Best Bets: Steamboat’s Winter Carnival

February 4 2013, 2:05 PM

I remember—maybe you do, too—spending entire afternoons outside, playing in the woods behind my house and adventuring well beyond my parents’ safety nets. Maybe that’s why I have such a fondness for Steamboat’s Winter Carnival.

The multi-day spectacle turns 100 years old this year, but over the course of a century it's stuck close to its traditions, meaning that kids as well as adults flip, soar, and leap over the snow in capers that would probably get the kibosh should they be proposed today. That’s why it’s so fun.

The excitement begins this Wednesday, February 6, when the opening ceremonies will feature Steamboat’s past and present Olympians (totaling nearly 100—so far). The town will also launch a flock of wishing lanterns to celebrate a Century of Carnivals. And at Howelsen Hill from 6 to 8 p.m., anyone wearing alpine ski gear can fly off the jumps. Yep, it’s an all-ages event.

The adrenaline spikes on Saturday, when U.S. 40 through town is closed to traffic, covered with snow, and then stages a morning of street events where tykes figure prominently: Galloping horses pull kids down the street so they can weave around cones and launch off jumps. That night, kids join adults in a torchlight parade down Howelsen Hill. (There will be fireworks, too.)

The festivities might even match the excitement of the Lighted Man, another long-standing Carnival tradition that flies in the face of safety regulations. Claudius Banks first glittered down Howelsen Hill in 1939, sporting 100 pounds of Christmas lights powered by a car battery. His son still carries on the tradition, which sounds kitschy until you see it in person, when you can’t help but admire the grace of a guy who skis a steely slope loaded with lights that illuminate body, skis, and poles—all flickering like a Hollywood marquee.

Sunday brings the Diamond Hitch Parade (where the marching band shuffles along on skis) and more kid-sacrificing street events. Somehow, though—maybe it’s a Carnival miracle—no one gets hurt, everyone has fun, and kids swell with pride at having performed feats of daring usually reserved for trained TV stuntmen.

The Winter Carnival promises to be bigger and bolder this year, with a new “Sorel Soiree” gala and an afterparty following the Night Extravaganza that will keep townsfolk partying till the wee hours. It’s one of those rare events that’s loved by locals and tourists alike. At its core, the Steamboat’s Winter Carnival is just as raw and uninhibited as it was 100 years ago, which is why you should go.

Bonus: The purchase of a $10 Winter Carnival button gains admission to all events and supports the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club, which trains junior athletes.