John Laconte

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September 5, 2013
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Big Haferlschuhs to fill

Sure, the brats are bought using tokens rather than coins, but that’s about the only thing that isn’t genuine at the Vail Valley’s Oktoberfest celebrations.

Between the Bavarian architecture, eats from various local German and Austrian restaurants and visits from the descendents of the old country living in our region, there’s an expectation that Oktoberfest in the Vail Valley is going to be a celebration marked by authenticity.

But the original party in Munich has evolved into quite a legend over the last 200 years, and our Vail Valley versions of the celebration has some big Haferschuhs (traditional Bavarian shoes) to fill.

It’s true, we don’t have huge beer halls, thrill rides or an enormous Bavarian statue, but we do have three straight weekends of celebration, just like in Germany. Beaver Creek kicked things off last weekend and the fun continues today through Sunday in Lionshead and finishes in Vail Village from Sept. 13 to 15.

Oktoberfest originated more than 200 years ago with a wedding on the first Sunday in October. It was a popular party, and in the following years, it made more sense to extend the celebration with parties preceding the main event when the weather (and the spring beer) was likely to be better. That pushed things back into the last two weeks of September, where the bulk of the party remains today.

Here in the Vail Valley, our party is usually wrapping up as Munich’s is beginning, and this year, the Vail Valley’s Oktoberfest celebrations will be finished before Munich’s begins. While the decision to move our celebrations up a few weeks probably wasn’t made in deference to the original party extension, the logic was likely the same — start the celebration earlier, when the weather will be warmer.

And thus, Oktoberfest began in August this year.

Role reversal

In our quest for Oktoberfest authenticity, we often grow light-headed trying to summon sound from the alpenhorn. Fortunately, we have Helmut Fricker to fall back on.

A native of the Black Forest region of Southern Germany, Fricker helped put on Colorado’s original Oktoberfest at Larimer Square in 1969.

In addition to the alpenhorn, he plays accordion, harmonica, trombone, guitar and is also a prolific yodeler.

The songs Fricker plays at the Vail Valley Oktoberfest celebrations bring a level of authenticity that’s seldom found these days — sometimes not even at the Munich party itself. While cover bands there serenade the large beer halls with American classics from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s in an attempt to rock the crowd, here it’s quite the opposite as Fricker keeps folks dancing through the village with classics of his own, brought from his native Germany.

“We would get together with the neighbors on the weekends and sing songs, that’s how we learned them,” he said of his experience growing up in Germany. “People don’t do that today. They watch television instead.”

Check out Fricker and his band while they play throughout the valley’s Oktoberfest celebrations.

Always a competition

When renowned freestyle ski coach Elana Chase moved to Vail from Aspen a few years ago, one of the things she noticed right away was how competitive area locals were.

“Even if it was just people jockeying for a good seat on the bus, everyone here is so competitive,” she said.

Chase came to admire and respect that aspect of life in the Vail Valley, which seems to show itself with special clarity during offseason events like Oktoberfest.

In Munich, public competitions are just one thing to do amid a sea of carnival rides and amusement-park style midway attractions.

In the Vail Valley, the competitions take center stage.

Bratwurst eating contests, keg tossing, keg bowling and stein lifting comprise the action. Crowds form, winners are crowned and bragging rights are earned.

Even the dress gets competitive, with Bavarian costume contests taking place in both Lionshead and Vail.

And Vail’s Oktoberfests have 5K and 10K fun runs, events that definitely get competitive despite the family-friendly environment.

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The VailDaily Updated Sep 5, 2013 05:50PM Published Sep 6, 2013 12:56PM Copyright 2013 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.