The Legend of the Twinkie Roast

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When the snow gods are appeased by snack cakes burning

Humans have made sacrifices to the gods since the beginning of time as we remember it. As we learned to wander up mountains and find our way back down again, we slowly crafted snowsports and with them came the quest for the perfect snow. This type of perfection, we finally discovered, is a luxury that only the snow gods can bestow upon us.

Thus the Twinkie™ Roast began. Forty years ago, during a particularly lackluster opening of ski season, we sacrificed a golden sponge cake with creamy filling to the snow gods. They smiled down on us (perhaps their tears of laughter turning to frost as they fell to earth) in the form of the textbook powder day. An REI legend was born.

(Please note that “gods” do not denote any particular denomination, as REI is an equal-opportunity outfitter and does not discriminate on gods’ age, size, number or realm of oversight.)

1976

The legend began, as many do, with a rowdy group of ski techs at our store in Berkeley, California. To set up your ski bindings, you have to drill holes into your skis. Although our techs were quite good at their jobs, every now and then there would be an unfixable drill mistake, and the ski would have to be discarded.

In the winter of 1976, the ski techs held a party at one of their homes (they noted: it was definitely not at REI). At the culmination of the revelry, the discarded skis were gathered into a pile, doused in a bunch of fire starter and burned. One of the guys, Kevin Washington, ate Hostess fruit pies every single day, as there was a Hostess bakery outlet right behind the Berkeley REI store. As the flames rose into the California night sky, his friends stole his fruit pie and tossed it into the flames.

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It was a poor snow year.

1977

The next year, head ski mechanic Dave Lomba decided he needed to help the gods. The trick, it turned out, was another Hostess treat: Twinkies.

Kevin remembers the sacrifice well. It “involved a pie tin, a pile of about a dozen Twinkies and some white gasoline. The group chanted 'snow' over the burning Twinkies—in the same fashion 'ooommm' is chanted.”

It was a fantastic snow season, and the ritual became requirement.

Gathering Steam

It quickly gained a life of its own—moving from an employee’s yard to behind the Berkeley store. It evolved from a pie tin to an entire drum filled with boots, crampons, old pairs of skis and boxes upon boxes of Twinkies (we repurpose the gear now but still burn the Twinkies). With the Berkeley Fire Department on alert, a welding mask- and torch-wielding roaster would set the entire drum aflame.

They’d sing: "We need more snow. We need more snow. We need more snow!"

And the ritual spread to REI stores across the country.

Twinkies burning

In 2006, assistant store manager Pete Citrano moved from the Anchorage REI store to the Denver REI store, and brought the Twinkie roast lore along. Denver needed a good snow year, and he stepped up to the plate. He made one custom shirt (not able to afford more), crafted a “Twinkicle”—a sacrificial Twinkie pinnacle, donned a cape made of Gore-Tex™ and promenaded the whole thing through the store.

Once in the back of the store, he told the legend of the Twinkie roast. And then torched the Twinkicle, doused in plenty of white gas (which, by the way, is far less likely to set off fire alarms—again, we'll note that we do not burn Twinkies inside REI stores, this is just an FYI for your benefit).

The results weren’t immediate, but they were historic. Within a month of the roast, three blizzards shut down the entire city.


“Seems our newest assistant store manager in the Denver store, Pete Citrano, was given the responsibility for coordinating this year's Twinkie roast. Pete is a professional, having done this sort of thing in our Anchorage store for years. Unfortunately, I think the team forgot to give him the high-altitude baking instructions for Twinkies and he went with sea-level quantities. The rest is history. The good news is, Pete's services are now being highly sought by Bay Area stores.” —Tim Spangler, senior vice president of retail, in a 2006 email to staff


And it even caught then-CEO Sally Jewell’s attention. She emailed him: “With your newly discovered 'gift,' I suspect that you could sell your Twinkie skills to the highest bidder … New England would certainly like to be in the running!”

You’re Invited

Twinkie Roasts—where we even get to eat lightly-toasted Twinkies—are now an integral part of our Pray for Snow parties. Join us.

Your Invitation to Pray for Snow
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