Willoughby: Easter has a broader meaning to Aspen | AspenTimes.com

Willoughby: Easter has a broader meaning to Aspen

Tim Willoughby
Legends & Legacies
Aspen’s first Easter sunrise service in 1951. Photo Courtesy Aspen Historical Society/Renquist Collection

Easter has its religious roots and in addition there are non-religious traditions like Easter egg hunts and school and college vacations. Aspen created a few more local interpretations.

As a tourist town Aspen’s calendar is marked by seasons, not summer and winter but ski season and trout time. Once the Aspen Skiing Company opened for business it had to have a closing date, Easter was a convenient and logical one although complicated because Easter is not always at the same time each year. Snow conditions were not relevant as there is ample snow after Easter, often some of the largest storms come after.

A closing date before Easter would eliminate family and college vacation skiers. Extending beyond Easter was not viable because except for the most serious skiers destination resort skiers especially from Texas and California hang up their skis and take to the golf course and beach.

Choosing Easter as the closing date, or close to it, filtered the end of season celebration choices. Beginning in 1947 the Aspen Ski Club held its last race of the year on Easter Sunday. Their other races were designed to foster Aspen’s national skiing stature with efforts to attract major racers. The club wanted to have a race just for locals to celebrate the year. The first one featured a race between Aspen Business Men and Aspen House Wives, but racers had to dress in ‘some kind of costume.”

In 1948 they made it more of a family affair with the Easter Egg Slalom for children under 12. Freidle Pfeifer and Fred and Elli Iselin, the major ski school instructors, set the seven-pole race where each racer skied carrying an Easter egg basket and had to pick up an egg at each of the seven poles. If you did not pick up an egg or it cracked or broke you were penalized three seconds. Two youths were favored, Max Marolt who later was Aspen’s first native Olympian and Dicky Durance whose father was an Olympian. However, as the Aspen Times described it they, “ became so interested in skiing the course they forgot about the eggs.”

Skiing lost out to an indoor event in 1949 because the Isis billed the movie the “Easter Parade” starring Judy Garland and Fred Astaire.

The Easter Egg Slalom moved to Little Nell in 1950 and since some local children did not ski, an Easter egg hunt was added.

The Aspen Ski Club end of the season race was expanded in 1951 and with the donation of a cup for the winner it was nicknamed the Cochran Cup Races. There were six categories. The Easter egg race for younger skiers was dropped in favor of having a junior boys and junior girls category. A ‘hot shots’ group was added to separate the ringers from other locals. That race was moved to Winterskol in 1957.

Also in 1951 the community added an exciting component to an Easter tradition, the Easter Sunrise Service. Going back into even the mining era Aspen had sunrise Easter services often sponsored by the Epworth League, a Methodist young adult association. Aspen’s Community Church hosted the Epworth League in the 1940s and held indoor sunrise Easter Services. They moved the service to the top of Aspen Mountain. The lifts opened at around 5:00 A.M. to get the crowd up the mountain before sunrise. The Aspen Masque and Music Club organized the music and the Rev. Sigurd Burch of the Community Church presided over the service. Over 200 attended and after the services ate breakfast in the Sundeck, Aspen’s addition to a long-standing tradition.

Tim Willoughby’s family story parallels Aspen’s. He began sharing folklore while teaching Aspen Country Day School and Colorado Mountain College. Now a tourist in his native town, he views it with historical perspective. Reach him at redmtn2@comcast.net.


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