A Western Colorado University Tradition
The lighting of the W is one of Western Colorado Universities longest held traditions. For roughly eight decades, it has been as much of a community-building event as spectacle.
In preparation for the event, Western’s Mountain Rescue Team spends hours soaking cotton rags in jet fuel, spacing them around the W and making torches that will eventually be passed along the perimeter of the 25,560 square-foot letter. Those who put in the work to make the lighting a reality gain a vantage point that few see. Better yet, they get to involve themselves in a timeless tradition.
Although most people don’t get the same perspective as those who brave the flames on Tenderfoot Mountain, the pure anticipation of a mountainside about to catch fire captivates peoples’ attention toward the dark horizon.
Each year (weather permitting) without forewarning, the W steadily and symmetrically ignites from the bottom up while a scene erupts across campus. In non-pandemic times, freshmen, upperclassmen and community members alike flock around Mountaineer Bowl and the Borick Business Building front lawn as cheers and “Olé” ensue from crowds that flood from the residence halls.
Once the surreal scene sets in along with the cold and crisp night, the fiery W serves as a backdrop for a roaring bonfire above Mountaineer Bowl. There, students and community members warm up, huddle together and roast marshmallows if they dare to get close enough.
As both the fire in the sky and on the ground continue to burn brightly, so does Western’s Mountaineer spirit—pandemic or not.
— By Peter Noon, ‘17