SUMMIT COUNTY, Colo. — For the Brown family, skiing usually means missing church.
Same for camping, hiking and other outdoor activities.
“Most of the time, we end up having to go to Saturday night service so we can do something on Sunday,” said Danny Brown of Colorado Springs, Colo. “If we have (plans) for the whole weekend, we just miss out.”
But with the right people present, church can be anywhere — even an open-air pavilion at 11,000 feet on a snowy mountainside. That’s where the Brown family came across the Copper Mountain Community Church on a recent Sunday.
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“It’s great to come out and worship the Lord in this way,” Brown said. “We’re told to praise God regardless of what we’re doing, so this is a great opportunity for us to do that.”
Nearly every ski area in Colorado offers some kind of on-mountain service, and the church at Copper Mountain is one of the oldest. For 20 years, volunteers have been helping skiers find some religion, and not just when they confront their mortality on a double-diamond run or thank God for a powder day.
“As Christians — especially if you’re active and you’re a skier and you want to go on Sunday — sometimes your schedule doesn’t allow any other days, but you hate the fact you’re going to miss your worship time,” said pastor Dale Holland, one of three lay ministers who run the service and spend the rest of the day handing out cookies.
There is an early-morning service in the base village, and the on-mountain service begins at 12:30 p.m. On a recent warm and sunny Sunday, more than two dozen skiers showed up for it, the snowy spine of the Tenmile Range forming a stunning backdrop.
Not that the weather always cooperates.
“Two weeks ago, it was 12 below zero when we got on the mountain,” Holland said. “I don’t think it was more than zero and it started getting windy when it was time for the service, and we’re all thinking, ‘We’re not going to have anyone today.’”
Still, about 10 hardy Christians showed up.
Said pastor Dick Jacquin: “Depending on who’s doing the preaching, if it’s really cold, we make them take their gloves off. It kind of keeps the length of the service down.”
Brutally cold or only slightly cold, the non-denominational service is short: some songs, a little prayer, a quick sermon by Jacquin, more singing and it’s over. They pray that everyone skis safely, that they don’t see any medical helicopters in the air. They thank God for the amazing scenery of His creation. And in a dry winter, they pray for snow.
“This 2-3 inches today is a blessing, but we need more. We need snow by the feet,” Holland said.
Then they pass a backpack around — mountain version of the collection plate — and people hug and ski off. When the lifts are running in summer, they have service at 11 a.m., so as not to be caught in the afternoon thunderstorms.
For the pastors, it’s about more than a chance to ski.
“It helps bring my belief in Jesus Christ really home for me,” Holland said. “When I’m up here and I see how beautiful it is, and some of the emotions of people that are up here, it’s an absolute job, and it just energizes me.”
Pam and John Hermansdorfer, on a ski vacation from Florida, have been regulars at the services for years.
“There’s not a better place to worship God than on a mountain top,” John Hermansdorfer said.
“And what is the song we always sing?” asked his wife.
In unison: “Go Tell it on the Mountain.”
Said Pam Hermansdorfer: “Imagine that. We don’t sing that in Florida.”