, the snow biting, and one friend was inexplicably skiing without gloves. We saddled up to the mid-station lodge, crammed ourselves into a tight corner, and nearly dissolved into a puddle of sweat and foggy goggles. Condensation obscured the ripping storm outside. Groups of skiers, some friends, others unfamiliar to me, tentatively staggered to the bar to grab another round. With the fire lapping at my back and close pals on either side, I was sucked into the middle of the only world that mattered. I’d visit that lodge again and again in memory.

After a few more laps, every night session ends as it starts, in the dark, with squeaking boots and bruised shins. The passengers get to catch some sleep on the way home, and the driver, pinching themselves to stay awake, keeps their attentive eyes trained on the road. If you’re lucky, there’s snow in the forecast, and you can rally the worn-down crew for another trip to the hill the following morning to see the mountain in a different light. Just don’t start the next day with a Four Loko.