Summit County is known for its traditions that gather people together for a day of celebration. One tradition that keeps people laughing, their bellies full and the competition high is the Mardi Gras celebration.
Mardi Gras translates to Fat Tuesday and refers to carnival events and celebrating by eating richer, fatty foods before practicing the fasting ritual of Lenten. To ensure bellies are full, Keystone hosts its Mardi Gras celebration and gumbo cook off fit for all ages.
“Keystone has been known for our Mardi Gras celebration over the years,” said Maja Russer, director of events and marketing at the Keystone Neighbourhood Company. “It’s become part of the Keystone culture. Over the past five years we try to put an emphasis on the gumbo cook off because Keystone is known for its culinary aspects.”
There’s also live music, games, a cash bar and the call for Summit County’s best gumbo. Chefs prepare this meal just like the official cuisine of Louisiana. Eleven Keystone restaurants are participating as well as a few coming up from Denver, so there should be plenty of variety.
“We have some of the local restaurants, like 9280 Taphouse, Luigi’s Pasta House and staples from around Keystone, and in addition we have Arapahoe Basin as well as a couple of outside vendors,” Russer said. “We also have the Hyatt Regency in downtown Denver.”
The Hyatt Regency are the returning champions from last year’s gumbo cook off. Colorado Mountain College is also participating in the friendly competition. There will be two categories that restaurants can enter: a chicken and sausage or seafood/exotic. Participants are welcome to choose between these two categories or even enter in both of them.
“It’s good because it gives the local guys a nice little boost of competition,” Russer said.
Gumbo is a stew that originated in Southern Louisiana. It mainly consists of stock, meat or shellfish, a thickener, as well as vegetables, bell peppers and onions and is usually served over rice. It’s a simple meal that can easily be made into something unique.
“I think people definitely pride themselves on that super secret ingredient,” Russer said. “We hear from one of the chefs that he ordered in fresh okra that will arrive on Monday for preparation. We love the competitive spirit that people come out and have. There’s a little trash talking in a fun way.”
People can choose and vote for their favorite style of gumbo, from Creole to Cajun. The Keystone Neighborhood Company will give out a Team Spirit award to the booth with the best Mardi Gras costume.
“We started a team spirit award last year,” Russer said. “We decided it’s another fun way to animate the whole event.”
During the event, there will be funky tunes starting at 3:30 p.m. A local DJ will start the Mardi Gras celebration and local favorite Funky Johnson will perform on stage for a free concert.
Breckenridge welcomes the Mardi Gras celebration with masks, boas, music and a carnival-style celebration.
Visit Breckenridge for its annual Mardi Gras parade then head over to Main Street Station to keep the party going. There will be live music, gumbo, dancing and, of course, the drink of the evening, Hurricanes, which is a rum-based drink.
“Hurricanes are what any would argue as a classic New Orleans cocktail,” said Rachel Zerowin of the Breckenridge Tourism Office. “It’s looked at as one of those cocktails that tend to come out around carnival season.”
Colorful floats will dance their way down Main Street, with the traditional purple, yellow and green beads thrown into the crowd. Parade winners will be announced after the show.
“Last year we had the street party and people really liked it but what we heard is that people love the parade,” Zerowin said. “So this year we’re giving the people the best of both worlds. We’re bringing back the parade on Main Street at 4:30 p.m., then it’s going to all culminate at Main Street Station. That’s where we’re going to have the fire dancers, these larger-than-life puppets, live music, gumbo and hurricanes.”
Mardi Gras is truly a celebration for everyone. HomeSlice will make sure the energy is high with their funky rhythm and good soul music.
Costumes are a big part of the celebration and everyone should get a chance to dawn their creative side — even the dogs. L.A.P.S (League for Animals and People of the Summit) and the Lost Cajun restaurant in Frisco are hosting the annual Mardi Gras 4Paws parade on Saturday in Frisco so dogs and their families can show off their colorful costumes to the whole town.
“People can dress up all they want,” Zerowin said. “It’s a lot of fun and it helps get into the vibe and spirit of Mardi Gras.”
Although the traditional Mardi Gras celebration we know and love wasn’t started here in Summit County, it’s definitely here to stay.
“It was all started by a group of New Orleanais who were vacationing in Breckenridge and decided that they wanted to start a parade,” Zerowin said. “So it’s all very organic, very Breckenridge and the tradition has carried on.”
Summit County has many different traditions and celebrations that we’ve adapted from worshiping a Norse snow god to celebrating the ancestors that have passed before us, to the colorful Mardi Gras celebration. All of these are special and unique to Summit County in their own way and continue to grow as the years pass.
“It’s very Breckenridge, and the idea that it was started by this passionate group of people who really found their second home here — and it’s continued on as a tradition — is what makes it special,” Zerowin said.