Mother of All Ascensions hits 30-year milestone of Mardi Gras uphill tradition |

Mother of All Ascensions hits 30-year milestone of Mardi Gras uphill tradition

Multiday format returns this year for race from Fanny Hill to High Alpine

Uphill racers make their way up Fanny Hill to Gwyn’s High Alpine during the Mother of all Ascensions event for Mardi Gras in Snowmass on Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2020.
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

For 28 years, Mardi Gras in Snowmass Village meant an early morning mass start for the costumed uphillers participating in the Mother of All Ascensions race.

The pandemic threw a wrench into year 29, and still, the skinners and hikers schlepped their requisite 2,073 feet from Fanny Hill to the High Alpine restaurant during a modified nine-day virtual race in 2021.

The multiday format sticks for the 30th anniversary of the event, which kicks off Monday, Feb. 21 and runs through Fat Tuesday on March 1, when The Collective hosts a post-race celebration.

The inaugural race was launched by Patrick Long, Joel Gorton and Jeff Tippett in 1992; they passed the baton to Andrew Bielecki the next year, and he’s been at it ever since.

But despite his nearly three-decade tenure organizing the event, Bielecki is still trying to wrap his head around the milestone.

“I never thought that this event would make it to this milestone anniversary, ever. … I just couldn’t fathom it, so it’s actually pretty huge to be sitting at this milestone anniversary this winter,” Bielecki said.


What: The Mother of All Ascensions uphill race

When and where: Race any time between Feb. 21 and March 1 on Snowmass Ski Area’s Alpine Springs uphill route. A post-race celebration takes place at The Collective on March 1; goodie bag and prize pickup runs March 3-5 at the Base Village Conference Center.

Registration and more information:

There were, of course, the requisite curveballs that Bielecki has come to expect in the world of event planning: a registration room locked on the day of the event or weather-delayed deliveries or, you know, a global pandemic.

All of those logistical challenges were managed one way or another, which Bielecki attributes to the strength of the community and support crew that has ensured the success and longevity of the event

“I am so indebted to everybody that has supported this in the 30 years it’s (been) going on and I am extremely grateful that they’ve hung with me through the hard times and the good times,” Bielecki said.

Bielecki felt that support through extenuating circumstances far exceeding the usual logistical headaches of event planning.

He spent nearly a decade coordinating the Mother of All Ascensions from Canada, unable to return to the United States after his visa expired and he was deported. He also endured the loss of “someone very close” — his girlfriend, who died in 2012.

Bielecki described the period as one in which he felt “very isolated and alone.” Planning the Mother of All Ascensions helped distract him from those feelings and retain “joy and enthusiasm” at a time when he found himself “lost” and slipping into “the dark side.”

Still, he questioned why he was organizing an event from 1,000 miles away. It’s unlikely that he would have returned to the U.S. for the 25th anniversary in 2017 were it not for the encouragement of his boots on the ground, a long list of “so many people who stepped up in my absence,” Bielecki said.

But he did return, and he found in his homecoming the embrace of a community he had connected with only from a distance for the better part of a decade.

“That’s what made it all worthwhile, to come back and just see everybody, and to feel, like I feel now, a part of this community, you know, that I’m back in a place I consider to be home,” Bielecki said.

Blielecki expressed, again and again and again, the appreciation he has for the community that has supported the event and has supported him, and the gratitude he feels for an effort that proved to be such a light.

“We get discouraged in life, you know: ‘Am I going to make it? Am I going to do this? Is it going to happen?’ … There’s things that you have to learn along the way about faith, about hope,” Bielecki said.

That notion of hope is the driving force behind his commitment to raise funds for the Aspen Hope Center, which specializes in mental health crisis prevention, education and response. Half of the $30 registration fee will go to the Hope Center this year; Bielecki would like to get at least 300 participants for the 30th anniversary, which would yield a $4,500 check to the nonprofit.

Last year, $10 of the $25 registration went to the Hope Center, which was double the $5 donation of years past; around 250 people paid to participate, resulting in a $2,500 contribution to the Hope Center.

Reaching the 30th anniversary milestone this year is, to him, “joy in the greatest sense,” which he defines as “seeing the things that you know are true actually coming to fruition down the road, that if you believe in something, it’s going to happen.”

He’s hardly one to take all the credit.

“I don’t feel like it’s my event,” Bielecki said. “I feel like it’s this valley’s event, I feel like it’s Patrick Long and Jeff Tippett and Joel Gorton’s event. … In the 30 years of doing this event I have witnessed so much kindness, so much generosity, so much giving, so much support.”

“It’s incredible, absolutely incredible.”