Moon over Ingram

Photograph by Dean Rolley

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Heather Sackett, Planet Contributor

Telluride’s Valley Floor on a winter night is silent, serene and sparkling.

But Thursday evening the trails will sparkle not just with the fresh snow, but with warming fire barrels and hundreds of headlamps as Telluride’s Nordic skiing community gathers to celebrate mid-winter and the hard-won victory that preserved the land for public use. 

The annual Moonlight Progressive Dinner takes place from 5:30-8 p.m. 

The event is so named because skiers, snowshoers and fat bikers “progress” first from the steaming apple cider at a table near the Shell station, then to hot full moon (potato leek) soup and bread near the Boomerang Road bridge, ending with cookies and brownies at a table farther out on the Valley Floor. 

Local Nordic skier Cindy Farny is the event organizer. 

“I think we should stress how lucky we are to have the Valley Floor and what a great asset that is for the community,” Farny said. “It’s a celebration of owning that piece of property that is enjoyed by many people.”

In addition to the wildlife, Telluride’s summer and winter recreationists now roam the Valley Floor. The miles of circuitous, groomed trails that wind through the trees and over the streams are open to Nordic skiers, bikers and hikers. But there was a time when the 570-acre parcel that is home to elk, coyotes and prairie dogs was under the threat of development. 

After a land battle that dragged on for years and culminated in a $25 million private fundraiser and a state Supreme Court decision, the Town of Telluride acquired the Valley Floor through eminent domain from its former owner in 2008. 

The Progressive Moonlight Dinner comes two days before the January full moon, and with a moonrise of 3:30 p.m. on Thursday, the moon should be bright enough to light the way all evening, provided skies are clear. 

“The full moon in the wintertime is really pretty, and a lot of people don’t stop to enjoy it,” Farny said. “Once you do, it’s so cool.”

Participants are encouraged to start their full moon adventure from the Pearl Property and to bring their own mug and spoon. The event is free, but Farny will accept donations to help cover expenses.

The Progressive Moonlight Dinner has been wildly popular in recent years, especially among kids and families, which is a reason why Farny starts the festivities early. Last year saw record attendance, and this year Farny is preparing even more gallons of soup.  

Farny has enlisted the help of Nordic skier and longtime Telluride resident Jane Watenpaugh to help chop potatoes and roll cookie dough for the event. She will be in attendance Thursday and hopes to convince her whole family to join her: husband Mark, sons Ernie and Elliott and their girlfriends. Watenpaugh loves the Progressive Moonlight Dinner because it’s a beautiful event that brings out familiar faces. 

“I don’t think there’s anything like a moonlight ski,” she said. “That alone is pretty magical… It’s a celebration of the Valley Floor and the remarkable effort it took to get that and what a gem it is. We come out there as a community.”