It was a warm September day with the sun high in the sky when we arrived at Paradise, elevation 5,400 feet. After a break at the visitors' center, one third of the way to Mount Rainier's peak, two friends and I saddled up our packs laden with skis and boots, preparing for the inevitable question from some tourist from Texas: "Where are you going skiing around here?!"

The correct answer is to smile and point with a ski pole at the giant snow-covered mountain over yonder.

Paradise gets 643 inches of snow per year, and it's where many people go snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and tubing during the winter months. For downhill skiers, June and even July also offer easy runs from the Paradise visitors' center back to the trailhead. But by August, all of that's melted away, and you're looking at strapping your skis to your backpack and hiking on dirt through wildflowers until you reach the snow line.

I belong to an obsessive subculture of Pacific Northwest skiers who live by the motto of "turns all year." That is to say, blessed as we are up here with abundant winter snowfall, cool spring weather, and glaciers galore, it is eminently plausible—and even kind of fun—to ski year-round. As of this writing, in May, I am packing up this weekend to notch month 32 of consecutive skiing. But in just a few months, the snow situation will be lean.

The snow was lean that September day we were hiking up Mount Rainier. An hour or two farther on dirt brought us up to Panorama Point, a spectacular prominence at 6,804 feet that lives up to its name. By that time, the patchy bits of snow still clinging to a solid state started to adhere to the surface of the mountain, a consistent carpet of off-white streaked with brown and black dust—the stale leftovers from winter's pearly blanket. But hey, it was snow, and you could ski on it.

We had our sights set on something higher. We happily transferred the weight of skis and boots from our backs to our feet and attached climbing skins, which stick to the bottom of the ski and create traction with the snow in order to allow uphill travel. Soon we were skinning up the vast expanse of the Muir Snowfield, elevation 10,188 feet, which, as its name suggests, is not a glacier but a permanent snowfield that never melts (keep your fingers crossed on that one—thanks, climate change). Glaciers have crevasses and require careful navigation to avoid falling into the abyss to your demise. Snowfields like Muir, on the other hand, just require enough skill to ski on a crappy, ungroomed surface that hasn't seen a fresh coat of powder for more than four months.

The snowfield is less a stairway to heaven and more a long, slow, ADA-accessible ramp, its gradual grade stretching out a couple of miles. On a clear day, Muir affords majestic views not just of Tahoma in all her glory (that's Mount Rainier's indigenous name, and yes the mountain is a "she") but also a sweeping southward sightline that encompasses Wy'east (Mount Hood), Loowit (Mount St. Helens), Pahto (Mount Adams), and, if you squint hard, Seekseekqua (Mount Jefferson).

On the scale of backcountry skiing, a sport where mishaps can have deadly consequences, the Muir Snowfield is a mellow tour, especially in summer. Other than the steep pitch leading down to Panorama Point—which, as mentioned, on this late-summer day was long since melted out—there is no avalanche danger. Winter weather can mean dangerous whiteouts, but not in the dog days of summer. Backcountry skiing is a hell of a lot of fun, but in peak season when the snow is flying, it does require a lot of careful decision making to come home safe from a day of playing in the mountains. This summer jaunt up to Camp Muir, on the other hand, was about as risk-free as skiing on wild snow can get.

Which is why I decided to strip off my clothes. Call it a fit of inspiration from the only-in-the-Northwest joyous confluence of summer and snow. I'm not a habitual nudist. I strip down at Goldmyer Hot Springs, sure, or cool off at clothing-optional Denny-Blaine Park after a bike ride, when a naked swim is more convenient than riding home with sopping wet bike shorts. However, I'm deathly afraid of skin cancer, so I sure as hell don't suntan shirtless, much less au naturel.

But with the entire southern Cascades laid out before my ski tips on a blazing hot day, I knew we were mere months away from a return to the winter wonderland that I and my snow-crazed brethren and sistren live for. As much as anything, skiing naked was a celebration of the end of summer and the season yet to come.

"Freedom of the hills!" I shouted, the mountaineering mantra echoing around me as I pointed my skis downhill. Nearby were climbers relaxing in the shadow of the stone huts at Camp Muir, resting up before making a midnight push to summit Mount Rainier. Normally, few would bat an eyelash at a skier descending the gentle slope of the Muir Snowfield—something that easily thousands do every year—except that I was buck naked. Just a hat, sunglasses, backpack, and ski boots.

A climbing guide whistled and gamely threw a snowball in my direction, but it was too late—I was off in a flash of pale flesh, arcing turns on the summer snowfield softened by the sun. I felt a rush of alpine breeze between my butt cheeks. My ski partner had also stripped to his birthday suit, and with a cry of "Sky's out, thighs out!" he took off behind me.

Soon we were skiing parallel, trading giddy hoots and hollers at the transgressive silliness of skiing naked. Such is the pleasure of sliding on snow in the summer, when the stakes are low and the stoke is high. Our third friend stayed clothed to document the shenanigans.

It was exhilarating. It was unforgettable. The only thing left to do, on our way home after a long day, was to stop by the Copper Creek Inn in Ashford (highly recommended) for an après skiing beer and blackberry pie, where we might run into those Texan tourists again and get to smirk in satisfaction.