Tom Ross: 100 lanterns will light the 100th Winter Carnival |

Tom Ross: 100 lanterns will light the 100th Winter Carnival

Tom Ross

— The 100th Winter Carnival Night Show Extravaganza on Feb. 9 promises more and bigger fireworks than ever before, not to mention traditional favorites like the Lighted Man and ski jumpers launching rapid fire at night with flares in each hand. To be sure, you won't want to miss this once-in-a-lifetime centennial celebration.

But Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club director of athletics Sarah Floyd is planning a quiet, even mystical display of lights rising through the sky immediately after the Winter Carnival opening ceremonies at 7 p.m. Feb. 6 at Howelsen Hill.

The Winter Sports Club is offering 100 Asian wishing lanterns (I like to call them UFO lanterns) for a special 100th Winter Carnival Wishing Lantern Launch. You can pick them up now at the Winter Sports Club office for a $10 donation. The idea for the lantern launch originated with former Winter Sports Club employee Caroline Bohlmann, who organized the Winter Carnival for the past seven years.

If you've never attended a party or a family gathering where wishing lanterns were launched, your best option might be to watch a YouTube video. It has to be seen to be appreciated. You can view traditional Asian lantern ceremonies in Taiwan and Northern Thailand.

Floyd hopes that folks who decide to take part in Steamboat’s version will reflect on personal memories of past Winter Carnivals, or even offer wishes for the next 100 years, then write them on the delicate envelopes of the lanterns.

Wishing lanterns are traditionally made from rice paper and a bamboo frame. A small candle or a container of waxy fuel is affixed to the center of a bamboo cross positioned to hold the mouth of the bag-like lantern open.

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It takes two people to launch a lantern, one to hold it open and another to light it.

The principle that allows the lanterns to lift off into the evening sky is the same as that at work with larger hot-air balloons — the hot air inside the lantern is less dense than the surrounding air, causing it to rise.

Once the candle is lit and the lantern begins to fill with hot air, the person holding the lantern will feel a gentle tug as it seeks to rise. That's how they will know it's time to release the lantern.

The magic comes when multiple lanterns rise in succession and appear to dance in the sky.

The lantern will stay aloft only as long as the candle or fuel source burns. One negative aspect to launching the lanterns is that they inevitably will fall to Earth as litter. Perhaps Winter Sports Club athletes will come upon them during training sessions on Emerald Mountain and dispose of them properly.

Floyd tested 10 lanterns at the end of the Night Show during last year’s Winter Carnival, and Steamboat Springs Fire Rescue Chief Mel Stewart thought the devices were relatively safe.

"They ran it by us (this year), and we said it was fine with us," Stewart said Friday. His only concern is that if the lanterns were launched in an area where they were close to buildings and trees, they could get trapped against them as they rose. For that reason, Stewart and Floyd are asking that the launch ceremony be limited to wide-open areas at Howelsen.

Floyd also took the precaution of alerting the Federal Aviation Administration to her plans — we don’t want pilots reporting UFOs.

My only previous experience with the lanterns was on a beach on the Oregon coast, and it was more inspiring than I expected. We could hear the waves crashing but couldn't see them. And there was something special about watching the lanterns rise quietly until finally disappearing from sight.

My Winter Carnival lantern wish is for the Winter Sports Club to flourish for many more years as it carries on the work of teaching our children sportsmanship, self-reliance and the benefits of working toward a personal goal.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email

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