One of the most amazing winter carnivals, hands-down, no-doubt, bet-your-season-pass is Steamboat Springs' Winter Carnival. It's coming up Feb 6-10. Do. Not. Miss. It. And when you get there, be sure to put on some warm socks, fill a thermos with some piping hot <ahem> cocoa, and head out for a night at the signature event, the Night Extravaganza.
The word extravaganza is a tough word to live up to, and most events which bear this descriptor fall short. Not the case in Steamboat. As I was researching the events I'd cover for Colorado Ski Country USA, I was skeptical. Marching band on skis? Yanking kids around behind horses? Old men in fur coats shooting rifles within city limits? Honestly I was more interested in going skiing in Steamboat's world-famous trees. But then I arrived in Steamboat, saw for myself just how special it was, and became an instant believer.
There's a reason even the saltiest cowpoke turns wistful and gets all teary-eyed when you bring up the name Steamboat Springs. It's because this place is magical. It is a quintessential Colorado ski town, and one that takes skiing seriously. Nowhere is that more evident than at the Night Extravaganza, where it seems the entire population of Steamboat is there watching, cheering, skiing, or jumping through flaming hoops.
The torchlight parade is the most extensive I've ever seen. When the kids show up on the horizon you think "Cute, a bunch of 4-year-olds on skis. With road flares. At night. Cute?" They ski down safely in a testament to the mandatory ski training required of every toddler for enrollment in preschool. Then, for the next 20 minutes, wave after wave of kids stream down the mountain, flares in hand. It's like watching the whole school district in some sort of strange fire drill. It's pretty awesome.
The Lighted Man makes his way down the hill, hundreds of skiers jump through the flaming hoop, and the crowd loves every minute of it. The night is capped off with what I would call the greated grommet dance party of all time on the stage. Steamboat is a town that knows who the next generation of skiers are, and the next generation of skiers knows how to have a good time.
As grommets dance hilariously in ski boots, fireworks burst overhead, and the whole town parties on behind us, I stood, smiling, taking it all in. A night extravaganza indeed.