As the snow accumulates by the foot in mountain towns throughout Colorado, Telluride is heating up for its 3rd Annual Fire Festival. During the weekend of January 20-22, the quirky and beloved town will be overrun with local fire performers, flaming art cars, nightly entertainment, workshops and mind-blowing fire sculptures. While the Telluride Fire Festival is not an officially sanctioned Burning Man event, it takes much of its inspiration from the great desert fiasco that occurs annually over Labor Day weekend, drawing tens of thousands of artists from all corners of the world. The Burning Man ethos and principles are infused throughout the Fire Festival: inclusion, gifting, leave no trace, self-expression, civic responsibility and participation — plus a few of the festival’s own additional values, such as community effort and leave no carbon footprint.

Photo Credit: Nicko Ferguson

The Telluride Fire Festival is free to the general public, from 5 to 8 p.m. each evening in the Mountain Village and downtown at the Oak Street Gondola Station. Everyone is welcome to mill about and enjoy the magical winter ambiance created by the fire installations and the fiery energy of the performers. Other free events during the festival include a reception for Burning Man photographer Scott London at the Telluride Gallery of Fine Art on January 19 from 4 to 6 p.m. and a fire spinning performance at Mountain Lodge Telluride (accessed from the third leg of the gondola) from 6 to 7 p.m. on January 19. If you’re a fire performer and want to participate, bring your gear and make sure to check-in with the festival’s Fire Performer Manager to talk safety first.

Many workshops are offered during the festival for a fee (it’s recommended to reserve your spot in advance), ranging from welding and glass blowing classes to beginner lessons with fire poi, hoops and staff spinning.

Local Denver artists Caitlin Morris and Joshua Birkmaier of Gammaspace Artist Collective will be making their second trip down to the Telluride Fire Festival this year with a massive sculpture in tow. These two welders and fire enthusiasts look forward to networking with other artists and being embraced by the welcoming community of Telluride. “Their rugged sensibility makes us feel right at home,” Caitlin told 303 Magazine.

“The event transforms Telluride into a quirky, surreal fantasy land nestled in their breathtaking valley. We love riding the gondola down the mountain and seeing giant fire balls and the glow of the flames blazing in the village below.”

-Caitlin Morris & Joshua Birkmaier, Gammaspace Artist Collective

Caitlin & Josh with their fire sculpture “Hin-Han: Guardian of the Milky Way” at Sonic Bloom 2015

Caitlin and Josh will be returning to Telluride this year with their newly redesigned insect sculpture Arcus Hymenoptera, a collaborative piece by the Gammaspace Artist Collective that will be placed in the Mountain Village. They described the wild and challenging journey required to bring big art to Telluride during the dead of winter:

“Artists from all over the country converge on the town, often after a long journey with a very heavy load. We will be towing over a ton of steel through the mountains to reach Telluride. The weather can be one of the biggest challenges with this kind of installation. In years past we have braved frigid temperatures, snowy and white-out conditions and even a harrowing snow-cat ride to haul our sculpture up the mountain. Last year we exhibited one of our sculptures, Hin-Han: Guardian of the Milky Way, at the top of the Gondola, which still remains our most challenging, albeit rewarding, installations to date. We have learned that in Telluride, you had better be ready for anything!”

Arcus Hymnenoptera at Burning Man 2016

There are also a few not-to-be-missed after-hours parties going on, primarily the Fire Ball Fundraiser with LoveTribe (tickets are $35-45), a late night dance party saturated with wild and talented performers, explosive DJs, live percussionists and a cash bar. Costumes are absolutely encouraged. The Fire Ball takes place Saturday, January 21 from 8 p.m. ’til 2 a.m. at the Great Room at the Gondola Station St. Sophia. Additionally, the Mountain Lodge Telluride will be hosting a Meet The Artists Closing Party on January 22 from 9 to 11 p.m. (tickets are $10-15), where there will be fire-themed cocktails and more dance music spun by local Telluride DJ Beatrixx Kiddo.

303 Magazine got to chat with one of the Telluride Fire Festival’s co-founders and event director, Erin Ries, who’s lived and worked in Telluride for over 20 years. Read on to find out what she loves the most about the festival, what makes the Telluride Burning Man community so special and why you ought to hightail it down there and see it all for yourself. Make sure to look for her during the event on her flaming art car, The Shack-To-Hell-U-Ride.

303 Magazine: What do you love most about the Telluride Fire Festival?

Erin Ries: We showcase rarely seen, larger-than-life fire art and fire dancing for three nights, free to the public.

303: What makes Telluride Fire Festival so unique?

ER: There are no other winter fire arts events like this one in the United States. We aspire to be the winter complement to the summer Burning Man. We celebrate fire artistry, culminating with an amazing night of “Fire on the Mountain” (at 11,000’ on the ski area) and the Fire Ball, “the nation’s highest nightclub for one night only.”

Photo Credit: Ryan Bonneau

303: Tell us about Telluride’s local Burning Man community.

ER: We have a strong Burning Man community here in Telluride — plus a very liberal-minded community that understands and embraces artistic expression. In fact, one of our artists this year is a long-time Burning Man grant recipient, Anton-Viditz-Ward. We will display his Fire Spinner atop the ski area in our Fire Sculpture Garden, called Fire on the Mountain.

303: What fire art installations are you especially looking forward to seeing this year?

ER: A 24-foot tall Fire Tornado, Dorothy, is being brought by creators Sparky Anderson and Kenny Browning, hailing from Texas. And the two remote controlled fire-breathing robots by Justin Gray.

303: Tell us about the local Colorado DJs and musicians playing at the event.

ER: Local DJ’s are Beatrixx Kiddo and DJ Ryan Smith. We also have DJ Ryan Strangefellow coming from Grand Junction and DJ Phoenix performing with LoveTribe (a musically explosive group of percussionists) out of Denver and Grand Junction. They are all are playing at the Fire Ball, “North America’s highest nightclub for just one night,” accessible only by the free gondola.

Photo Credit: Nicko Ferguson

Want to volunteer at the Telluride Fire Festival? Sign up here to help make this amazing event take place (plus you’ll get free tickets and schwag!).