Winter Carnival under way

Opening ceremonies kick off 89th annual celebration

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— Marieke Nunnikhoven wears her special dress only for special occasions.

The green velvet and white-laced outfit, the 5-year-old said, should be reserved for places like church and holidays such as Christmas.

Wednesday evening was no exception to that rule.

Nunnikhoven and seven other girls, dressed in their Sunday best, marched to the front of Olympian Hall to receive flower bouquets and recognition for their important role in this year's Winter Carnival.

The princesses joined Winter Carnival Queen Cassidy Kurtz, her attendants Patty Hanley and Tori Carrigan Koski, the grand marshals and the Western Heritage honoree as part of the opening ceremony of the 89th annual Steamboat Springs Winter Carnival.

The coronation kicked off several days of events that will be decidedly less toasty for winter carnivalgoers.

The action moves outside today.

Those in attendance Wednesday night were treated to hot chili and cake that recognized Winter Carnival celebrities, such as the Lighted Man.

The crowd greeted Jon Banks, lit from head to toe, with laughs and listened as he explained how he safely maneuvers down Howelsen Hill every year with Roman candle firecrackers strapped to his back.

When asked if the rumor about the Lighted Man trading his skis for a snowboard this year were true, Banks didn't think flinch with his answer.

"It's a rumor," he said.

Former members of the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club and longtime Steamboat residents Ray and Corkey Heid made their first appearance as grand marshals of the Winter Carnival.

The brothers first participated in the February tradition as small children and remain avid supporters of the Winter Carnival.

"This is kind of a family thing for us," Ray Heid said.

When his granddaughter, Sawyer Gander, is old enough to join the Winter Sports Club next winter, the family can boast of four generations of Winter Sports Club members.

Ray Heid acknowledged the tight-knit community that contributes to the success of the Winter Carnival every year.

"This whole valley is a family," he said. "The Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club is the heart of this family."

The ceremony recognized Cinda Garcia as the Western Heritage honoree.

Garcia was the first woman to compete in chariot racing, a tradition she plans to continue this year in addition to pulling young skiers on horseback.

The indoor kickoff brought out dozens of parents of children involved in the Winter Sports Club and a few curious newcomers.

Sharon and Quenton Sonnenfeld of Golden planned a February visit to Steamboat Springs to catch the winter celebration.

"We were trying to see what your Winter Carnival is all about," Quenton Sonnenfeld said.

Sharon Sonnenfeld said she was impressed by the community-wide response to the event.

"It's really neat that all the ages get involved," she said.

The 89th Winter Carnival royalty will have a few more opportunities to appear together before a crowd.

Princess Hannah Widner, 5, said she was looking forward to the parade on Sunday.

"I've never ridden on a float before," she said.

It's an experience Widner's younger peers already have their eye on for next year.

Between spoonfuls of chocolate cake, Sawyer Gander said she wanted to be a princess in the 90th Winter Carnival.

"Who could not want to be a little princess?" asked her grandmother, Sandy Gander.

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