(Photo credit: Time Magazine)
I’m sure you’ve noticed: the days are getting longer. I generally wake up between 5 and 5:30, and it’s pretty much light by then. Sunset at my home is around 8:30 or so.
That’s a long day.
This week marks the Summer Solstice — June 21, to be exact. Which means that day is 5 hours, 50 minutes longer that it is on the Winter Solstice.
Today, we know that the Solstice is an astronomical event caused by Earth’s tilt on its axis and its motion in orbit around the sun. But in ancient times, the Solstice was thought to be a time of magical or spiritual significance. The Celts and Slavs celebrated with dancing and bonfires to help increase the sun’s energy. The Chinese honored Li, the Chinese Goddess of Light. And ancient Pagans celebrated with bonfires in which couples leapt through the flames for good luck (the belief was the higher you jumped, the higher your summer crops would grow.)
Some archaeological structures are thought to be aligned to reflect observations of the Solstice. From the view of the Sphinx, the Solstice sun sets squarely between the Great Pyramids of Khufu and Khafre on Egypt’s Giza plateau. And archeologists have long debated the purpose and use of Stonehenge. The site is aligned with the direction of the sunrise on the Solstice. Even today, revelers gather at Stonehenge to celebrate the longest day of the year.
But the Solstice isn’t only significant to ancient cultures. For skiers, too, it has meaning. It’s pretty obvious: from here on out, the days begin to get shorter. Which means we’re on our way to next ski season.
I like to think of it this way: Picture a really long chairlift on a very snowy mountain. It’s around December 21, or Winter Solstice. You get on, and it slowly starts heading up the mountain. Along the way you pass a number of trail signs: President’s Day, Easter, Memorial Day, Last Day of School. After a long time, you reach the top and get off. The sun is high in the sky, everything is flooded in bright light. It’s the Summer Solstice. You’re only there for a few brief minutes. Then you point your skis down the mountain and push off.. The ride down takes a while, and the days begin to shorten. When you reach the bottom, it’s Winter Solstice again.
Here are some interesting facts about the Summer Solstice:
• A Solstice happens at the same instant for all of us, everywhere on Earth. To find the time of the Solstice in your location, you have to translate to your time zone.
• The word Solstice derives from Latin, meaning ‘sun stands still’. This word was chosen because when the solstice occurs the sun appears to stand still.
• Due to seasonal lag, the hottest weather of the summer doesn’t generally fall on the Solstice. Earth just takes a while to warm up after a long winter. Even in June, ice and snow still blanket the ground in some places. The sun has to melt the ice – and warm the oceans – and then we feel the most sweltering summer heat.
• The earth is actually at its farthest from the sun during the Solstice. The warmth of summer comes exclusively from the tilt of the earth’s axis, and not from how close it is to the sun at any given time.
• Some people confuse the solstice with an equinox however an equinox occurs when day of night are of equal length and the sun is directly above the equator, which occurs twice each year and marks the beginning of spring and fall.
• Because of the differences between the astronomical year, which is only 265.25 days long, and the human calendar year, which is 365 days long, the exact date of the Summer Solstice dates can change each year.
The Solstice and Skiing
I’ve never skied on the Summer Solstice, though I think it’d be an absolute blast. And yes, there are places in North America where you can do it, too. With a base of 115″ at its summit, Mammoth is still open for skiing and riding. And Snowbird, Squaw, Aspen, and A-Basin are open Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, so you can celebrate the Solstice there, too. Mount Hood’s iconic Illumination Rock also plays host to a summer solstice party organized by local skiers. And this year, Breckenridge is having its first-ever Summer Solstice Festival, bringing together broadcast meteorologists from around the country to learn about topics, trends, and technology in meteorology. And yes, of course, you can ski the Fourth of July bowl.
Have you ever skied on the Solstice? If so, post here. I’d love to hear about it.