I took a moment to glance up the hill and saw the line of skiers cascading down the hill, “torches” burning bright, bathing the entire ski slope in red and orange. I took a snapshot in my mind that I could hold on to as all I could think was this is pure magic.… When I think of bucket list moments that I hoped to experience during my lifetime, this was definitely one, but one I had never contemplated until becoming a ski instructor for the winter at Winter Park Ski Resort.
Winter Park’s annual Christmas Eve torchlight parade is one of the oldest in Colorado, having first started in 1978. How they pull it off requires coordination and the help of over one hundred Winter Park employees, and has evolved over the years. The addition of fireworks turned out to be a happy accident, when someone thought they’d use up some leftover fireworks to get rid of them. Now the fireworks just add to the overall production to produce a perfect moment of magic.
I had heard about the torchlight parade a few years ago, and thought it would be great to go watch it. But this year, a series of events led to my being able to participate in it. And it all came about because of a random email I got earlier this fall. I’ve been a season passholder at Winter Park for three years, and received an email requesting passholders consider becoming ski instructors. As a benefit, I would get the full price of my pass refunded to me. After a process of submitting an application, creating a video interview, and then going through a phone interview, I was hired as a first year ski instructor.
As part of the ski insructor ranks, we received an email to sign up for the torchlight parade. As luck would have it, I was actually working that day, and was able to sign up that same morning. Fast forward to Thursday evening, and I’m gathering with other intrepid employees at the foot of the Arrow chairlift. I was a bit apprehensive as the email had stated you must be an expert skier with the ability to ski icy conditions carrying your “torches.” Fortunatley, Mother Nature provided new snow this week to make the conditions more forgiving.
I quickly made friends with another instructor, who was a seasoned veteran of the parade. She gave me helpful tips — try to get to the front of the line, keep your flares out to the side to avoid scorching your clothing, try to stay 3 to 5 skier lengths behind the skier in front of you. Us skiers and snowboarders waited for 30-40 minutes at the top of the slope, waiting for the “go” sign. Finally the moment came, and we started lighting our flares, going person to person, holding them out to the next person behind you, similar to lighting matches.
As our line started to move, a cheer went up from the crowd below. Traversing the slopes side to side. I focused on staying upright and not getting too close to the person in front of me. The turns were the hardest as I started to accelerate, and then tried to keep my speed in check. I realized some of the seasoned folks were having fun, waving their flares around like pinwheels, and got a little braver, waving my flares up and down like a bird. I could feel the heat, and the acrid smell of the burning flares filled my nostrils. As we made our way down, I glanced up at the long line behind me, and just smiled in glee at being part of such a magical scene. Before I knew it, we had reached the bottom. It was time to put my flares out by grinding them in the snow and deposit them in the metal can.
While I imagine it’s amazing to watch, I think it was even more special to be part of it. It’s powerful to think I’ve now become part of a tradition of ski employees who put on this show for people year after year. As a kid growing up in Missouri who never strapped on skis until I got to college, I never would have believed one day this would be a bucket list memory I would remember forever.