Moonlight and candlelight

Between the flickering candles and the dazzling full moon, the ski trails in Brule were nicely illuminated Saturday night for the annual Afterhours Ski Trail candlelight ski.

full moon
The full moon shines brightly as the setting sun's pink rays tinge the boughs of two pines in the Brule River State Forest. (Photos courtesy of Catherine Khalar)

Between the flickering candles and the dazzling full moon, the ski trails in Brule were nicely illuminated Saturday night for the annual Afterhours Ski Trail candlelight ski.

At last year's unusual warm event, up to 300 people may have turned up to ski the two miles of lighted trail. Temperatures were cooler this year, remaining just a few degrees above zero, but attendance was still high. The Brule River State Forest staff estimates 185 people came to Saturday's event, well above the 80 to 90 skiers the event had typically been averaging.

"I think it was a pretty good turnout," said state forest superintendent Dan Schulz. "It was the kind of deal where people came and went."

In 2007 and 2008, subzero temperatures kept all but the most die-hard skiers away from the candlelight event. During those two years combined, less than five dozen people attended.

On Saturday, the Afterhours Ski Trail was much busier.


Schulz said the flow of skiers peaked at about 7 p.m., but the skiers kept coming as the night wore on. The candlelight ski was scheduled to run from 6 to 9 p.m., but a number of those who came remained on the trails or in the warming house near the trailhead until well after 10 p.m.

Skiers coming back from the trails said they were just right, despite worries they could be icy.

When asked why this year's attendance remained high, Schultz said it was likely due to the weather.

"It was a very nice night," he said. "And the ski trail has been very popular this year."

Early in the season, when Brule had significantly more snow than most surrounding areas, the Afterhours Trail drew cross country skiers from across the state line in Duluth and northeastern Minnesota. Many of the skiers at Saturday's event were local residents who frequent the Brule ski loops, but some came from further away like Duluthian Andrea Watson with her husband and three children.

One-year-old William smiled in the warming house as cocoa dribbled down his chin. He looked around, wide-eyed, at the other skiers while his mother bundled him up.

Still a bit too young to ski, William would see the trail while being pulled behind one of his parents in a small, enclosed sled.

His older sisters Emma, 8, and Lucy, 5, had their skis on moments after arriving and waited anxiously to ski the trails.


"They're enthusiastic skiers," Watson said.

Watson said she had been to the Afterhours Trail twice this year in the daylight hours, once with the children and once alone.

"We were here once before we had kids a long time ago and hadn't been back since," Watson said.

She guessed it was about 10 years ago that she had come to the candlelight ski with her husband, Eric. Shortly afterward the couple moved away, but they returned to the area last year and decided to bring their kids out to Brule Saturday to experience the nighttime ski.

"This will be a new experience for them," Watson said. "I hope Lucy is not scared."

"She's not scared right now," Eric Watson said. "They're already skiing."

The Afterhours Trails is 25 kilometers long (about 15 miles), with multiple loops for various skill levels. Current trail conditions may be found at . asp.

The trail is located just off Afterhours Road near Brule Sports on the west side of Brule.

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