By Alicia Dziak

Parades! Beads! Costumes! It can only mean one thing—March 11-13 brings Mardi Gras and Winter Carnival to Ellicottville!

Among other improvements to this year’s celebration, the original “Mama of the Mardi Gras Parade” Carol Fisher has returned after several years out of the Mardi Gras spotlight to help breathe new life back into the old parade.

Fisher organized the first village Mardi Gras parade as a way to bring people off the slopes during Winter Carnival time and into the village. She noted the main motivation for it was that she was working with Arlene Solly on getting her new store (Kazoo II) up and running, and that by crowning the King and Queen of Holiday Valley at the village gazebo following the parade, she was able to do just what she set out to do—drive traffic into the village and the businesses.

Following that first year, Fisher explained, “I just happened to say to Jane Eshbaugh [Holiday Valley’s Marketing Director], ‘Gosh, too bad we just couldn’t have a parade in town, and festivities in town, like the old days.’ Jane sensed an opportunity for something wonderful to happen and said to me, ‘Well, Carol, why don’t you?’  The rest is history.”

After five or six years of organizing the village Mardi Gras parade, Fisher turned it over to the Ellicottville Chamber of Commerce.

“I’m back this year because it was either cancel the parade because local enthusiasm no longer existed for it, or breathe new life into it,” Fisher said. “Considering the totally positive and excited response from the retail and business community and others, and with the support of the Chamber, it’s off and running for a whole new rebirth.  Yea Ellicottville!”

On Saturday, March 12, the newly-revamped Mardi Gras parade, now in its 23rd year, will make its way through the village streets with numerous sure-to-knock-your-socks-off-floats. “The lineup for the parade starts in front of Coffee Culture and continues west through town,” Fisher explained. “People should follow the crowds and find their spots all along Main Street.”

Fisher noted that there will be extra judging from the judge’s truck in front of the Gin Mill, which is always a good spot for viewing the parade. Marchers give a little extra to their presentations to encourage the judges to reward them with prizes.

Do-gooders can participate in the Ski Patrol food drive for the Ellicottville Food Pantry. A dropbox for non-perishable items will be at Tops Market and Customer Service on Friday, March 11, from 5 to 9 p.m., Saturday, March 12, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and during the Mardi Gras parade, when patrollers will be walking the streets collecting donations. Contributors will also receive a strand of beads.

This year’s parade turns a new page for Mardi Gras, setting the tone for the upcoming blow out 25th anniversary parade in 2018.

The weekend full of events kicks off Friday with the Junior Bacchus Ball from 7 to 9 pm at the Ellicottville Brewing Company. Tickets are $20 and dress is ski casual. The ticket price includes finger foods and entertainment, and there will be a cash bar.

“The patrons of the event will hear presentations from King and Queen candidates and will choose the royal couple by applause,” Fisher said. “Yes, there will be an applause meter.”

The king and queen will be crowned by the Grand Marrshal, Edna Northrup.

Tickets are limited and on sale at www.ellicottvilleny.com, at Ellicottville Brewing Company, the Chamber office, or even at the door the night of the event.

The fun continues all weekend long at Holiday Valley’s Winter Carnival. Face painting? Live music? A winter cookout? You can have it all!

Grab a drink at the famous Snowbar—yes, it’s just what it sounds like—a bar sculpted out of a giant mound of snow. “We contribute the profits of the Snowbar to local charities,” said Eshbaugh, who, on a side note, explained that “the following week, the snowbar gets groomed out to create the pond for the March 19 pond skimming event.”

Speaking of sculptures, be sure to check out the impressive ones, also made of snow, created by the staff and on display throughout the resort.

On Sunday, the costume parade winds its way down the Mardi Gras trail, complete with costume judging at the end. “You have to be able to ski or snowboard down Mardi Gras, so that makes it even more challenging, and the adult and child chosen as best-of-show win season passes for next year!” Eshbaugh said. Put some serious effort into those digs and let your creative side soar—literally!—down the mountain!

If it’s a hot meal you’re after, look no further than Saturday and Sunday’s cookouts at the base of Yodeler, or Sunday’s pancake breakfast at the Champagne warming hut, all put on by HV’s safety patrollers. There’s also the hot dog cookout sponsored by the Lederhusen Ski Club outside the main lodge. For grownups only, the Ellicottville Ski Club will be offering a wine and cheese spread outside the main lodge.

No Winter Carnival weekend is complete without the Dummy Downhill, a race of “dummies” down the base of Yodeler. Everyone is invited to construct and race their creation for a $5 entry fee and a chance to win some awesome prizes (gift certificates for Villaggio, EBC, the Niagara Falls Hilton and Darien Lake, to name a few). Entry forms and dummy specs are available at www.holidayvalley.com.

Winter Carnival has been an EVL tradition for many years, but that doesn’t mean it’s the same old party on the mountain.

This year there’s the addition of Saturday’s Olympic Relay. “There will be various games for family teams to compete in. Some are on snow and some off snow,” noted Eshbaugh. “We also plan to have a juggler around various locations on Sunday…possibly a stilt walker too, depending on the weather.”

“Winter Carnival is the celebration of the season and the welcome to spring skiing and riding at Holiday Valley,” explained Eshbaugh. “It is such a fun weekend for our guests and staff. And it brings people to the resort so they can see that there’s still plenty of snow for a great spring season ahead.”

Mardi Gras and Winter Carnival weekend is one of the season’s highlights. Don’t miss your chance to say a fond farewell to winter with a weekend-long celebration!