Thursday, February 1, 2001
Steamboat Springs Although Howelsen Hill is now lit up by electric lights at night, one creative soul decided more than 60 years ago to bring his own illumination.
The lighted man, a character invented by Claudius Banks in 1938, is now embodied by his son Jon, who will be performing his act once again this year at the Night Show located at Howelsen Hill.
The idea to ski with lights came out of a tradition that began before Claudius took to the slopes of Howelsen, Jon Banks said. Before (and since) the lighted man, skiers would form a torch-light procession at the top of Howelsen and ski down.
Claudius began his lighted man tradition by attaching light bulbs to his poles and soon added roman candles that jutted out of his helmet.
As the years went on, the show became more elaborate and exciting. Claudius added pyrotechnics to the act and designed three different suits, often carrying more than 100 pounds of equipment with him as he slid down the hill.
Jon Banks joined his father on the hill in 1971, allowing for a tag-team performance, and took over entirely in 1978.
Banks wears a much different costume from his father's these days but continues many of the old traditions, such as the use of pyrotechnics and roman candles.
Each year, he tries to vary the show just enough to keep things interesting.
"When you're dealing with pyrotechnics and electricity, you don't want to add too much variation," he said. "But there's always a little bit of variation to it."
Banks said he has experienced some accidents while performing, including his skis coming off and nearly being burned.
These days, however, he wears a fire suit much like the ones racecar drivers wear, he said.
"The equipment has improved substantially to the point where I'm relatively immune to malfunctions in fireworks."
Banks said he will perform the act twice during the evening, once near the beginning and once at the end.
"If you haven't seen it before, the first time you don't know what to think," he said.
"The second time you're likely to be paying attention."