Tom Ross' column appears in Steamboat Today. Contact him at 970-871-4205 or tross@SteamboatToday.com.
Find more columns by Tom here.
Steamboat Springs Martha Bender and Katie Haberlan played their piccolos in the Winter Carnival parade, and their lips survived to tell about it. As senior members of the Steamboat Springs High School skiing band back in 2004, Bender and Haberlan were participating in the 91st annual Winter Carnival. The two young ladies have been down Lincoln Avenue more than once in their careers. In fact, they've participated in the Winter Carnival parade four straight years. Winter Carnival marked a rite of passage of sorts - it was their last freezing cold parade.
During their tenure with America's only skiing high school band, Haberlan and Bender picked up some wisdom. For example, unless you want to go home with your musical instrument stuck to your face, you don't play a silver piccolo in Steamboat in February. "Our piccolos are plastic," Bender said. A plastic piccolo is far less prone to freezing to your lips.
The Sailors band played one song several times during Sunday's parade - a classic from the 1960's surf rock genre called "Wipeout." I've long since forgotten who played lead piccolo for the Surfaris, but 37 years later, the band still is being immortalized by hundreds of marching bands and at least one skiing band.
The skiing band is a significant part of what makes the Winter Carnival tradition so special. We can't escape winter, so we might as well celebrate it. You have to wonder what old Carl Howelsen would make of the Winter Carnival he started 94 years ago.
Jonathan "Quad Man" Hritz made a big hit in the carnival parade. He is Steamboat's only four-legged skier, unless you count dogs. Hritz came down Lincoln Avenue on a pair of oversized mono skis, each of his two pairs of legs clad in ski boots and safely locked into bindings. "I have twice as much fun as everyone else, but they make me buy two lift tickets," Hritz quipped.
Speaking of dogs, there were quite a few in this year's parade. Of all the pooches on Lincoln Avenue, a pair of Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs made the others look out of place. Seven-month-old Cosmo brought his owner, Roger Moore, and ladylike Madison brought owners Shelby and Ryan Dyer. "Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs are known for being protective, energetic and devoted to labor unions," Madison said. "My owners never feed me as much strudel as I deserve. I demand better working conditions." Cosmo said that as a matter of fact, his breed has a reputation for hard work.
"We've been used in the high Alps as cart dogs," Cosmo said. "In areas where the paths are too rough for horses, we can still pull the carts. When my great-grandfather's owner became ill, he delivered a milk route all by himself.
Josh Williams, of Dayton, Ohio, thrilled the crowd gathered along Lincoln Avenue with one of the most spectacular shovel races in the 94-year history of the carnival. For the uninitiated, the shovel race requires helmeted contestants to ride a shovel, the handle of which is attached by a length of rope to the saddle horn of a galloping quarterhorse. Williams was pitched from the shovel near the start of his run but refused to let go of the handle and went tumbling and spinning down the length of Steamboat's main drag.
"Letting go is not an option," Williams said afterward. "Besides, I've been dragged behind much worse things before."
Williams explained that in Dayton he participates in the sport of "recycle-binning." It seems that in the great state of Ohio, people are fond of seating themselves in recycling bins attached by a rope to a vehicle - presumably a turbo-powered garbage truck - and allowing themselves to be dragged down a snowy street.
Winter Carnival wouldn't be the same without the horses that pull shovel racers and parade floats. They are emblematic of the historic link between ranching families and the early history of skiing in Steamboat. The quarterhorses get all the fame because of their participation in street events like skijoring. But the draft horses do all the heavy lifting.
Shari Yeager was minding a team of patient Percherons named Bubba and Rip at the parade. The sturdy horses had been enlisted to pull the Steamboat Ambassadors float down the street.
People in Steamboat are fond of repeating that Winter Carnival is one time during the winter that the ranching community is brought together with the skiing community. Is it true, or is it just a myth that's been perpetuated for the past 94 years?
Yeager believes it wholeheartedly, and Winter Carnival is important to her.
"It shows people what Steamboat is really about," Yeager said.
And that's no horse poop.