The Sky Tavern Torchlight Parade

My night starts with a pitch black ski lift ride. Riding a ski lift during the day can be intimidating but when you have no reference for height or speed it morphes into a strange mix of calming and unnerving all at the same time. In my hand I hold a blow torch and a flashlight. I’m the first skier up the hill, and as a ski patroller I will be helping people unload at the top of the lift and distributing the road flairs. This leads to a rather strange question. What are we doing on a ski hill with no lights and road flares in the middle of winter? 

Participating in the annual torchlight parade of course. The torchlight parade is a Sky Tavern tradition that is way older than I am. For years, Sky Tavern members have participated in the torchlight parade. Every year after the member appreciation dinner those who are willing make their way to the ski lift in the pitch black. Once they brave the dark lift ride, each member is given a stick with two road flares taped on the end. After the flairs are lit the procession of Sky Tavern members makes their way down the hill in the long graceful turns. Those who are viewing the procession from the lodge a river of lava appears to be flowing down the ski hill. Now that you know the history of the parade we can get back to my story.

As I unload the ski lift our patrol director, Mike, is standing there with a flashlight. He took a snowmobile up the mountain to act as the top lift operator. I unload and start directing members to lineup. Once the 35 members are all lined up, I  pick up road flares and start distributing them. We pull off the safety cabs and get ready to light. Rather dramatically, I run to the edge of the hill and light the first flair. Waiving the lit flair signals the beginning of the torchlight parade. Next I move from flare flare making sure every last one is lit. After the last flare is lit, I run and jump into my skis taking up the last spot in line. 

When skiing with road flares the smell of sulfur is a little strong and the danger is a little bit high. We put the flares on the sticks because the slag that drops off of them is somewhere in the 2000* F range. It will melt right through a ski if you give it the chance. So we carefully make our way down the hill and ski the run from edge to edge in big looping turns. The whole slope is lit up in a strange red light. 

Sky Tavern members skiing down the hill with fire.

When we make it to the bottom everyone tamps out their flares on the snow and usually finds the closest family member to embrace. I don’t know why this turns into an emotional event but something about the vulnerability and the dark just makes people crave human connection. 

This tradition is one of the coolest events you can participate in at a ski resort. If you wanna join us next year I recommend you visit skytavern.org and buy a membership. As the ski industry continues to grow and evolve small resorts Sky Tavern are disappearing. The home made feel that small resorts provided is different from anything you will experience at a corporate resort. Not to say corporate resorts are bad, but rather I’m saying that different experiences are important and I recommend everyone enjoy the pure and simple pleasure of skiing at a small resort. Plus the events they put on are usually awesome. From beer league racing to skiing with fire, you’re going to have a great day skiing no matter what. So if you’re in the Reno area become a Sky Tavern member and start enjoying skiing again. Let me know when you join for a shoutout on my social media and reach out with any questions you have!

Until next time,

-Corban

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