Tuesday, February 1, 2005
Steamboat Springs Outside of the occasional star athlete, it's not often that high school students receive national publicity.
But for the past 70 years, members of the Steamboat Springs High School Band have captured headlines for their unique musical talent -- playing instruments while on skis.
The famous Steamboat Springs Ski Band began in 1935 under the leadership of director Gerald McGuire, who suggested his band strap on skis while playing in the annual Winter Carnival. According to author Tom Bie, a Chicago sportswriter dubbed Steamboat "Ski Town USA" after watching the ski band perform.
The decades that have followed the original appearance of the ski band have only magnified its uniqueness and increased its notoriety. Current high school band director Ken Crombie had heard of the ski band well before he accepted the job last year, but this is his first year leading the students down a snow-covered Lincoln Avenue.
"I was always kind of curious about how difficult this was going to be," Crombie said.
Regardless of how Crombie's first ski band experience plays out, it's bound to be easier than what he originally envisioned the performance would entail -- Crombie thought the band played while skiing down a mountain.
"It has been an awakening," he said.
The 35-student band rehearses on snowy ground outside of the high school, but it doesn't spend more than a day or two preparing for the annual tradition. All the practice in the world can't prevent the obstacles posed by cold Northwest Colorado winters.
"The thing that's always difficult is the weather," Crombie said. "If it's very cold out, it makes it extremely difficult to make it work."
Frozen saliva can wreak havoc on expensive instruments, and moist lips can become stuck to metal and brass mouthpieces. But the band has learned from past experiences -- plastic mouthpieces are now used on most of the instruments.
Other obstacles include choppy snow and the messes left behind by horses that participate in other Winter Carnival events.
This year, the band is prepared to perform an original version of "Stars and Stripes Forever" and a rendition of "Anchors Away," the high school's fight song.
The band may even pick up an extra member.
"I'm excited about it," Crombie said. "I might get on skis myself."