In 1989, Joanne Palmer left a publishing career in Manhattan and has missed her paycheck ever since. She is a mom, weekly columnist for the Steamboat Pilot & Today, and the owner of a property management company, The House Nanny. Her new book "Life in the 'Boat: How I fell on Warren Miller's skis, cheated on my hairdresser and fought off the Fat Fairy" is now available in local bookstores and online at booklocker.com or amazon.com.

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In 1989, Joanne Palmer left a publishing career in Manhattan and has missed her paycheck ever since. She is a mom, weekly columnist for the Steamboat Pilot & Today, and the owner of a property management company, The House Nanny. Her new book "Life in the 'Boat: How I fell on Warren Miller's skis, cheated on my hairdresser and fought off the Fat Fairy" is now available in local bookstores and online at booklocker.com or amazon.com.

Joanne Palmer: Authentic as it gets

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Joanne Palmer

Joanne Palmer's Life in the 'Boat column appears Wednesdays in the Steamboat Today. Email her at jpalmer@springsips.com

Find more columns by Palmer here.

In the 19 years I've lived here, I've watched Steamboat take on many personas. One year, ads proclaim Steamboat is Ski Town USA; the next, Steamboat is a world-class ski resort. We're friendly, folksy, snowy and home to lots of Olympians. Committees are forever forming and forever visioning and forever trying to decide what Steamboat will look like and be like in 2019. It reminds me of a woman standing in front of her closet trying on clothes, trying to decide what to wear, what image to portray. Sexy? Sporty? Sophisticated?

And then along comes Winter Carnival, my favorite winter event. Why? Winter Carnival is distinctively Steamboat and it brings out the fun in everyone. Kids get to be kids. Adults get to act like kids, and dogs get to run off leash (for 25 yards, anyway).

Teenagers build snow sculptures along Lincoln Avenue, the high school marching band shuffles along on skis, and the Chamber Ambassadors have a coach that looks like something Cinderella might ride in.

Yes, our kids wear helmets, but we willingly allow them to be pulled by galloping horses down Lincoln Avenue until they launch off a ski jump. Later in the day, we give them flares, put them on skis and encourage them to ski down the steep face of Howelsen Hill at night. Rules and regulations take a back seat to fun and frivolity. We go back 96 years to the reason Winter Carnival was started in the first place - a chance to cut loose, have some fun and banish the winter blahs.

I love the street events, and I love the parade, but I go weak in the knees for the night show. Call me a sentimental fool, but the sight of those sweet little Winter Carnival princesses wearing their capes gets me choked up every year. Ditto for the national anthem, and double ditto for the Lighted Man. I'm head over heels for Jon Banks. I love his herky-jerky movements down the hill as fireworks spurt from his back and lights twinkle from his poles. Children squeal, adults shake their heads, and everyone holds their breath until he makes it down safely. I especially love the fact that he's so matter-of-fact about what he does that he hasn't hired a publicist and still tried to get on "The Oprah Winfrey Show."

On Saturday night, I wandered through the crowd shamelessly eavesdropping. I stood next to a man and listened as he said - well, yelled - into his cell phone:

"I'm in Steamboat Springs at the night show!"

There was a long pause and then:

"Holy &*!$! I gotta go. Someone is jumping through a flaming hoop on skis."

He hung up the phone.

Hung up.

For that one brief instant, something had happened to capture his attention. He was in the moment. Not on his cell phone describing the moment, not taking a picture of the moment, but fully and completely in awe of our community, our athletes and our Winter Carnival Night Extravaganza.

When the fiery hoop was finished, this stranger and I stood next to one another, clapping our gloved hands together, adding our muffled applause to that from the rest of the crowd.

That is the magic of Winter Carnival. In a world where so much is homogenized, the real becomes even more precious. It is a weekend that makes everyone feel equal, full of wonder and able to be in the moment. It brings us together as a community to cheer each other on.

Through a recession. Through a long winter. Through whatever lies ahead.

Winter Carnival reminds me why I came to Steamboat in the first place - for an authentic Western town that knows the best way to create community is through laughter, play and a bit of special sparkle, like the Lighted Man.

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