Given the spectacle of Labor Day weekend’s massive Jazz Aspen Snowmass concerts, you could forgive Snowmass Village officials if they wanted to rest for a spell. After all, once you’ve hosted 30,000 people over three nights and put on one of the biggest parties of the year, a little bit of a hangover could be expected.
But resting isn’t the Snowmass way these days. The little slopeside village shed its sleepy summertime reputation years ago, and now it follows up the biggest weekend of the summer by being the place to be the next two weekends, as well.
From Friday to Sunday, Sept. 6-8, the 10,000 fans and mammoth venue from Labor Day concerts will be gone from Town Park and replaced with 32 hot-air balloons during the 44th annual Snowmass Balloon Festival. Saturday will also bring the double-whammy of Cidermass and Septemberfest to the mall and Base Village. Then, the following weekend, the Snowmass Wine Festival makes its return to Town Park, Sept. 14, followed by the Motoring Classic, Sept. 15.
It’s symptomatic of Snowmass’s transformation into a true year-round resort, and it’s reflected in the number of visitors who come for the start of leaf-peeping season.
“September has proven over the past several years to be an increasingly popular month for visitors,” said Rose Abello, tourism director for Snowmass Tourism. “Our September occupancy rates going back to the recession were about 20-30 percent. Now we’re at 50 percent. That’s not an insignificant increase. Our September occupancy sort of matched our June occupancy last year. They’re pretty similar for us.”
That elevated rate is a direct result of a continued effort by Snowmass Village organizers to host events that draw people regionally and nationally, and to keep the momentum of summer going well into the school year.
“September is not an afterthought,” said Abello. “It is very much an important part of our summer business.”
It’s not just Snowmass Tourism trying to make September fun, either. Individuals, businesses and organizations support the push, leading to homespun events like Cidermass and Septemberfest.
“I think those are great examples of people in our community coming up with an idea and running with it,” said Abello. “On Saturday, it’s a really great way to spend your day. Come for the balloons in the morning and then go do whatever activity you’re going to do. Then go to the cider tasting from 1-4 p.m., and at 4 p.m. Septemberfest starts. It’s just a nice, fun day.”
The brainchild of Reed Lewis, owner of Daly Bottle Shop on the Snowmass Mall, the second annual Cidermass will bring roughly 16 to 18 vendors to the mall to dole out samples of craft hard ciders from around Colorado and as far away as Vermont. It’s a nod to cider’s burgeoning popularity as an adult beverage, and it was a hit in its debut last year, selling out all 300 tickets. This year it promises to be even bigger.
“We’re prepared to sell 500 tickets,” said Lewis. “The cider industry has just grown by leaps and bounds, so it’s an exciting, new type of festival to have.”
The event will feature live music from Spore and More, cider tastings and cocktail creations from local purveyors Marble Distilling Co. and Snowmass’s very own Stripped Mixers.
After Cidermass, the Saturday action moves down the hill to Base Village for Septemberfest, a celebration of fall in Snowmass that is in its third year and growing in popularity.
“Year one was honestly big,” said David Dugan, who oversees four restaurants in Base Village and came up with the Septemberfest idea. “Year two: I couldn’t give you a percentage, but it was definitely larger. Hopefully, we’ll continue to grow in year three. We’d like to evolve this, at some point, into something bigger and maybe make it a weekend.”
For now the free event still consists of one afternoon and evening, and includes live music from the Derek Brown Band, a petting zoo, bouncy houses, lawn games, craft booths and more.
“We’ve got lots of cool stuff and good food and drink and good people,” said Dugan. “We’re pretty excited about it.”
One difference this year is that the Balloon Festival’s Night Glow, which took place on Fanny Hill and coincided with Septemberfest the last two years, will move back to Town Park from 7-9 p.m. on Friday. The upside of the move is that all 32 hot-air balloons are expected to participate. The show begins when the sun goes down and the glowing balloons light up the night.
The festival starts with the Carter Memorial Colorado Rat Race Friday morning. Half of the pilots will take off at 6:30 a.m. and see how far downvalley they can fly by 9 a.m., while the other half put on a show of flying colors above Town Park.
Saturday’s balloon competition will be “X Marks the Spot.” Pilots attempt to maneuver as close as possible to two targets set up on the Snowmass Club golf course and then drop a weighted baggie on the X, with the closest to the target winning. There will also be a kids Elevation Station from 7:30-10:30 a.m. in Town Park with lawn games, a bounce house, hula hoops and more.
The festival wraps up Sunday morning with balloons floating above the valley and another round of the Elevation Station.
“It’ll be the same great show, as always,” said balloonmeister Colleen Johnson, who has organized the festival for the last eight years. “Plan on coming out and having a good time watching the balloons take off.”
A great show, a fun-filled weekend, and yet another reason that Snowmass is the place to be all September long.