"Just hold them out to the side so you don't catch yourself on fire."
I'm handed two torches as I board the chairlift at Durango Mountain Resort. It's just before sundown and I'm on my way to participate in the New Years Eve Torchlight Parade. I take the bright orange torches from the coverall-encapsulated ski school instructor, and I'm off in to the sunset.
Chocolate and peanut butter. Milk and cookies. Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez. Some things just go well together, but skiing and fire? Well, I'm willing to give it a try. The Torchlight Parade on New Years Eve is a tradition among the ski instructors at Durango Mountain Resort. It's a night in which everyone dons their rattiest outfits - ones they don't mind catching on fire, and heads up the mountain in the dark.
I reach the top of the chair and follow a dim trail to the staging area of the parade. Essentially, the idea is that we all snake our way down the hill playing follow-the-leader and holding road flares. The effect, to the viewers standing at Durango Mountain Resort's base area, is a string of brightly lit skiers parading down the hill. Plus there will be fireworks. It's pretty much a fantasy for the 12-year-old boy inside me.
Before we spark our flares, the evening is kicked off with the sending off of three luminaries. These are like tiny hot air balloons, lighted and lifted by tiny little fires. I watch as the luminaries lift off in to the night sky, and am joined in silence as we all watch them ascend.
A single firework signals that it's time for us to begin. One by one we spark our flares, careful to hold the burning hot tips well away from our bodies. It's harder that you'd think to follow the leader and keep from burning your face off. The spatter of the flares and shush of skis and boards is all we hear as we slither down the hill. As we near the bottom, we hear the hoots, hollers, and cheering from the crowd waiting and watching below.
I didnt' realize the crowd was quite so huge before arriving at the base of Durango Mountain Resort. I'd guess there are upwards of a thousand people here watching, oohing, aaahing, and enjoying a very cool scene. After extinguishing our torches, my fellow paraders and I stand marveling at a fireworks display that dwarfs those of many towns' Fourth of July.
There are still a couple fireworks displays and torchlight parades left this year at Durango Mountain Resort and if you haven't seen one I highly recommend it, even if you don't get to play with the flares.
-John Trousdale, Mountain Correspondent, Colorado Ski Country USA