Asmall mountain town wedged somewhere near the center of the country, 1,600 miles northwest of Bourbon Street, seems a rather unlikely place to hold a Mardi Gras celebration. But over the past three decades, Snowmass has been proving that NOLA isn’t the only place to throw down — and throw beads — on Fat Tuesday.
The Mardi Gras celebration has proven to be one of Snowmass’s most popular events, with roughly 2,000 people attending over the course of the day. And the Snowmass Village Mall, where many of the events are hosted, provides the perfect backdrop for outdoor revelry — small enough to get crowded, but large enough so that people don’t get trampled.
The Roaring Fork Valley version of the event dates back nearly 31 years when a group of New Orleanians popped up in Snowmass Village to celebrate their hometown’s most well-known holiday. Residents were surprised, but they soon joined in the fun.
“It was the early-1980s and I was operating the Timber Mill (now the Office at the Cirque) and all of a sudden there were a bunch of rowdy people in the bar throwing beads and having a great old time,” 52-year valley resident Michael Shore told Time Out last year. “We didn’t have any idea what the heck was happening.”
That rowdy crowd, as it turned out, was a group of New Orleanians attempting to get away from what had turned into a big tourist scene in their home city. After those first couple of years, the Snowmass Resort Association got involved and began handling a lot of the marketing. It became an official event in 1983. And though the event might be a tad tamer than those first few years at the Timber Mill, it’s still grown in size and now includes traditional Mardi Gras elements like a costume parade, a massive bead throw where nearly 30,000 beads are tossed into the enthusiastic crowds, New Orleans jazz music, and celebrations that go late into the night at Snowmass bars. And the best part? It’s all free — except the drinks, of course.
The official Mardi Gras celebration begins with a free kids’ carnival from 3- 7 p.m., including clowns, stilt walkers and face painters. The annual massive bead throw starts at 3 p.m. on the Snowmass Mall.
Other highlights of this year’s event include the Mother of All Ascensions uphill race on Tuesday at 7 a.m., and a wacky Mardi Gras parade — presided over by this year’s Mardi Gras King and Queen and long-time Snowmass Village locals Markey Butler and Johnny Henschel — at 4:10 p.m. on the Snowmass Village Mall.
The race attracts about 300 people climbing more than 2,000 feet using snowshoes, track skis, hiking boots or running shoes. The registration fee is $25 the day of the race or $20 in at advance. Costumes are highly encouraged and prizes are awarded for the crowd’s favorites.
Afterwards, the Henry Butler Trio, led by the New Orleans jazz piano master Butler, takes to the stage at Base Village, accompanied by street performers. Butler’s show is presented by Jazz Aspen Snowmass.
A fireworks celebration follows the concert at 7 p.m.
But with all the Mardi Gras merrymaking, it seems that many have settled for a hedonistic good time and have forgotten about the holiday’s initial purpose. Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday in French, falls on the day before Ash Wednesday. It was meant to be a celebration to let loose before the Christian liturgical fasting season of Lent. Though Mardi Gras festivals take place in various cities around the world, the event is historically linked to cities with Catholic populations like Rio de Janeiro, Venice and Cologne.
Whether religious or not, head to Snowmass on Tuesday for what promises to be bead-throwing, drink-swilling good time.
Mardi Gras Schedule of Events
Tuesday Feb. 12
For more information, visit www.snowmasstourism.com
7 a.m Mother of all Ascensions Uphill Race
3 p.m. Bead Toss - Snowmass Mall
3-5 p.m. Street Performers - Snowmass Mall
2:30-4:30 p.m. Kids Crafts Mask-Making - Treehouse Kids Adventure Center
4:10 p.m. Mardi Gras Parade
5 p.m. Henry Butler Trio - Base Village
5-7:00 p.m. Street Performers - Base Village
7 p.m. Fireworks