Ski band glides to a tune

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To participate in the Steamboat Springs High School band, you have to do more than play an instrument -- you have to play that instrument on skis.

One of the most familiar and anticipated sights of the annual Winter Carnival is the performance by the high school ski band, which skis in full formation and regalia down Lincoln Avenue while playing tunes such as "Anchors Away," the high school's fight song.

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 Winter Carnival, now in its 93rd year.

According to author Tom Bie, whose book "Steamboat" profiles Steamboat Springs, 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 magnified its uniqueness and increased its notoriety. High school band director Ken Crombie heard of the ski band well before he accepted the job here two years ago. This will be his second year leading the students down a snow-covered Lincoln Avenue.

Regardless of how Crombie's second 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.

The band of about 35 students 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 last year as he prepared for his first ski band experience. "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.

Of course, the messes provide a great incentive for band members to stay upright.
The ski band will perform during the annual Winter Carnival parade Feb. 12.

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