Light preparation is heavy-duty work

Christmas lights brighten up the West Vail roundabout in a red, white and blue theme. Designers said they had the 2015 FIS Alpine World Championships in mind when they created the town's current light displays.
Justin McCarty | Weekly file photo |

VAIL — They are heavy equipment operators, but at this time of year, they’re focused on lights.

The town of Vail’s in-house designer Rick Gregory and his team of six workers have been climbing, wrapping and lighting up trees for the past few weeks to create a holiday experience they’re hoping guests from around the world will remember for years to come.

And its an international audience that Gregory has in mind when planning his designs for the tree lighting patterns, he says. That and his degree in art are a couple of the creative elements behind the spectacular red, white and blue light show for this winter season, which has been two years in the making.

“Initially I wanted to do something incorporating a lot of the nations that are going to be over here competing in 2015, but I realized with the limited color palate I wasn’t going to really be able to do that right, so I just said, ‘Why not show our pride in the U.S. instead?’” Gregory said.

As the lights are set on two-year cycles, Gregory was thinking ahead when he went with red, white and blue in the West Vail roundabouts, and he matched that theme again this year in the main Vail roundabouts.

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“When you take in the whole roundabout once it’s completed, it should also represent the mountains,” he said. “The aspens in the middle, I’ve got the red and white stripped on the lower trunk and then the top third of the trunk is the blue of the flag, and then I have the larger lights kind of scattered around the branches to kind of represent the stars.”


This year, the lighting capabilities in the main Vail roundabouts have been expanded to include the “tear drop” north-most roundabout connecting the westbound Interstate 70 entrance and exit to the North Frontage Road. Gregory said this year, they were able to convert the 220-volt outlets in that area to American-standard 110-volt outlets to supply power to the nine newly lit trees there.

“They got me one circuit over there, and I was able to get all nine trees done on one 30-amp circuit,” he said. “It took me about three weeks.”

Gregory estimates there’s a little over 100,000 lights in those nine trees.

“I’d say we averaged about 20 cases per tree, and there’s 24 strands per case and 25 lights per strand,” he said.

On the south side of the interstate, 16 trees in total will be decorated for the holidays, with an average of 25 cases per tree used. In West Vail, the four main trees averaged 25 cases per tree and the 10 perimeter trees averaged 10 cases per tree.

All calculated, that’s 468,000 lights. Gregory and his team were supposed to have them all up by Thanksgiving.

“We’re also all heavy equipment operators, so we’ve lost about two weeks to plowing and running loaders,” Gregory said. “We’ll be lucky if we’re done by the end of next week; we’ve got another six full trees to finish.”


In Vail Village during the last few days, you may have noticed Dave Richardson finishing up work on the Christmas tree in Slifer Square near the Ski Trooper statue and the Covered Bridge. It’s a huge, 50-foot spruce tree, and Richardson operates a “cherry picker” boom lift to get up to the top to decorate it.

“There’s been a lot of changes over the years in the way we do it,” he said. “We’ve used different trees in this area, but now we’re using this spruce that’s kind of right in front.”

Richardson has put up lights in Vail for the past 28 years.

“We should be done with this one in the next few days,” he said. “People like to stop and watch and take pictures.”

That tree will then be lit for a few days before being shut off for a few more days and then re-lit ceremoniously at the annual tree lighting, scheduled for 5 p.m. on Dec. 21.

The program includes live a cappella entertainment and appearances by the mayor of Vail and special guests. Complimentary hot chocolate will be served and immediately following the program, there will be a lantern walk up Bridge Street into Mountain Plaza.

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