Steamboat Springs Eight little girls, none out of kindergarten, learned to ski the black diamonds before they could even read the names of the runs. Their skiing ability and their years of participation in the Little Toots program earned them tiaras and a chance to ride on the parade float as this year's Winter Carnival princesses.
Millie DeLaney, 5, Sawyer Gander, 4, Kasey Kirkendall, 6, Ariana Kocik, 5, Margaret Lichtenfels, 5, Kathleen O'Connell, 4, Tess Richey, 5, and Teagann Yeager, 5, will be this year's princesses.
To be eligible, a princess must be of level four skiing ability, be no older than kindergarten and have participated in Little Toots at least two years.
This year, 250 students enrolled in the Little Toots Learn to Ski program.
"The selection process is grueling," parent coordinator Heather Yeager said. "I try to pick girls who won't be back next year because they will be in first grade."
Traditionally, only girls who had been princesses as children were allowed to be Carnival queen, but "the town has changed so much since then," Yeager said. Now, they only require that queens previously served as attendants.
Princesses chosen from Little Toots must attend the opening ceremony of the Winter Carnival, attend the night show and ride on the float in the parade.
At the opening, they wear pretty dresses, a tiara and cape. At night, they wear their capes and tiaras over snowsuits.
Little Toots is the oldest learn to ski program in the United States, Yeager said. It was organized in 1957 by a group of mothers who hired an instructor for their children and watched them learn to ski on the sledding hill next to Soda Creek Elementary School.
"It's almost as old as any ski club in this town," Yeager said.