Santa gears up for his 33rd Christmas Eve Winter Park Torchlight Parade |

Santa gears up for his 33rd Christmas Eve Winter Park Torchlight Parade

A Winter Park tradition for 34 years, the Christmas Eve Torchlight Parade is one of the oldest torchlight parades in Colorado.

And for 32 of those years Kevin McDonough, a Ski Patroller at Winter Park Resort, has played Santa. Santa is the last skier down the mountain, and as he arrives at the base with his elves he fires up the crowd. McDonough said being Santa is magical and fun.

“Everyone likes a parade, but being in it is better.”

There will be about 80 employees volunteering to ski down Hughes on Saturday night including Ski Patrol, ski school, and lift operators.

“Many of the patrollers that do this don’t have kids,” said McDonough. “It’s their way of celebrating the holidays.”

As for McDonough’s family tradition, “When my kids were younger, they were the elves. Now both sons, Hugh and Riley, are on Ski Patrol and will be skiing down.”

The torchlight parade has evolved over the years.  

McDonough remembers the year they added fireworks.

“It was a fluke that it even happened. There were some leftover fireworks from another event and we ad-libbed.”

He also remembers other proposed changes to the torchlight parade weren’t so great.

“One year we tried to use a Glo stick, that was a total flop.” And one year they allowed snowboarders come down in the procession.

“That didn’t work out so well since it is hard for snowboarders to keep an edge that long across icy slopes,” he said.

When the yearly holiday tradition began, Santa gave out candy canes. McDonough decided that gifts were better, and using his own money purchased gifts to hand out. Now, ski patrol purchases gifts and Santa hands out over 200 gifts that are bought in Grand County.

One major evolution of the tradition this year: All participants in the torchlight parade must wear a helmet.

Mistalynn Lee, spokesperson for Winter Park Resort, said that the first torchlight was December 1977.

The festive event begins with Christmas carols around the bonfire at the base of Winter Park Resort at 4 p.m. The torchlight procession begins at 5:30 p.m. with fireworks followed by brightly lit snowcats shaped as a Christmas tree and Santa and his elves.

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