The 72nd annual Wintersköl celebration kicks off today and will continue throughout the weekend.

With traditions and events back at full throttle this year, the four-day celebration features on-mountain activities, snow sculptures, fireworks and more. The favored Soupsköl competition is returning after a two-year hiatus, as is the AVSC rail jam in Wagner Park and the Wintersköl community bonfire.

Last year’s Wintersköl was modified and was completely virtual the year prior, marking the 2023 toast to winter a commemorable one, no doubt.

“This is my first year organizing the event to this capacity,” said Melany Muro, special-events manager for the Aspen Chamber Resort Association. “It’s exciting because there are so many moving parts and so many different partnerships involved — this year, we’re having it all.”

Muro noted Wintersköl’s history: Aspen’s traditional toast to winter dates back to a quiet January in 1951, when a group of locals decided to celebrate their alpine lifestyle through a series of winter festivities.

Now one of the longest-running traditions in town, Wintersköl is spearheaded each year by ACRA and put on in partnerships with numerous local organizations.

“Originally, this tradition came out of the quieter time — you know, after the holidays and before Presidents Day. It was really a time to honor the local community,” Muro said. “Times have definitely changed, with so many people visiting now, but we still want to honor that local community aspect.”

Muro went on to explain how the pent-up excitement around this year’s event includes the return of Soupsköl, during which valley restaurateurs serve free soup samples in competing for the title of “Best Soup in Aspen” and the coveted Soupsköl pot trophy.

This year’s competition remains open to the public and will be held along the Cooper Avenue pedestrian mall on Saturday from 1 to 3 p.m. Patrons are invited to walk through, taste samples from each participating restaurant and then cast their vote for the best soup.

Confirmed with ACRA as of Wednesday, the nine participating establishments include Big Hoss Grill, Hominy Southern Kitchen, Grateful Deli, Aurum, Pepperjack’s Café, Limelight Aspen, Meat & Cheese, Anderson Ranch Café and Mi Chola.

Muro also mentioned the return of the AVSC rail jam — which hasn’t happened in several years, she said. The event will take place on Friday at 5 p.m. in Wagner Park, and local athletes can register to participate earlier that day. There will be prizes, a DJ and other festivities during the sunset rail session.

The Wintersköl bonfire is coming back this year, too. A family-friendly event, the bonfire is free and open to the public and will commence in Wagner Park on Saturday from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.

There will be performances by the United States Air Force Academy Cadet Drum and Bugle Corps — a band that historically attended Wintersköl in years past, Muro said — and additional entertainment by the Snowmass Ski Patrol Band, fire dancers and more surprises are in store, she noted.

“We really try to continue to keep everything with Wintersköl as affordable and free as possible,” she said. “It’s a celebration of winter, it’s a celebration of Aspen and a celebration of our local community.”

Overlapping with the bonfire on Saturday night is the traditional torchlight descent down Aspen Mountain and fireworks show, which is set to begin at 8 p.m. People can watch from Wagner or join in on the parade of skiing down the Little Nell run.

Other highlights include the Friday morning uphill breakfast club at The Cliffhouse on Buttermilk Mountain and Sunday’s Drag Queen Bingo Brunch, in partnership with Aspen Gay Ski Week, at The Little Nell.

Snow sculpture activities return around town, with the Kidsculpt competition — hosted by Anderson Ranch Arts Center — happening on Friday morning. And starting today at noon, local artist Thomas Barlow will be carving two 8-by-8-feet snow blocks into works of art out on the Mill Street pedestrian mall.

This evening at 5:30, ACRA and the Wheeler Opera House present the Aspen History 101 crash course, followed by a screening of the iconic 1993 film, “Aspen Extreme,” at 7:30 p.m. The ­performative event highlighting Aspen’s history and ski-town reputation is free, with registered tickets required through the Wheeler Box Office.

The Helen K. Klanderud Wintersköl Awards Luncheon — which was canceled on short notice last year due to COVID-19 — officially kicks off the celebration this morning at the St. Regis in Aspen. The ticketed event brings together ACRA’s business community members in presenting the Business and Nonprofit of the Year and the Molly Campbell Service Award.

The Wintersköl 2023 royal honorees will be honored at today’s luncheon. The Wintersköl committee has selected Nancy Mayer, of Aspen Sojourner magazine, and Aspen Skiing Co. executive John Rigney as the official royalty for this year.

The Wintersköl committee also selected this year’s slogan from more than 250 submissions, Muro said, deciding on: “Where would we rather be, Wintersköl 2023.”

“Where would we rather be … It just felt right this year,” Muro said. “It’s an ode to our beautiful valley; we’re so thankful every day to be here and thankful for our local community for being here.”

For more information and updates on this year’s Wintersköl events lineup, visit aspenchamber.org.

Jacqueline Reynolds is an arts & entertainment reporter for the Aspen Daily News. She can be reached at jacqueline@aspendailynews.com.