Wintersköl: Aspen’s salute to winter kicks off its 68th year
Wintersköl Royalty - King & Queen 1951 – 2019
2019 = Mike Monroney & Lissa Ballinger
2018 = Warren & Kathy Klug
2017 = Pat Callahan & Julie Lampton
2016 = Tom & Jody Cardamone
2015 = Duncan Clauss & Darcy Conover
2014 = Tom Anderson & Georgia Hanson
2013 = Travis McLain & Susan Cross
2012 = Ted & Christy Mahon
2011 = Sam Ferguson & Marie Munday
2010 = Kurt Bresnitz & Jackie Kasabach
2009 = Marian & Ralph Melville
2008 = Eve Homeyer & Mead Metcalf 2007 = Helen Klanderud & David Walbert
2006 = Tom & Carolyn Moore
2005 = Leonard & Bamby Patterson
2004 = Gretchen Bleiler & Steele Spence
2003 = Casey Puckett & Alberta Moore
2002 = Lenny Weinglass & Jayne Poss
2001 = Jack Depagter (Founder of Wintersköl) & Ellie Spence (The First Wintersköl Queen) = 50th Anniversary
2000 = Neil Bidelman & Gretl Uhl
1999 = Amanda Boxtell & Chris Klug
1998 = Klaus Obermeyer & Allison Scott
1997 = Miggs & Dick Durrance
1990 = George & Mary Gleason
1987 = Monica Lange
1986 = Susan Frailey
1985 = Linda Zarek
1982 = Valerie Stevens
1981 = Annie Olson
1971 = Gail Ramsey
1970 = Sue Smedstad (crowned by King James MacArthur star of Hawaii 5-O)
1968 = Erika Brunar
1966 = Skeeter Werner of Steamboat Springs
1964 = Bridget Bagley now Mrs. Robert Kerr (Possible title change from Wintersköl Queen to National Ski Queen?)
1963 = Marge Holohan
1959 = Bente Larssen now Mrs. Eric Lawrence
1958 = Nancy Jankovsky of Denver’s Schussbaumer Ski Club
1957 = Nancy Armory of New York nominated by the Aspen Ski Club
1955 = Mary Hansen from University of Wyoming
1954 = Kristin Vogt of Oslo Norway
1953 = Claire Hennig of Wasau Wisconsin Sponsored by Wasau Ski Club
1952 = Gwen Van Derbur
1951 = Ellie Whitten (Spence)
*List compiled by the Aspen Chamber Resort Association with assistance of the Aspen Historical Society. It is not a complete list nor does it indicate years when there may not have been a royal honoree.
While this year’s Wintersköl slogan is “Aspen: Original by Design,” the annual toast-to-winter celebration looks much different today than it did when it was established in 1951.
But the events that defined Wintersköl over the years and the ones that longtime locals lament the loss of — like the parade, Ski Splash and Soupsköl — have disappeared.
Chock it up to times changing, liability concerns and a lack of participation, said Jennifer Albright Carney, vice president of event marketing for the Aspen Chamber Resort Association (ACRA), which has organized the event since 1960.
Carney, who has been with ACRA for 20 years, said while some of the mainstays of Wintersköl are gone, the spirit of the event is still alive.
“It’s definitely evolved over the years, but it’s still a celebration of winter,” she said. “Wintersköl is truly a community event, it encompasses many different organizations whose energies bring people together, creating the community spirit that Wintersköl was traditionally built on.”
ACRA is partnering with several organizations this year to host various events throughout the weekend, including the showing of vintage films from the Aspen Historical Society, a speaker series presented by the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies, the “Wintersculpt” snow-sculpting competition by Anderson Ranch Arts Center and Saturday’s bonfire in Wagner Park hosted by the Aspen Valley Fire Department.
Let’s get this party started
Wintersköl is Aspen’s longest-running winter event and was created by Jack de Pagter, a bartender at the J-Bar in the Hotel Jerome and owner of the Holland House, a small lodge at the base of Aspen Mountain.
In 1950, Aspen was just establishing itself as a ski resort and there weren’t enough people here to keep the lifts running, so ski operations halted after the Christmas holiday season.
“So he thought, ‘Let’s start a winter festival’,” Yaz de Pagter, Jack’s daughter, said recently. “It was really to get people to come to town.”
Jack de Pagter became the chairman of Wintersköl, which took off almost immediately, with the entire town participating in the festivities.
“He would call up every business telling them they had to be in the parade,” Yaz de Pagter said. “It was supposed to be something silly for the weekend.”
And judging from the tales and historic photos of the festivities, it was definitely a party weekend for decades to follow.
There was the crowning of the queen, the Mad Hatter ball and general revelry throughout town, Yaz de Pagter said.
The parade soon became a forum for people to poke fun at the establishment; floats often were political statements or satire on the issues of the day.
One image from the historical society shows people dressed in KKK costumes carrying a coffin with the word “Aspen” on it in protest of the Winter Olympics possibly coming in 1976.
Or there’s the float of a lopsided, dilapidated trailer from the 1980s mocking the condition of Aspen’s housing stock.
Another float from the ’80s spoke to Disney’s presence in Aspen: “Pimping Aspen is Mickey Mouse.”
Georgia Hanson, a longtime local and former executive director of the historical society, said the parade in the ’70s was “full-on participation and creativity.”
“Most of the lodges had floats and we all put some serious energy into making a statement — usually funny,” she wrote in an email from her home in Mexico. “We all loved the Rugby Club float in spite of the precarious missiles shooting sometimes recklessly into the spectators. Over time it became a battle with the opposition planning attacks from the roofs of buildings along the route. For the (Fourth of July) the ammo was water balloons. For Wintersköl it was snowballs. Too soon, as with so many things in Aspen, in my opinion, the taste police stepped in and stopped the battle.”
Yaz de Pagter said her family and staff at the Holland House always had a float in the parade.
“We always kind of tried to do a float that had a twist to it,” she said, adding one year they addressed Continental Airlines ending its service at Sardy Field by creating a float that read “Holland House Air” with the slogan, “We’ll drop you anywhere … it may not be gentle but it’s better than Continental.” They marched wearing helmets and parachutes.
Her husband, Jack Simmons, recalled a year when the Holland House staff and guests came up with a theme for a float when Gay Ski Week started in the 1990s. But they killed it due to political correctness.
“It crossed the line at the time,” he said. “It was, ‘From steers to queers, 100 years of whips and leather.’”
Political correctness is what many longtime locals say killed the parade when restrictions on floats and who could participate were instituted.
“The chamber got a hold of it and started putting all these rules on it and it lost its fun,” Yaz de Pagter said.
Mark Tye agreed. He was the bar manager at the popular Tippler slopeside hang out. He resurrected the crowning of the king and queen after a hiatus, and established a bartender drink contest in the 1980s with winners named the “Tsunami,” “Nutty Dreams” and the “Face Plant.”
But by the time the 1990s rolled in, the fun and revelry of the previous two decades was starting to wane.
“They killed it with the rules,” Tye said. “They started saying who could be in the parade and who couldn’t and they changed it from being a fun event to a sterile event.”
The last Wintersköl parade was held in 2009. It ended due to a lack of participation.
Ski splash, held at slopeside hotel pools in Snowmass, was another big part of Wintersköl back in the day. It attracted some crazy costumes and thrill-seekers who would ski off a ramp into the pool.
The event was eventually halted due to liability concerns.
A different kind of fun
The times changed and the way of life here became a bit more tame. Those wild and crazy events were replaced with more community-oriented ones.
Soupsköl was a big hit for more than a decade. It was a soup competition among restaurants that was the brainchild of local chef Reggie Barbour.
Restaurateurs would line the streets offering up their best liquid concoction and the public would vote on the one they liked best.
Barbour passed away in 2008 and ACRA began producing the event a year before his death.
The event continued through 2016 but ended due to a lack of participation.
Yaz de Pagter noted that with the addition of Gay Ski Week and the X Games in January, Wintersköl has taken a back seat. The winter festival also was moved to the beginning of the month to accommodate the other events, which created a bit of party hangover directly after the holidays.
Carney said while events come and go, the community and tourists still benefit from celebrating together.
Longtime favorites remain like the Wintersköl button, the torchlight descent, the fireworks extravaganza and the crowning of the royalty, as well the Apple Strudel Downhill at Aspen Highlands, the Canine Fashion Show and the Wintersculpt snow-sculpting competition on the pedestrian malls in downtown Aspen.
Five adult teams and five kid teams will create their own snow sculpture that they begin building on Thursday, Jan. 10, and are unveiled for judging on Saturday afternoon.
This year, the sculptures must reflect the Bauhaus design. This year’s competition pays homage to the centennial celebration and kick off of Bauhaus 100: Aspen, the nine-month-long celebration in Aspen.
“Some are really funny and some are more serious,” said Katherine Bell with the Anderson Ranch Arts Center of the snow-sculpture designs.
This year’s Wintersculpt also includes six wooden geometric forms designed by Anderson Ranch artists that highlight Bauhaus-inspired design.
The 3- to 4-foot square wood forms were built and designed by Anderson Ranch staff artists. Staff artists painted the forms with inspiration from Bauhaus artworks, design principles and ideologies. The pieces will be a temporary art installation in Wagner Park until Sunday.
Tradition continues on Saturday in downtown Aspen when the U.S. Air Force Academy Cadet Drum & Bugle Corps marches through town.
There’s a broomball tournament at the Aspen Recreation Center on Saturday afternoon and in the evening, a rail jam in Wagner Park sponsored by Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club before the second annual bonfire, which precedes the torchlight descent at 8 p.m., and will be followed by fireworks.
(Those interested in being in the torchlight parade need to meet at the bottom of the Little Nell lift at 7:30 p.m.; up to 150 people can participate on a first-come, first-served basis.)
Putting on Wintersköl costs about $80,000, with the majority of the costs being covered through funding sources such as sponsorships, contract for services and button sales, according to Carney.
“The value add is the experience first-time visitors receive,” she said. “Wintersköl delights guests during their visit to Aspen with this traditional event that is unique to our community.”