The locals’ favorite holiday: Fun, family and the mishaps of Winter Carnival | SteamboatToday.com

The locals’ favorite holiday: Fun, family and the mishaps of Winter Carnival

Frances Hohl/For Steamboat Today

A new generation represents the traditions of the Ladies' Recreation Club and the Winter Carnival tradition of the Diamond Hitch Parade.

— Despite catching on fire last year, "Lighted Man" Jon Banks will be back for this year's 104th Winter Carnival, skiing down Howelsen Hill with fireworks shooting out of his backpack for Saturday's Night Extravaganza in Steamboat Springs.

"It turned out OK. I'm still here," Banks deadpanned to the audience at Winter Carnival's opening ceremony Wednesday night where newly crowned Carnival Queen Meg Anderson and parade grand marshals Eileen and Lon Allen were honored.

"They loaded the fireworks upside down," Banks explained about last year's mishap.

Favorite Winter Carnival memories:

"It's amazing how many Olympians we're connected to. You see on the Olympics the same kids we pulled down the street. I'm pulling the next generation of those Olympic families." — Shane Yeager, Bar Lazy L rancher, on his 40 years of pulling skiers by horse

"We actually met through Winter Carnival," said husband Dave. "We met setting up fencing at 6 a.m. for the street events," Kyleigh adds. — Dave and Kyleigh Lawler on falling in love at Winter Carnival. Now their 5-year-old daughter Zoe is a Winter Carnival princess who will ride in Sunday's parade.

"We're handing out free samples of our barbecue beef Saturday and Sunday morning in front of Allens. I have the original recipe from Hazel Wheeler. Tastes good on a cold morning." — Kristi Belton, with Routt County CattleWomen, who will be on promoting local beef after skipping last year's Winter Carnival

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"When everyone comes here they're like, 'whoa, those fireworks were huge.' They're so loud they make car alarms go off." — Anna Terranova, Winter Carnival court attendant and Nordic skier on Saturday night's fireworks display.

"We put on these clothes that are junky because when the sparks come off the flares they burn your clothes. So if it's junky clothes, you're OK." — 10-year-old Caman Beauregard on carrying flares during the Night Extravaganza at Howelsen Hill

"The Soda Pop Slalom used to be sponsored by Big K soda and there were these big barrels of soda and you could drink all day long. Not any more." — Cedar Beauregard, Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club coach, on his childhood memories of Winter Carnival

"My favorite thing is the obstacle course downtown on main street for 3- to 5-year-olds. They can barely walk on their skis, and they're having to climb through barrels and under sawhorses." — Nancy Perricone, retired teacher

"When she found out her big sister was going to be a princess, she said 'I'm gonna be a dragon. Dragons protect princesses.'" — Barbara Novotny, mom of a Winter Carnival princess, on why her toddler dressed as a dragon

"They've been coming since 1974 or ’75. They haven't missed a carnival." — Store owner Tod Allen on his Denver friend Jim Stutler's devotion as a Winter Carnival volunteer and fan

"He wasn't smoking enough to use the fire extinguisher," joked Banks' brother Kent, who has been skiing behind his brother for decades — with an actual fire extinguisher — just in case his brother should catch on fire.

Overwhelmingly, locals tout the Night Extravaganza, with its parade of "human" lights and fireworks, as the most spectacular part of Winter Carnival — the longest-held winter carnival west of the Mississippi.

The annual festival started in 1914 as a way for local ranchers to break up the monotony of Northwest Colorado's long winters. It started out with a couple of ski races and jumping events and has now become a five-day event that includes youth ski races (with and without horse-pulling), a donkey jump, adult shovel race, parties, a parade and the night show with a firework finale.

Steamboat native Cedar Beauregard will watch his three young sons glide down Howelsen Hill with flares and glow sticks, just the way he did in the 1980s.

"I remember one year in the late 1980s UPS dropped off the flares outside, and it rained on them. None of the flares went off during the show. It was a dud," Beauregard said.

In fact, when the skiers jumped through hoops of fire off the huge Nordic jump, there were no flares to guide them down.

"We went through this super bright burning hoop, then it was all dark and black. We just had to feel our way down," Beauregard said.

Rancher Shane Yeager, who has been pulling skiers in the Winter Carnival since he was 8, remembers when "officials" changed the direction of the street events so that photos would show Mount Werner ski mountain in the background.

"Clarence Wheeler, who was the elder of us, didn't want to run our horses that way because the horses would be running toward our homes," said Yeager, explaining most of the horse pullers lived west of town, up Elk River.

"The very first year they changed direction of the street races, one of our riders had a runaway horse, and he hit the rope and it ripped him off his horse," Yeager laughed. "Wheeler was right. You never run a horse toward home."

Needless to say, ranchers are at the heart of Winter Carnival.

"I think that's what separates us from other ski towns and tourist towns … the traditions we have in Winter Carnival and our Western heritage," said Yeager, whose forefather was the first "white" child to be born in Routt County in 1834.

In fact, Winter Carnival is such an ingrained tradition that many families see their grown children and other relatives return every February.

"Our kids come home every year for Winter Carnival and bring friends," said Lon Allen, grand marshal of this year's parade along with his wife, Eileen.

The two were honored for their work in the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club, which puts on the Winter Carnival with the help of 150 volunteers.

"They look forward to the whole carnival and watching the kids," said Eileen. "It's just tradition."

Although he doesn't live in Steamboat any more, "Lighted Man" Jon Banks and his brothers join their sister every year for Winter Carnival. Their father was the first "Lighted Man" in 1935 before Jon took over in 1971. In fact, his brother Kent travels from Budapest, Hungary, for Winter Carnival.

"It's a family reunion for us,” Kent Banks said. “The only time we can get together without worrying about anything else.”

Penny Fletcher's two grown sons, Bryan and Taylor, belong to the group of Steamboat Olympians who once skied behind horses as part of their youth.

"I have more fun at Winter Carnival than any other holiday," said Fletcher. "It's a celebration of friends and family and our Western heritage."

Buttons for Winter Carnival are sold all over town for $10 and proceeds benefit the Winter Sports Club’s ski programs. It also gets you a free lift ticket at Howelsen Hill through Feb.

12.

For a full schedule of Winter Carnival events go to https://www.steamboatpilot.com/news/2017/feb/06/104th-winter-carnival-events-fill-week-view-schedu/.

Favorite Winter Carnival memories:

“It’s amazing how many Olympians we’re connected to. You see on the Olympics the same kids we pulled down the street. I’m pulling the next generation of those Olympic families.” — Shane Yeager, Bar Lazy L rancher, on his 40 years of pulling skiers by horse

“We actually met through Winter Carnival,” said husband Dave. “We met setting up fencing at 6 a.m. for the street events,” Kyleigh adds. — Dave and Kyleigh Lawler on falling in love at Winter Carnival. Now their 5-year-old daughter Zoe is a Winter Carnival princess who will ride in Sunday’s parade.

“We’re handing out free samples of our barbecue beef Saturday and Sunday morning in front of Allens. I have the original recipe from Hazel Wheeler. Tastes good on a cold morning.” — Kristi Belton, with Routt County CattleWomen, who will be on promoting local beef after skipping last year’s Winter Carnival

“When everyone comes here they’re like, ‘whoa, those fireworks were huge.’ They’re so loud they make car alarms go off.” — Anna Terranova, Winter Carnival court attendant and Nordic skier on Saturday night’s fireworks display.

“We put on these clothes that are junky because when the sparks come off the flares they burn your clothes. So if it’s junky clothes, you’re OK.” — 10-year-old Caman Beauregard on carrying flares during the Night Extravaganza at Howelsen Hill

“The Soda Pop Slalom used to be sponsored by Big K soda and there were these big barrels of soda and you could drink all day long. Not any more.” — Cedar Beauregard, Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club coach, on his childhood memories of Winter Carnival

“My favorite thing is the obstacle course downtown on main street for 3- to 5-year-olds. They can barely walk on their skis, and they’re having to climb through barrels and under sawhorses.” — Nancy Perricone, retired teacher

“When she found out her big sister was going to be a princess, she said ‘I’m gonna be a dragon. Dragons protect princesses.’” — Barbara Novotny, mom of a Winter Carnival princess, on why her toddler dressed as a dragon

“They’ve been coming since 1974 or ’75. They haven’t missed a carnival.” — Store owner Tod Allen on his Denver friend Jim Stutler’s devotion as a Winter Carnival volunteer and fan