I didn’t travel for Christmas this year. So I searched for things to do in Grand County for Christmas. I found that Winter Park does a torchlight parade on Christmas eve. “What is a torchlight parade?”, you ask. Well you are in luck because that is my Beautiful Things story today.
I drove to the ski resort in the early evening. I got a little lost finding parking because I’m not familiar with Winter Park. I ended up parking at the sledding hill not realizing that wasn’t the base village and I needed to be at the base village. I almost stayed because sledding sounded fun. But, that’s not what I came for. So I asked for directions, got back in my car and headed toward the parking garage at the base village. I got close and it was a giant confusing mess of small roads, cars, people and not very good signage. A guy was stopping traffic telling people the garage was full and the parking lots were full. Right as I pulled up to him another guy came out of the parking lot and said there was one more space in there. Score – I’ll take it!
I parked and walked down to the village. It was covered in people. It was also covered in snow and pretty lights. By now the snowflakes were huge and and if ever there was a picture of Christmas, this was it. There was an ice skating rink with parents pushing kids around in funny looking carts – I’ve never seen this before. The stores and restaurants were all warmly lit up (and packed). There were carolers in the streets, people gathered around fire pits and little happy kids running arond. The line out the door of Starbucks was insane. A warm drink sounded great, but I don’t know if I’d miss the show waiting for a decaf latte. I found my way to the base of the ski run. There was Christmas music blaring on a giant sound system. The base was wall to wall people, some still in their ski gear, some wearing their fancy winter gear that announces they are tourists and some locals too. Excitement and holiday joy filled the air. There were random fire pits around to keep people warm, although the shear amount of people made it warm.
At some point you could see a couple of lights up on the ski hill and everyone started ramping up the excitement. An announcer told us the parade was about to start and further ramped up the crowd. Eventually, skiers and snowboarders carrying red lights started coming down the ski hill. They took a wide turning path back and forth across the hill. By the time the first ones were getting near the bottom, the path created the look of a giant red glowing, moving Christmas tree shape on the slope. Then the fireworks start. The whole time huge snowflakes are coming down, Christmas music is playing, the crowd is cheering and I am crying my eyes out. This is my new home. I actually live in a place that thinks this is the thing to do for Christmas. Here, winter is celebrated, not cursed. Everything is sparkly and shiny – a true winter wonderland.
Then the song “Do you hear what I hear” came on and the snowcats drove up behind the skiers. The song has such a power to it and these giant powerful machines drive part way down the slope and park. They each have colorful Christmas lights on them. I imagine each driver decorated their own cat. Their headlights are so strong they light up the whole hill. They park and you can’t keep your eyes off them even though there are still skiers. They command your attention. The crowd goes wild. I even had trouble watching the fireworks at this point. These drivers work all night grooming runs for the next day., unseen by most and probably never cheered like famous rock stars. But tonight, they steal the show.
Finally Santa and Mrs Clause come skiing down. This delights all the kids. Santa is a couple turns from the bottom and falls. Everyone loves it and you hear laughter all over the mountain. I think he should fall on purpose every year.
Then the mad rush back to the cars, the condos, the bars and the restaurants. That’s a brief look at Christmas Eve in a ski town, my ski town. Merry Christmas!