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Fired Up: An Ode to the Torchlight Parade

Our Wyoming correspondent finds end-of-year salvation at his local hill’s torchlight parade.
posted: 01/13/2014
Resort-endorsed pyromania at Alta’s 75th anniversary celebration last season.

It’s New Year’s Eve. About 150 of us cluster around the base of the Summit lift at Jackson’s Snow King Mountain for the annual torchlight parade. Unlike most ski resorts, where instructors ski the torches down, Snow King makes it an all-citizen affair. I’m irrationally excited. It’s partly the schnapps, but mainly I’m relieved that for once my New Year’s Eve doesn’t consist of staring at a bunch of flat-hatted bros crammed into some rental-house kitchen.

“If you aren’t a good skier, go home,” says Jack Bellarado. “And snowboarders should all go in the back of the line.” A cheer goes up from the tipsy crowd as the few snowboarders protest weakly. He and the other organizers hand each of us a pair of flares and pass around a jug for donations to pay for them. We line up two by two to board the lift.

I’m hoping for some mayhem. The last torchlight parade I watched was at Steamboat, where Lighted Man caps off the Winter Carnival. He wore an elaborate, LED-ringed costume and skied with painful slowness, wagging his glowing poles while fireworks shot from his backpack. “Wouldn’t it be hilarious if he fell over?” my sister asked as we packed into the crowd. And then he did, blasting his assistants with Roman candle shots. 

We strike our flares just before the liftie bumps the chair. It’s an old, slow double, and we hang the hissing flares off to the side, settling in for a 10-minute ride up. As the torchbearers unload, our line of fiery dots moves left across the top of the mountain and begins snaking slowly downward.

We crisscross the hill unevenly, happy whoops erupting from among our number. I light my second flare with the nub of the first. One or two people wipe out on the icy slope, but that’s about it for mayhem. And that’s fine, because I realize that at last I have something to do on New Year’s Eve, which, like my own birthday, I hate. I’m an introvert, and I can’t stand the pressure to set the tone for the year with a legendary rager, to cut some hot young thing out of the herd and lock lips on the stroke of midnight. In the past, stumbling home at 12:35, I usually wished I’d gone on some silent meditation retreat or just dug a cave. But this, skiing in a line of friends on a frigid night with fire in our fists, this is easy and glorious and silly and just the way I want to start my new years from now on.

Frederick Reimers condones old-school snowboarder discrimination.

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