Carrying on a lighted tradition |

Carrying on a lighted tradition

Dana Strongin

More than 60 years ago, Claudius Banks started the tradition of skiing down Howelsen Hill with flares strapped to his ski clothes.

His son, Jon, has carried on the tradition of the Lighted Man — with quite a bit of modification to the suit.
When Claudius Banks took on the first Lighted Man run in the mid-1930s, he wore flares on his clothes. But the flares burned holes in his outfit.

“Ski clothes were valuable back then, and few and far between,” Jon Banks said.
Claudius Banks then decided to use the flares as if they were airplane guiders, so he taped them onto his ski poles. But that wasn’t enough, Jon Banks said.

“He wanted to run a few more lights so people could see him better,” Jon Banks said.
A leather harness was added to the outfit. The harness included lights that ran up Banks’ arms and legs. Banks also wore a hat with lights on it and put lights on his skis.

To add more flair to the suit, Roman candles were added to his hat.

“Fireworks have been a part of the (Lighted) Man ever since,” Jon Banks said.

The suit continued to undergo modifications, and in 1971, Jon Banks donned the leather harness and joined his father on the hill.

“He was looking for somebody to follow in his footsteps,” Banks said. The two skied as double Lighted Men until Claudius Banks’ retirement in 1978.

Jon Banks has continued to alter the outfit over the years. The suit now is made of the same fire-resistant material worn by racecar drivers. A leather cape snaps into the upper part of the suit. Materials from the fireworks burn the suit but bounce off the leather, Banks said. He also wears a leather collar as part of a hood that goes over his modified helicopter-pilot helmet.

Work on the suit continues throughout the year, Banks said.

“The big thing is we need to pull out what needs to be worked on from last year,” he said.
A lot of the work that viewers will not notice goes into elements. This year, Banks worked on circuitry within the poles.
One of the challenges, Banks said, is the temperature. He said a lot of materials used for the outfit are made to work between freezing and 120 degrees Fahrenheit. But it’s often below freezing during the Winter Carnival.
“When you start getting into low temperatures, it doesn’t work,” Banks said. “If it doesn’t work out there, you have problems.”

Banks has found that the best materials are those designed for the military.

“Usually it will function,” he said. He also talks with manufacturers and engineers to come up with the best materials.

Banks is an electrical engineer, a profession that comes in handy when you’re the Lighted Man, he said.
“It’s not a requirement, but it helps,” Banks said.

Banks doesn’t work alone. About half a dozen people work behind the scenes and help work controls that Banks can’t reach when he’s wearing the suit.

“We have a good compliment of guys year after year,” he said. “It’s nice to have guys who have — as you would say — been down the hill with the Lighted Man and know what’s to be expected,” he said.

Banks plans to be the Lighted Man for a few more years.

“I like the challenge, and we have the opportunity to modify the equipment with new technology coming along,” he said.

Banks, who lives in Redmond, Wash., has a few candidates for his replacement. But for now, he enjoys having a good reason to visit Steamboat. He comes from a family of skiers.

“The neat thing about Steamboat is that typically there is always good skiing,” Banks said. “That’s the good thing about Steamboat Springs.”

The 93rd Winter Carnival Night Extravaganza, also known as the night show
When: 6:30 p.m. Feb. 11
Where: Howelsen Hill
What: An evening of entertainment with the Lighted Man, Winter Sports Club exhibition and fireworks. The Lighted Man’s first appearance will be between 7 and 7:15 p.m., and his final run will be at the end of the exhibition and immediately before the fireworks.

The Lighted Man also may appear at the opening ceremonies on Feb. 8.

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