Prost to Oktoberfest
Author: Julia Partain
Published Date: 08/10/2022
Read Time: 4 minutes
There's more to this fest than beers and cheers. Learn the history of Snowbird's Oktoberfest.
It all started 50 years ago. Wait… Let’s backup.
When King Ludwig I of Bavaria married in 1810, he and his bride, Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen, invited their entire homeland to celebrate the occasion. It was such a grand affair that the event was remembered a year later…and every year since. Oktoberfest was born.
Fast forward to summer 1972. Riding the coattails of a successful first winter of operation, Snowbird was hitting its stride. Art Brogli operated the Swiss-built Tram and treated guests and employees to accordion numbers and yodeling serenades as they soared to Hidden Peak. Coming from a Swiss family steeped in folk music and yodeling, the native European reveled in performing in Snowbird’s serene alpine oasis.
The idea for Snowbird’s Oktoberfest began that summer when Bavarian band leader Horst Fiedel rode the Tram and overheard Brogli entertaining riders. German immigrants Marianne and Horst Young joined the two musicians and became the primary originators of Snowbird’s Oktoberfest . Fiedel supplied the music, Marianne’s Delicatessen (the Young’s Salt Lake-based deli) provided authentic German food and Brogli brought the yodeling. Snowbird’s Oktoberfest was born on Labor Day, 1972.
Great things stem from humble beginnings. The annual celebration started with dancing and food served on the Snowbird Center Plaza Deck. The late Horst Young recalled the first local commemoration of Oktoberfest. “We had only a handful of people and a few sausages,” he laughed. “We cooked on only one grill for everybody.”
Word got out and the festival outgrew its spot on the corner of the Plaza Deck (currently home to Christy Sports). In the early ‘90s, Snowbird broke ground behind the Snowbird Center (a plot then-known as “Hole #5” which was originally set aside for another lodge).
The Youngs were there for the groundbreaking of the festival’s future home, the Oktoberfest Halle. Now, with tens of thousands attending each year, it is one of the biggest cultural festivals in Utah. What started as one day to celebrate their German heritage has grown to a resort-wide, 10-weekend event spanning mid-August through mid-October.
“People discovered how much fun Oktoberfest can be,” says Marianne. “We’ve built a tradition of good food and entertainment that brings the same folks back year after year. In fact, you see lots of the same people every weekend of the celebration.”
One aspect that has not changed through the years is the role of the Bürgermeister. Hailing as the “Mayor of Oktoberfest,” the Bürgermeister promotes Bavarian culture and history, facilitates games and taps the ceremonial keg. Horst Young, the original Bürgermeister, held the position for 26 years.
Today, second-generation Bürgermeister Rick Schwemmer is in his eighth year serving as Mayor. He dates back to the early days of Horst Fiedel and the Bavarians where he replaced Fiedel on the accordion after his passing. Prior to Rick’s reign as master of ceremonies, his father Walter Schwemmer was Bürgermeister for 10 years.
“Our family is one of the original German families that have been coming to Oktoberfest from the beginning,” says Schwemmer. “I grew up here and so have my children. It’s grown throughout the years into a family festival with food, games, activities and shopping.”
Oktoberfest food choices include select German favorites, such as bratwurst, weisswurst, sauerkraut, apple strudel, spaetzle, beef rouladen, pretzels and Bavarian roasted almonds.
The biergartens peppered throughout festival grounds offer more than 50 varieties of traditional German-style beers and those made by Utah breweries. This is a drastic increase from the ceremonial keg of Lowenbrau tapped in ‘72. Commemorative steins and mugs are available for purchase to celebrate the event. Guests can save a few dollars on beers by reusing their previously-purchased Oktoberfest mug.
Snowbird’s summer activity lineup pairs perfectly with Oktoberfest. There are kids’ activities galore, from inflatables, bungee trampolines and ropes course to the Mountain Coaster, Alpine Slide and Tram rides. Hiking and sightseeing around Snowbird gives festival goers a true taste of the old country. Don’t miss the alphorns of Salzburger Echo heralding atop Hidden Peak, performances by Balloon Man Shan and plenty of opportunities for audience participation. Too tired from all of the fun? Spend the night and do the same thing again tomorrow!
Oktoberfest has evolved throughout the years, but one thing remains constant—the same shared appreciation and enthusiasm for tradition, community and beauty of Snowbird.
50 Years of Cheers
We've heard some amazing Snowbird 50 year anniversary stories over the course of the winter and we wanted to extend the opportunity to share some of your favorite Oktoberfest memories. Share a story or a favorite photo and we'll be featuring them here along with @snowbird to commemorate!
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About the Author
Julia Partain, a Salt Lake City native, has spent the past 15 years freelance copywriting, storytelling and editing for local and regional print and digital publications. With 14 Snowbird magazines under her editing belt, she still enjoys writing about and sharing her passion for Snowbird.