As much as we love skiing and despite the recent snow dumpage, almost everyone is ready for warmer weather to break out the mountain bikes, kayaks and hiking boots.
Flauschink is here, the final throw-down to kick out the jams of winter and usher in spring. Time for the Royalty Run, polka and beer at the Coronation Ball with Pete Dunda’s Polka Band at Maxwell’s, the crowning of the new Flauschink King and Queen, the Flauschink Parade and Royal Promenade and the traditional last ski day of homage and craziness of the Royal Court on Flauschink Hill.
Rejoice. It’s the changing of the season and it’s another reason to celebrate with a uniquely Crested Butte event.
It was four and a half decades ago in the magical year of 1969 that the father of Flauschink, George Sibley, thought mud season needed an official kick-off rather than just seeing the ski season fizzle out unceremoniously.
“End it with a bang, not a whimper,” Sibley reckoned. “When we started out, we wanted it to be a marriage between the old Crested Butte and the new residents. Kings picked from old timers and young Queens from the newcomers, or occasionally an older King from the newcomers.”
Sibley realized the tradition would have to eventually evolve as they ran out of old-timer Kings. “There have since been younger Kings and older Queens. The old timers took to the new fest quickly, really getting into it. They were sort of wondering if they would be King, and were very hopeful,” he recalls.
Although it was meant to be a town and mountain party for the hard-working locals, the first Flauschink was actually too successful, creating more work for the restaurants and bars, so they had to work even harder. Sibley reflects, “We started out up on the hill on Friday night with the dance and Coronation Ball held at the Warming House restaurant [which no longer exists]. Suddenly, and unexpectedly, on Saturday at the ski area, all these people showed up from Montrose and Gunnison—more people than usual. It was the first time I’d ever seen the parking lot overflow onto the highway.”
Sibley points out that the working locals didn’t get to party much. “We still had a big dance downtown at Frank & Gal’s and another big polka band blowout Saturday night with the Cindy Quint Polka Band. Whitey Sporcich and Cathy Wirtz were the first King and Queen,” he says of the 1969 Royalty.
Flauschink has become a Crested Butte tradition, now a beloved community event in its 46th year, which is how Sibley imagined it would become. “The main thing I wanted to see carried forward in Crested Butte is people dancing. It was revelatory for me to live in a place that was a real community.” Sibley poses the question of, “How can you solve problems if you can’t go out and have a good time together? Those who dance together take chances together.”
All Royalty and persons of importance have their signature monarchial paraphernalia. What might appear to be a plunger and an absurdly wild hat are the scepter and crown of Flauschink Royalty. A few of the earlier Flauschink scepters were fashioned out of a mud season boot—a rubber galosh mounted on a stick that held onto a drink perfectly, even if the King or Queen could not.
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Sibley explains that the boot ritual started in the beginning. “It’s an apocryphal story that the founders of Flauschink sealed the idea from drinking beer from the rubber boot of Joe Sedmak in the Grubstake.”
The scepter evolved from Sedmak’s boot to the current repurposed toilet plunger. “The toilet plungers worked really well since you could fit a pint glass in the top, but if you were a real King you’d drink it right out of the plunger without a glass,” Sibley smirks. The Royal Scepters are designed and created by various Royal Milliners, who are also responsible for making the Royal Crowns.
The Royal Capes, which are purple and gold, weigh more than a barrel of beer and were modified during the reign of the 2013 Royals, King Pete Curvin and Queen Johnna Bernholtz. King Pete noted, “The cape tie had a royal strangle hold on the Royal Necks, and skiing in a cape is a tough deal so the Queen Mum (Queen Johnna’s mother) added a regal gold button and fastener and sewed in pockets.” The Royal Capes are whisked off the King and Queen as they pass into the Realm of Royal Has-Beens, just prior to the crowning of the new King and Queen at the Coronation Ball.
All Royalty get to keep their crowns and scepters as Has-Beens, who purportedly have way more fun without all the sovereign duties and responsibilities.
Queen Johnna says she will have mixed emotions when they uncrown her and take the cape. “My reign has been outstanding, quite an honor and the year has definitely flown by,” she admits and adds, “I’ve had a blast but as all things have their cycles, it’s time for the next reign. One of my goals as being the Queen was to try to bring awareness back.
“I feel like there are a lot of people who don’t know what Flauschink is any more,” continues the Queen, “and so that’s why King Pete and I were so visible. People would ask questions and we could educate and re-inform them about the celebration, history and tradition. I was very fortunate to have a fabulous King and we both have awesome Royal Consorts (the Royal Spouses) as well. Both of us truly wanted the honor of being Royalty and it is an honor. We made sure we fulfilled our Royal Duty.”
King Pete echoes the Queen’s sentiments. “I’m excited about being a Has-Been. I had so much fun but I feel like it’s time for somebody to take the reins and see where they can take it. When you look at the Has-Beens, it’s really a who’s who of who shaped Crested Butte and made us who we are. If you don’t care about history, that’s scary, and the future is scary if you don’t know or care where you’ve been. I’m so proud to have been King for the year. I can’t put it into words how much fun and an honor it was.”
Wondering what it takes to become Flauschink Royalty? Flauschink committee member and Royal Has-Been Sherrie Vandervoort has watched the Royal event since she was a little girl and notes, “There’s a misconception that you have to be a big drinker to be a Royal (probably fueled by the traditional generosity of town folks and establishments to help quench the Royal Thirst), but that’s not true! Duane Vandenbusche and George Sibley probably had one or two beers during their entire reigning weekend. Henrietta Raines had Maalox in her scepter, and Joe Laird dosed all the plants in every local bar, dumping his drinks into the planters.”
It goes deeper than abusing the Royal Liver, Sherrie asserts. “It’s about representing and loving this town and celebrating together after a long, hard winter. It’s new and old timers coming together to celebrate and that’s what we’re gonna do.”
Sherrie continues, “If you’re a Wannabe Royal, it helps to enjoy a good spirited polka because that’s the crux of the Coronation Ball… it’s a dance too, so we polka as the old timer mining families did, continuing the culture they brought to Crested Butte from the 1880s.”
Sherrie adds to the attributes of what makes Royalty. “It’s people who are doing things for the town, who are well-known and loved, somebody who makes us proud and represents our town, their names have come up all year long and they’re picked by the deliberating committee. We narrow it down but we never know until the moments before the crowning at the Ball.”