Steamboat Springs With the roar of two snowcat engines, the dream of the Steamboat Springs High School Ski Band was realized -- a groomed Lincoln Avenue.
After years of following messy horses, giant tractors and an array of other animals and parade participants, the nation's only ski band was visibly pleased as the two snowcats chugged down Lincoln Avenue, leaving only a smooth, snowy surface in their wake.
"Forward, ski!" instructed bandleader Dan Isbell.
And with those words, the band proceeded down the parade route, much to the delight of the hundreds of spectators who braved icy winds and lined both sides of Lincoln Avenue, peered from shop and restaurant windows and watched from second-floor balconies.
The band's spirited version of Herbie Hancock's "Watermelon Man" warmed the crowd, but many longtime Winter Carnival observers might have noticed something was missing. No band member fell.
"It was great," Isbell said. "A blue-ribbon performance. All the kids said, 'You can't believe how much easier it is (with a groomed path).'"
A variety of parade participants followed the band, including students from Strawberry Park Elementary School, who celebrated their school's "excellent" rating, members of Routt County 4-H, the Steamboat Mites youth hockey team, the U.S. Forest Service, a local rugby team and Routt County Search and Rescue.
Participants from the Lowell Whiteman School commemorated the history of Howelsen Hill -- this year's Winter Carnival theme -- with their own version of the Howelsen Hill Tow House.
A four-legged skier, who was pulled down the parade route by a tractor, both confused on-looking toddlers and amused adult spectators.
Following the parade, while Lincoln Avenue was again made capable of handling motor vehicle traffic, chariot races at Romick Arena and the parent-child downhill at Howelsen Hill brought a conclusion to this year's Winter Carnival festivities.
The approximately 100 spectators in Romick Arena watched up-close action as two-horse teams raced down the quarter-mile straightway pulling sleek one-person chariots.
Driver Tina Decker and her "Day Dream" team kicked off the 10-heat competition.
"That's insane," said one spectator as the "Day Dream" team sped over the snowy track and past the finish line.
In all, 19 chariot teams were scheduled to compete in the race, with prize money going to the winner and the Dean Wheeler Memorial Belt Buckle awarded to the 10th-place finisher.
Wheeler, who was largely responsible for bringing chariot racing to the Yampa Valley in the late 1950s, consistently finished in the middle of the pack when he raced. The award has been part of the competition since 1982.
The parent-child downhill, held at Howelsen Hill, is a friendly, non-competitive ski race. Typically, parent and child finish the course together, and the child is placed on a podium for a photo opportunity with their parent.
Winter Sports Club executive director Rick DeVos took in the friendly race and said this year's Winter Carnival, which is hosted by the Winter Sports Club, was a huge success. Winter Carnival button sales were brisk and a record crowd attended Saturday evening's Night Extravaganza at Howelsen Hill, DeVos said.
"It was a great year," DeVos said. "This is just a great way to celebrate our heritage during the winter."
"There are a lot of couch potatoes in the world," he said. "This is a community that doesn't embrace that. (Winter Carnival) is a great way to show guests our active community."
The Winter Carnival would not be possible without the dedicated effort of Winter Sports Club staff, volunteers, the city of Steamboat Springs and countless other community groups and members, DeVos said.