Vail, CO Colorado
Everyone has a favorite ” the ones that keep on twinkling after the rest have faded out, or the ones that spiral every which way, or maybe just the simple white explosion in the sky so big it takes your breath away.
Behind every firework that lights up the Vail Valley sky is one man and his crew. For years now, Jim Funk and his team of pyrotechnicians, have taken charge of just about all the fireworks shows in the area, including their biggest project of the year, The Westin Riverfront Resort and Spa Salute to the USA, also known as the Avon fireworks, which took place last night. Not to worry though, even if you missed last night’s spectacle, there’s three firework shows to chose from tonight ” one in Vail, one in Beaver Creek and a downvalley show.
As the the largest fireworks show in Colorado, Avon’s event boasted more than 10,000 shells exploding over town and lasted 25 minutes ” a far cry from Funk’s usual 10-minute shows and head and shoulders above the usual 15-minute Fourth of July fireworks displays around the state and country.
“I think we get great fireworks,” said Sybill Navas, the coordinator for the town of Vail’s Commission on Special Events, who helps organize Vail’s fireworks shows. “I think the one in Avon is utterly spectacular.”
‘Grandaddy of a light show’
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In addition to the Avon’s granddaddy of a light show, Funk and his crew are responsible for about 30 shows every year, including several Fourth of July shows, as well as Beaver Creek’s Thursday Night Lights, a weekly fireworks show throughout the winter, and Vail’s New Year’s Eve and Tree Lighting fireworks displays.
“I have plenty of competition, but as long as I do a great job, there is no reason for the town to choose someone else,” said Funk, who works for Western Enterprises fireworks supplier when he’s shooting shows and for Vail Resorts when he’s not. “The town always has a choice between firework companies.”
In addition to the regular licenses, permits, equipment and insurance needed to plan and shoot a regular fireworks show, Avon’s show adds another level of difficultly because it’s choreographed to music and executed from Funk’s computer.
Designing and planning the Avon show starts in April every year. Two or three days before the big event, Funk and his crew start arranging empty mortar tubes from the launch site near the lake. Tubes are strategically placed to allow the explosions to happen at just the right spot, said Paul Zoch, who works with Funk’s crew.
The day before the show, the crew starts to wire the show, inserting shells into the mortar tubes. From that moment on, there’s round-the-clock security to ensure no one messes with the fireworks. The shells are connected to firing rails, which are connected to computer cables, linked to Funk’s laptop, though smaller shows are still lit by hand. The firing rails have their own power supply ” there’s an initial lift charge, which pushes the shell through the mortar, and when the shell reaches the right height, there’s another charge that makes the shell burst. Some burst instantly, while other rocket up for several seconds before they explode.
“I think what I like most about it is the choreography ” when the music and the fireworks work together,” Zoch said. “It just stimulates so many senses at one time.”
‘The adrenaline rush’
Of course, with a longer show comes a larger price tag. The Avon show costs between $25,000 and $50,000, while the cost of an “average” show is $5,000 to $10,000, Funk said. His usual crew of six people also increases to about 15.
“There is the adrenaline rush of firing shells, listening to the loud explosion and watching them in the sky,” Funk said. “My experience is you either love or do not want anything to do with it. When a large shell fires, you can feel the concussion on your chest.”
After the lights have faded from the sky, Funk’s job continues. During every show, a small percentage of fireworks fail. It’s Funk and his crew’s job to examine the fallout area to find anything that didn’t explode.
Thirty years after moving to the Vail Valley and catching the pyrotechnic bug, Funk still can’t get enough.
“It’s exciting, and I love to entertain,” he said.
This story first appeared in Vail Daily’s Summertime guide, on stands now.