The annual harvest celebration known as Oktoberfest dates back to 1810, in Bavaria, when composer Richard Wagner’s buddy, King Ludwig, ordered a state fair to be held in honor of his autumn nuptials. People traveled from throughout southern Germany to join the party, which was such a success that Ludwig eventually decreed that the celebration—which would come to be known as Oktoberfest—would take place annually in Munich. Today, of course, it’s the world’s largest beer festival, with more than 5 million people attending every year.
Oktoberfest at Snowbird Resort is a newer phenomenon, but this year, Snowbird is celebrating its 40th Oktoberfest. That’s pretty impressive—especially in a state not exactly known for its beery revelry. The genesis of Snowbird’s Oktoberfest begins when two guys dressed in lederhosen—inspired by the Wasatch Mountains that reminded them of their homeland—came to Snowbird to play their accordions and sing songs in their native German. From that humble, determined duo donning lederhosen to today, Snowbird’s Oktoberfest has become an event that spans eight weekends—from Aug. 18 through Oct. 7—and attracts some 50,000-plus visitors. As in years past, the stirring oompah and yodeling sounds of the Salzberger Echo waft through the air at Oktoberfest, along with the aromas of grilled bratwurst and pungent sauerkraut. If St. Patrick’s Day is the time when everyone is a little bit Irish, Oktoberfest is when we all become a smidge German.
I spent last weekend at Snowbird roaming around Oktoberfest and was surprised by, first, the huge numbers of people in attendance and, second, Snowbird’s dining, drink, activity, shopping and entertainment options. Oktoberfest has gotten bigger over the years, but it’s also gotten better. Lines for beer and food are well-organized and move swiftly, although the same might not be said for the über- popular alpine slide and the (new this summer) Mountain Flyer—a two-person thrill ride that soars some 1,000 linear feet in a matter of seconds. Lines are lengthy for those two rides, but still worth the wait.
We got out onto the mountain early, so as to ride the Peruvian Express chairlift 2,400 vertical feet toward Hidden Peak. The lift drops passengers just a short walk from the 600-foot-long tunnel—some 200 feet underground—that affords spectacular 360-degree views of Mineral Basin. You can simply take in the sights and ride the Peruvian lift back down to Snowbird Center or, if you’re more adventurous, take the hiking trails back down to base camp and Oktoberfest.
Having worked up a good appetite hiking some of the Mineral Basin trails, I was more than ready for brats and beer. I can never resist having at least one bratwurst during Oktoberfest, this year supplied by Colosimo’s. I have to say, their weisswurst (spiced veal sausage) was excellent, with ham-spiked sauerkraut and herbed spaetzle alongside. Along with weisswurst and traditional beef & pork bratwurst, there’s also chicken-apple sausage available in the Oktoberfest Halle this year. And, as in past years, thousands of plates of Snowbird’s freshly made beef rouladen and paprika chicken are consumed to the sounds of polka bands playing on the big Oktoberfest Halle stage.
I recall years past when there was only one beer line at Oktoberfest, and it was lengthy. Logistics at Snowbird have much improved, with beer and wine (and even Jägermeister) booths spread out throughout the Oktoberfest grounds. For example, new this year—located on the grassy area about halfway between the Cliff Lodge and Snowbird Center—is a tent and beer/wine garden offering Belgian Liège waffles, pommes frites and beers from Bohemian Brewery. If beer and waffles sounds a little nutty, well, you’d never tasted a Belgian waffle with a crisp Bohemian pilsner!
Down near the Oktoberfest Halle are oodles of crafts booths at der marktplatz, mixed in with brew tents from Uinta, Sierra Nevada and others. Up on the Snowbird Center Plaza, there’s another fun zone, ranging from a bevy of rides and activities for kids to an adult-friendly stretch of real estate featuring the Jägermeister garden; wines from one of my favorite winemakers, Joel Gott; a tent with Beehive cheese samples; and the Wasatch/Squatters booth where they pour Polygamy Porter on nitro. And this year, visitors can stroll the grounds with their beer and wine and not be confined to silly little booze pens.
Not really craving German or Belgian fare? Here’s a fairly well-kept secret: General Gritts market in the lower level of Snowbird Center makes awesome custom deli sandwiches to order, and the prices are very reasonable. Another good eating option for hungry kids who might not be screaming for German potato salad is Tram Car Pizza, selling pizza by the slice or whole pie.
If you’re staying at Snowbird overnight or want to enjoy dinner after Oktoberfest, which shuts down at 6 p.m., you could do a 180-degree turn from German fare and settle in for some excellent sushi at the Aerie Restaurant & Lounge. The recently refurbished Aerie is a feast for the eyes, and the sushi options range from chuka ika (smoked squid), unagi (freshwater eel) and inari (braised tofu) to nigiri and sashimi platters and popular rolls like the rainbow, spider and red dragon rolls. Better yet, just put yourself in the hands of sushi chef Yasu Kanegae and have him whip you up something made with the day’s fresh catch.
From Salzberger Echo to sushi, Snowbird’s got Oktoberfest covered. So head up to the mountains and help them celebrate 40 years.
Snowbird Ski & Summer Resort
Highway 210, Little Cottonwood Canyon
Through Oct. 7