Everybody knows it’s not really a party until somebody puts a lampshade on their head.
At Aspen’s Mad Hatter’s Ball, beer cans and toilet bowls and bird cages and all manner of homemade headwear were the centerpiece of one of winter’s best parties here for decades.
The ball, a tradition dating back to the 1950s, fell to the wayside some time in the early ‘90s, but the Aspen Historical Society is bringing it back to kick off this year’s Wintersköl festival on Thursday night.
“It was some of that light-hearted frivolity that Aspen loves,” says the Aspen Historical Society’s Nina Gabianelli. “So we’re trying to create a bit of Wintersköl past.”
In the ‘70s the party moved from downtown Aspen to the Timbermill in Snowmass Village, in the slopeside space currently filled by Venga Venga.
It is believed that the ball’s downfall came when the Aspen Skiing Co. bought that building and renovated it, shrinking its size substantially to make room for an adjacent SkiCo locker room. The relaunched Mad Hatter’s Ball will stay in the center of the ski town action at the Wheeler Opera House.
The ball is free but revelers are warned not to show up in a store-bought hat. Instead, get creative and channel your inner Mad Hatter.
“The idea is to come up with something that’s outrageous and fun,” says Gabianelli. “And homemade, of course.”
The Best Hat Award winner — in a contest judged by Winterskol’s king and queen — will receive two passes to next month’s Aspen Laff Festival, also at the Wheeler.
The evening kicks off with the society’s Aspen History 101, presented by everyone’s favorite unaccredited institution of higher learning: Aspen State Teachers College. The crash course in Aspen history uses actors, song and dance to bring Aspen history to life in an irreverent presentation. Attendees will earn an Aspen State Teachers College student ID, which gets you a free beer at the Mad Hatter’s Ball, immediately following the history lesson.
The ball was a staple of Wintersköl for years, bringing out hundreds of locals to revel and show off their headpieces. The festival, now in its 62nd year, began as a locals’ celebration, as an opportunity for the year-rounders to take over town during the post-new year lull in tourist activity. The story goes that a group of locals got together and organized the European-style winter carnival and toast to winter to entertain themselves during a stretch when town was once so quiet the ski lifts closed.
The event grew into a four-day festival featuring music, snow-sculpting, uphill and downhill races, a dog fashion show, a torchlight mountain descent and the de rigueur fireworks over Aspen Mountain. Over the years, though, the winter lull has gotten less desolate, while the face of Wintersköl, many would say, became less irreverent and fun as parties like the Mad Hatter’s Ball faded away.
In keeping with this year’s Wintersköl theme of “Vintage Spirit,” the historical society is aiming to bring back the freewheeling early Aspen verve of events like the Mad Hatter’s Ball.
“We want to get back to that idea of Wintersköl as a community party, as our chance to play with ourselves,” says Gabianelli. “We all like to dress up in this town, so it’s perfect.”
The entertainment Thursday night includes Dan “Dr. Sadistic” Sadowsky (aka Pastor Mustard), and the Silver Queen Crybabies, both of whom played the ball in its original incarnation in decades past. That’s followed by a set from local funk rockers Jes Grew.
Along with jumpstarting the Wintersköl weekend, the ball kicks off the Aspen Historical Society’s 50th anniversary programming, which promises to be an action-packed year.
Pick up next week’s Time Out for all the details on the rest of Wintersköl’s events.
Aspen History 101
Jan. 10, 2013
Mad Hatter’s Ball
Wheeler Opera House