Winter carnival's lighted man

Sure, other ski towns could share our Ski Town USA moniker (if they had the coveted trademark). But you’ll see why Steamboat earned it at our whacky Winter Carnival. The nickname was coined by a Chicago newspaper writer after watching the local high school marching band perform on skis during the Winter Carnival. The ski band tradition continues to this day, in their annual performance every February in an event blending Steamboat’s Western roots and ski town lifestyle. Originally organized by Carl Howelsen, a Norwegian who introduced locals to skiing and ski jumping in the early 1900s, the carnival started in 1914 as a mid-winter celebration to help locals break up the winter. More than 107 years later, it’s still one of town’s most popular events for locals and visitors. Here Feb. 9 to 13? Head downtown for the parade and street events and to Howlie for more festivities. 

Inside The Lighted Man

Light up all you want. That’s nothing compared to the lighting up done every year by The Lighted Man. Pyro-skier Claudius Banks started the Winter Carnival’s Lighted Man tradition way back in 1936. In the olden days, he wore a leather harness mounted with flares and flashlights running off of four-volt batteries in his backpack. Later, he upped the voltage to six volts and carried a car battery, adding a helmet with Roman Candles strapped to it.

In 1971, he convinced his son, Jon Banks, now 73, to carry on the tradition (Uh, son, I was wondering if you might…”), spicing things up with today’s high-tech LED system that shines 256 lights from his poles, skis, suit and helmet, all controlled by a microprocessor. Three circuits control his poles, suit and helmet, and six are programmed on each ski, so that if any one area goes kaput, it won’t affect the entire suit. As for his fireworks? He controls those by pushing buttons on his poles. 

“I had no intention of becoming the next Lighted Man,” he says, adding his initial outfit weighed 70 pounds, including three lead acid batteries and a brick-sized controller. Now the weight’s been cut in half thanks to a smaller controller and LEDs. “LED light technology has gone crazy lately,” he says. “It’s a quantum leap better than the old stuff. Still, we’ve yet to have a year where everything works 100 percent.” Case in point: One year when he took a bow to the crowd a hair too early, firing Roman Candles over onlookers’ heads.  

But it’s par for the course and part of our beloved Winter Carnival, celebrating its 108th anniversary this season Feb. 9-13, 2022.


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