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Frisco Town Council debates future of Colorado BBQ Challenge

Event slated to return in 2022, likely with a modified format

Flames flare from a grill June 15, 2019, during the 26th annual Colorado BBQ Challenge on Main Street in Frisco. Officials are planning for the event to return in 2022, but the format may change.
Hugh Carey/Summit Daily New archive

An annual Frisco tradition may come back differently in 2022. The Colorado BBQ Challenge, a Kansas City BBQ Society sanctioned competition founded 28 years ago and usually held over Father’s Day weekend, hasn’t occurred for the past two summers due to the coronavirus pandemic. Now, the Frisco Town Council is figuring out how exactly to have it return post-pandemic.

In May, the town of Frisco began conducting a survey for feedback on the event that is Colorado’s longest-running barbecue competition with live music, pig races, a 6K and more. The results of the survey were revealed during a Town Council work session Tuesday, Sept. 28.

There were 1,793 survey responses, which town spokesperson Vanessa Agee said was an unusually high amount compared to other surveys. The feedback, while mixed, indicated that the community is open to some change and evolution for the event.



According to the results, business owners were most likely to report that the BBQ Challenge had a positive impact on business; however, business owners on Main Street gave slightly more negative responses.

“We did the promenade; we shut Main Street down for the businesses,” council member Andy Held said. “We focused on the businesses, and businesses were able to thrive. … All of these outside vendors coming in and raking it in and leaving town does nothing for us.”



Overall, 40% of respondents are full-time Frisco residents, with 70% owning businesses and 35% not. Only 5% of all respondents live out of state. Among those business owners, 56% said they are on Main Street, while 33% reported that they work from home.

About 64% of business owners said they would like to see the event remain in Frisco, with 9% unsure. Nearly one-quarter said they do not want the event to remain in town. Meanwhile, 87% of respondents who do not own businesses in Frisco would prefer to see it stay.

Similarly, 73% of full-time Frisco residents and 82% of Summit County residents want it to remain in Frisco.

Most of council agreed that they want to keep the event, but the size, scope and format was up for debate. With net expenses possibly ranging from $100,000 to $200,000, one tactic discussed was simply slashing the figures and working from there. The net expense in 2019 was $107,984, which included a $73,805 donation to nonprofits that also provided event services.

“I think bring it back to a kind of backyard barbecue on Main Street instead of a barbecue for all of the Front Range on our Main Street kind of a approach,” Mayor Hunter Mortensen said. “… The more we can make it a community-focused event than an outsider event, the better, in my opinion.”

Other suggestions included removing supplemental aspects that rated low in the survey, such as kids’ activities like pig races and bounce houses. Held brought up that the event could possibly be moved to an area that doesn’t have to shut down Main Street, such as Copper Mountain Resort. He also suggested the Frisco Adventure Park or the Frisco Bay Marina as other options.

“This place should not be known as the barbecue capital of the United States,” Held said. “We should be known as the place to train your cross-country skiers in order to go to the Olympics.”

Though council member Dan Fallon said he doesn’t believe it’s possible to dial down the event, he said the BBQ Challenge is a misallocation of resources.

“We haven’t had this for two years, and I didn’t miss it,” Fallon said. “We were just fine.”

Mortensen countered that even if the BBQ Challenge doesn’t remain the marquee summer weekend for the town, events like it or the Concerts in the Park are important to build culture, community and character.

Also touched on was how the meat motif doesn’t mesh with Frisco’s sustainability and outdoors image, and council member Andrew Aerenson read survey comments boasting about the party-like atmosphere that don’t align with council priorities. It was also mentioned that some of the carnival-type foods, like funnel cakes, could be eliminated in favor of higher-quality options.

Aerenson said he loves the event but thinks it could be done better.

“I really love the potential of expanding the concept of the event while reducing the magnitude of the event,” Aerenson said.

At the end of the discussion, town Events Manager Nora Gilbertson pointed out that events don’t have to stay static. Her example was how BeetleFest started in 2008 with an educational and environmental theme before morphing into the restaurant-focused Fall Fest. That, too, has changed from multiple restaurants serving unique dishes in 2019 to more of an Oktoberfest theme in 2021.


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