SKIERS AND SNOWBOARDERS join forces for a vibrant nighttime tradition each holiday season in the northern New Mexico town of Red River. Shimmering red flares in hand, they descend a Black Diamond slope after sunset, forming a stream of bouncing light that moves toward the village below as part of Red River Ski Area’s Torchlight Parade & Fireworks on the Face. Tom Yates got his start in the parade around the age of 12, when his family vacationed from the Dallas area. Now the 34-year-old Red River Ski Area snowboard school supervisor has coordinated torchlight participants for about a decade. On parade nights, he can be found on his snowboard, leading the spirited procession while dressed as Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.
OUR MAIN LIFT AND SKI RUNS ALL COME DOWN the mountain and funnel into the town itself. We’ll go up with flares every Saturday and on Christmas and New Year’s Eve with a bunch of skiers and boarders who’ve all been qualified by me. We light the road flares and come down in an S formation, moving the flares in our arms.
We allow guests to do it. We allow kids to participate. As long as you come try out with me and you’re capable, you can join in. If you’re just viewing it, it’s a totally different thing to see people skiing down a mountain with fire in their hand and fireworks going off.
We interact with the crowd. I’ll yell out “torch” and they’ll yell out “light,” to kind of get everybody hyped up. It’s a pretty cool thing for people on vacation to be a part of, whether they get to see it or ski in it.
A couple of years ago, on Christmas Eve, I was in a pullover reindeer-mascot head with this Rudolph nose, and it was dumping snow. I hate to admit it, but on my first turn on this steeper pitch, I caught an edge and fell. My Rudolph head went rolling down the mountain in front of 1,000 people or so. It was pretty embarrassing.