EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado - With a nice coat of flame-smothering snow on the ground, February will feature more fireworks displays than the Vail Valley has seen in some time.
Nature was cruel last summer. Gripped in a drought, virtually every Fourth of July fireworks show in the state was canceled. Towns that hold those displays soldiered on with fireworks-free celebrations, but it wasn't the same.
Paul Zoch is the point man for most fireworks shows in the valley. An employee of the Park Hyatt Beaver Creek by day, Zoch moonlights as a pyrotechnic specialist for Western Enterprises, one of the country's biggest fireworks companies.
Zoch and his crews were shut out last summer, but a chance to set off Avon's full fireworks show, originally set for July of last year, has him excited.
"The whole crew's excited," Zoch said.
That excitement starts Saturday, when a pair of short shows of four minutes or so will light up Vail and Beaver Creek. Those shows are sponsored by the Vail Valley Foundation, and will start the "official" two-year countdown clock to the 2015 World Alpine Ski Championships. The 2013 championship event also starts Monday at Schladming, Austria.
"It's kind of a reminder that we're next, we're in the gates," Vail Valley Foundation Vice President of Communications John Dakin said.
The start time - 7 p.m. - coincides with the start of the festivities on Feb. 2, 2015.
Zoch will have a couple of crews small crews - just three or four strong - at the Saturday shows. But those shows will be a little different. Because the show at Vail will be fired over Vail Mountain, the crew will be able to hand-fire the fireworks. It's not as precise as using an electronic firing board, but it's quicker to set up, he said.
That crew of 12 to 14 people will start work next month to set up a winter version of Avon's Salute to the USA show, set to run Feb. 17 at Nottingham Park. The show will be the headline event at Avon's first "Fire and Ice" celebration, which will feature ice sculpting, vendors and live music.
The show, set for the Sunday of the three-day President's Day weekend, is intended to perhaps keep people in the valley another night. And the weekend date was chosen, in part, due to its patriotic theme. But the town is also holding its big show because it made financial sense.
When the Avon Town Council was pondering the fate of the show last summer, council members learned that there was a sizable "restocking" fee to return the already-purchased fireworks. That's how the idea for Fire and Ice was born.
While the show will be the same one planned for last summer, including a simulcast of patriotic music broadcast on KZYR radio, the work will be a little different. Zoch said there are a few complications working in the cold.
"You have to wire up shells with your bare fingers, so that can be more time-consuming," Zoch said. There's also the need to make sure that everything is kept dry. Perhaps more important is the fact that batteries don't work at peak efficiency in cold weather, so Zoch and his crew make sure everything is fully charged, so it will supply the needed spark to the shells. That can require keeping electronic equipment in warm garages almost until showtime.
Still, the February shows aren't Zoch's crew's first go-'round with winter shows. And, he said, the Saturday and President's Day shows will provide good practice for 2015, when much bigger audiences will be watching.