Southern Ute Indians perform snow dance
January 7, 2012
VAIL – As the Southern Utes did their snow ritual in front of a few hundred people near the base of the Vista Bahn chairlift, the falling snow got heavier and heavier.
“It appears to be working,” Vail Mountain Marketing Director Adam Sutner said with a large grin.
Eddie Box Jr. and his wife, Betty, of the Southern Ute Indian tribe, came to Vail Mountain to do a traditional prayer ritual for snow for the third time in the resort’s 49-year history. Box was first there in 1962, the resort’s inaugural year, as a teenager joining his father, Eddie Box Sr.
They came to Vail in 1962 because the Ute tribe once lived in the area and are the oldest continuous residents of Colorado – and because Vail founders needed a little help from the snow gods as the first season of the resort was looking dry, Sutner said. Box Sr. started the tradition of the snow dance, and on Saturday his son continued it.
Once the Utes came in 1962, the snow kept falling throughout the season, Sutner said. Vail Mountain officials figured it wouldn’t hurt to try it this season, which has gotten off to an unusually dry start with some of the least snowfall in more than 30 years.
Before Saturday, the Southern Utes had only been back one other time, for the 1999 World Alpine Ski Championships. It snowed a lot that year, too.
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Vail Mountain Chief Operating Officer Chris Jarnot and Sutner decided about a week ago that maybe they should call in the Ute tribe for another ritual. Jarnot said the Utes have been a part of the Vail legend.
“We thought, ‘Hey, under the circumstances, let’s give them a call,'” Jarnot said.
Sutner added that when they called Box Jr. about eight days earlier, there was no snow at all in the forecast, which did extend through Saturday.
Box Jr. said he and his family began that ritual when they got the call last week. They began the prayers for snow and “moisture for Mother Earth.”
As people gathered around and formed a circle around the Box family and other tribe members, they looked on as the Utes performed the sacred ritual. First there was a slow waltz in a circle, followed by chants, drums and then a group dance. People all around could be heard saying “snow.”
The snow got thicker and started coming down heavier. Sutner said the Utes are 3-for-3 in Vail – the snow fell consistently the first two times they did the ritual, and Saturday’s beginning was a good start.
“It’s not so much about a snow dance, but it’s about honoring our rich history with the Southern Utes,” Sutner said.
Community Editor Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or firstname.lastname@example.org.