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Torchlight Parades on New Year’s Eve

Torchlight parade

By Suzanne Waring

At night, the mountains surrounding the little village of Girdwood, Alaska, loom as an inky dark silhouette across the horizon, creating a jagged outline below the sky filled with stars. On New Year’s Eve, the streets of Girdwood come alive with people bundled up against the crisp cold air of around 10° F. At 9 p.m. the annual Torchlight Parade is held in this pristine mountain community. It’s a “can’t miss” event for residents and visitors.

I donned my warmest clothes, including long underwear under jeans and flannel shirt, adding wool socks in boots with studs on the soles to keep me from slipping. I wear a long down coat with scarf, ski hat, and mittens over gloves. I’m ready to join the locals.

Heading for the ski hill, we join people who begin emerging from their homes, banging shut doors that close out the light left within. This village has no streetlights, so It is dark but amazingly easy to see. Many are carrying a hot drink in an insulated cup. A few cars pass by, but mainly people fill the streets by walking. Their feet crunch on the snow as they call out greetings to one another. They are on their way to get a close-up look of the torchlight parade and fireworks hosted by Alyeska Ski Resort.

Girdwood, Alaska, is a resort town of 2500 permanent residents. Many from Anchorage have cabins, homes, or condos in Girdwood, increasing the population by another thousand on weekends. Over the holidays, everyone who can be there is there. The torchlight parade, held on New Year’s Eve since the 1970s, is open to all, and most attend year after year.

The main road runs from the Seward Highway up to the Alyeska Ski Resort, and most of the residences are found on road spurs leading up the hills on each side of the main road. Surprisingly, the average age of a Girdwoodite is 32 years, and there are more men than women. Other than the resort, the few shops and restaurants are mostly privately owned. Girdwood has a fire station, airport, a local radio station, K-8 elementary school, excellent internet service, and a wonderful library that is an extension of the Anchorage Library system. Of the 820 households, 25 percent have children. This little village located in a rain forest is a delightful place to visit anytime of the year.

In preparation for seeing the parade, people start collecting in the large parking lot at the base of the mountain. While waiting for the event to begin, children run up and down 20’ tall mounds of snow made by clearing the parking lot. By the New Year, Girdwood already has had several feet of snow at the base and more, higher up on the mountain.

In preparation for the parade, the ski lifts have been taking over a hundred skiers up to the top of the mountain by the time we get into position to be spectators. Adept skiers from the Alaska Ski Club have been participating for years, and my grandchildren look forward to the time they can join the skiers in the parade. It is required that they be at least fourteen years old.

At 9 p.m. the skiers get in line with their torches lit. Like most resorts who hold Torchlight Parades, they use traffic flare sticks. The participants ski down the mountain by spacing themselves to the skier in front. From our vantage point, yellow-pink-coral light crisscrosses the mountain face. As the parade worms down the mountain, the streak of light extends until the whole mountainside is lit up—breath taking and worth the trip out in the cold to see. Once every skier reaches the bottom of the ski hill, fireworks exploding in different colors and configurations top off the evening. Then it is time to say goodbye, call “Happy New Year” to those who had stood in groups to view the parade, and tramp back to snug warm homes.

You don’t have to travel all the way to Alaska to enjoy a torchlight parade like I did. This year Bridger Bowl, Bozeman, will hold its torchlight parade on Saturday, December 30, around 5:30-6:00 p.m. with a spaghetti dinner preceding the parade at both Saddle Peak and Jim Bridger Lodges, where their decks are the best places to observe the parade. Historically Montana ski hills, such as Great Divide, Marysville; Teton Pass, Choteau; Maverick Mountain, Dillon; Showdown, Neihart; and Whitefish Mountain, Whitefish hold Torchlight Parades on New Year’s Eve.

In Idaho, numerous ski hills hold torchlight parades, especially around New Year’s. Bogus Basin, northeast of Boise, holds a Torchlight Parade at 6:15 p.m. on New Year’s Day. The staff, ski patrol, and adept skiers are often invited to participate. Observers are invited to the plaza, which is the best place to watch the parade and the fireworks afterward. Hot chocolate and cookies are served. The torchlight parade at Tamarack Ski Resort near Donnelly, Idaho, is held at 6:30 p.m. on New Year’s Eve. The best place to view the torchlight parade is at the Seven Devils Taphouse patio or the Snowfront. Those who want to participate in the parade must be eighteen years or older and can register on the Tamarack Events page. Fireworks and then an after party at Seven Devils Taphouse follow the parade. Other ski hills in Idaho also hold torchlight parades on New Year’s Eve. These parades are a wonderful way to celebrate the New Year creating memories of this year’s holiday season.

These are a few examples of the stunning torchlight parades across the two states. Check online as to when your local ski hill holds its torchlight parade because it changes from year to year. You might also ask about senior discounts for skiing. MSN

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