January is “event month” in Aspen, when the marketing powers-that-be promote a series of events meant to fill the gap between the holiday rush and February. Wintersköl is one of my faves. It was the first big community event I attended when I moved here, and I remember being mesmerized by the Canine Fashion Show. The dogs and the costumes were impressive, and it was clear the entrants put a lot of time and thought into their themes.
A few years ago I saw Carrie Marsh’s “Louie” win dressed as a woolly mammoth, the year they found the bones in Snowmass. Some dogs were just born for the stage, as Louie won again this year in the “Celebrity Look Alike” category dressed as Chewbacca.
The dog catwalk is a favorite, but Soupsköl is clearly the most popular event at Wintersköl. Restaurants offer sample-size portions of their kitchen’s best soup recipe while competing for a traveling trophy in the form of a huge copper soup pot. More than 2,500 people attended this year.
My friend Jenna escorted me to all the samples, and we tried at least 15 of the 20. I can honestly say they were all good, some were better than others, but none of them were terrible. Jenna tried one that caused her to make a gagging face and toss it out, but I didn’t taste it so I can’t judge for myself.
They were all so different it’s really hard to compare. Two of my favorites were Kenichi and BB’s Kitchen. Kenichi’s entry, which placed second overall, was a chowder made with crispy fried shrimp. I know it sounds strange, but it was very good.
BB’s Kitchen offered a pureed squash soup, which doesn’t sound that exciting, as a lot of entrants had pureed squash offerings due to it being January in Aspen. But BB’s added apple into the mix. I make a great winter squash soup myself, but once I tried this I made a mental note to look for a recipe that adds apples to my existing acorn squash/sweet potato/onion soup standard.
Despite all the excellent entries, my palate dictated that one stood above the rest, and my taste was confirmed by the voting results. Square Grouper, a new restaurant that isn’t even scheduled to open until May, created a fantastic concoction called Jackalope Gumbo that wowed the crowd and won the fledgling business top honors as “Best Soup in Aspen.”
A “jackalope” is a fictional creature, much like a unicorn. For the purposes of creating recipes, the soup is a traditional gumbo with shrimp, chicken and tomato served up with a custom-made andouille-style sausage of rabbit, antelope, pork and habanero peppers, created by Continental Sausage in Denver.
Chef Tom Slanga’s recipe included a dark roux made with duck fat, and the huge copper pot indicates the crowd loved his recipe as much as I did. Big chunks of okra and sausage with a little spice warmed the body on a cold winter day, and Square Grouper’s finely tuned recipe won over the majority of the voting crowd. Check them out this spring when they open in the current Elevation space on restaurant row.
Aspen Gay Ski Week is in full swing, and locals are once again praising their favorite group of the winter season. Organizers report more than $250,000 in lift ticket sales, and Aspen’s service industry workers consistently report this crowd is the most fun, most friendly, and most generous of the season. As a gay guy, I’ve been pressed for weeks now about my anticipation for this event. “Gay ski week is almost here, aren’t you excited?” I love this week, and I’m thrilled that it’s a successful and recurring event, but it’s not really my thing.
I interviewed Jon Busch this week for my other gig with Aspen Public Radio, and was fascinated by the stories he told, like the time in the ’70s when a local bar owner called the police because Jon was dancing with another man. The police came and told the bar owner that there was nothing illegal about two men dancing together, and to get over it.
When you consider the political and social landscape of the ’70s , that’s a pretty remarkable achievement. It must have taken a lot of guts to stand up to the heterosexual establishment and demand equality at a time when that was considered taboo. It’s also a testament to Aspen that, as one of the first towns in Colorado to pass a gay rights ordinance in 1977 forbidding discrimination in employment and housing, Jon was able to stand his ground without being run out of town… or worse. Remember Matthew Shepherd?
So a gay ski party is a great thing that’s good for the local gay community and our town, but I find it hard to reconcile the amount of media attention it receives with what I consider the gay heroes of our society. Guys like Jon risked life and limb just to dance in a bar. Brave ACT UP members in the ’90s risked stigma, public scorn and even arrest to save their brothers who were dying by the thousands.
If you want to see some true gay heroes, download David France’s phenomenal and unbearable documentary “How to Survive a Plague” from Amazon.com. It chronicles the rise of ACT UP during the height of the AIDS crisis, and has been nominated for an Academy Award this year for Best Documentary. When you watch it, consider the sacrifices made by those brave men and women, and ask yourself if you would do the same in their situation.
I love gay ski week and all the men who come to support our town. But when I look at the amount of media coverage the event receives, it makes me sad. In the almost four years I’ve lived in Aspen, the only locally-written coverage I’ve seen on HIV/AIDS was a column I wrote to commemorate World AIDS Day in December 2011. I was trying to start a conversation.
But it didn’t work. It’s the only column I’ve ever written for this newspaper for which I didn’t receive a single email, phone call or conversation with a stranger on the street. Apparently nobody cared.
Doug Allen can’t wait for the X Games and can be reached at email@example.com.