After 20 Years, The Parade Of Lights Gets A Spark Of Something New

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Photo: New Parade Of Lights Float 1 | Electricians Float Sign - MSakas
The new float for Denver's Parade of Lights, now in its 43rd year, was designed and built by apprentices with Independent Electrical Contractors Rocky Mountain.

Denver’s Parade of Lights has looked somewhat the same over the last 20 years. At least the floats have, since they're all from the 1990s or earlier. But now, the wintertime tradition has the spark of something new for 2017 — a giant glowing ice castle.

The new float was designed and built by apprentice electricians from the Independent Electrical Contractors Rocky Mountain. First though, they had to convince the parade’s organizer, the Downtown Denver Partnership, to break with tradition.

“When we contacted [the partnership], they said, ‘Oh would you just like to put one of your signs on our floats?’ We said, ‘No! No! We actually want to make our own float!’” said Mary Beth Armbruster, the float’s project manager. “We took a leap of faith, and I think they also did as well, that we could do this. But who better, than electricians?”

Generally, groups who want to get involved can walk in the parade, or a business can sponsor one of the 12 floats. That’s when the parade’s organizers realized one of the floats, the elves and the shoemaker, was still without a sponsor.

It was a smaller float, said Kaylin Klarin with the Downtown Denver Partnership, and it was getting harder to find a sponsor for it each year. So after more than 20 years, they stripped it to the float’s base, and agreed to let the electricians try something new.

“But it's good to start new every now and then," Klarin said of the new float entering the parade’s 43rd year.

Photo: New Parade Of Lights Float 2 | Float Closeup - MSakas
A closer look at the new Parade of Lights float, built and designed by apprentice electricians.

The ice castle is 10-feet tall and built in tiers, somewhat like a wedding cake. It’s made up of panels of frosted acrylic, allowing a mix of colored lights to shine through. There are faux rocks covered in glitter, and a fiber optic waterfall that streams throughout the float.

The glow of the castle casts a shadow on the older floats stored in a warehouse off Interstate 25 in the Elyria Swansea neighborhood. If you’ve been to the parade, they’re immediately familiar. There’s the giant purple rocking horse and nutcracker, the boat made entirely out of twinkle lights.

It’s not just tradition that keeps the floats the same, Klarin said. It’s expensive to make and maintain new ones. This is the first time they’ve partnered with a group who wanted to take on the challenge. There were lots of moments Armbruster with IECRM didn’t think they’d get it done.

"To make it a reality, we had to enlist some super skilled people in our industry,” she said.

That’s what Armbruster wants the float to show, just what an electrician can do. The construction industry is desperate for workers, especially in Colorado.

"The skill trades are not as visible. And this is a great way to illuminate, pardon the pun, the skill trades in a really fun and creative way,” Armbruster said.

Photo: New Parade Of Lights Float 3 | Ryan Gimeno - MSakas
Ryan Gimeno, an apprentice electrician that designed the new Parade of Lights float.

Ryan Gimeno, an apprentice electrician who designed the float, has two daughters, ages three and five. He says when he shows them photos, they’re ecstatic.

“They always ask, ‘when can we play on it?’ "

His daughters don’t get to play on it. But he will; Gimeno will be the float’s Ice Prince, along with an ice princess.

“For them to ask me is pretty cool,” Gimeno said. “It's going to be something that's going to be great to share with my daughters.”

Established in 1975, the 43rd Parade of Lights will roll through Denver's downtown on Friday, Dec. 1, 2017 at 8p.m. and again on Saturday, Dec. 2 at 6 p.m.