ELLICOTTVILLE, N.Y. (WIVB) — One of the biggest celebrations of the ski season kicked off Saturday in in Cattaraugus County. Mardi Gras in Ellicottville marks the bittersweet end to the winter for many, but after a fresh layer of powder, locals and tourists alike were ready to hit the slopes.

The weather was chilly, windy and a bit snowy, but that’s just how they like it. Skiers and snowboarders sported their best costumes and even Mardi Gras beads and hats to mark the occasion.

“[It was] Much busier this year. It was slow in December with the weather and we didn’t get many Canadians coming down because of the COVID testing,” Mike McKernan of West Seneca said. “Through February, it has been really busy. Mother Nature has been cooperating with all of the snow.”

McKernan serves on the ski patrol at Holiday Valley and he said the event was a welcomed return to normalcy. In 2021, the festival was canceled due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, but 2022 brought smiling faces back to the region.

“Honest, the weather out here has just been gorgeous lately,” Ryan Monat of Gowanda added. “It’s the first time the weather has been incredible.”

The Mardi Gras festival not only features the hills, but also the town, which was hit hard by the slower tourism season over the past two years. As restrictions lifted, residents said more tourists from across the United States and Canada returned to the winter destination.

“It marks the end of the ski season, so it is kind of bittersweet, but it is a great festival,” Jack Atkinson of Ellicottville continued. “The parade is awesome. Everybody lines the streets.”

Atkinson has lived in Ellicottville for 25 years and he looks forward to festivals like this all year long. He says events like this bring even more people to the town and the winter-wonderland weather made it even more exciting.

“A lot of small businesses down here struggled through the pandemic. It’s really just great to have people back in the restaurants and enjoying themselves.”

To cap off the night, a parade marched down the Main St. featuring local emergency crews, ski patrol and organizations raising funds for area non-profits. The floats were decorated in true-Mardi Gras fashion with lights, masks and the traditional purple, green and gold.

“Holiday Valley always has a parade here not only in town on Saturday night, but they also having a skiing parade,” McKernan said. “All kinds of people come out with costumes. It is so much fun.”

The winter season is a primary revenue generator for the entire community, according to Atkinson. While this weekend is a poignant end to a favorite time of year for many in Ellicottville, it was encouraging to see so many familiar faces enjoying what the community has to offer.

“We try to be a four season community, but everyone knows winter is the bread and butter,” Atkinson added. “It’s great to have everybody back in town.”

The weekend concludes Sunday, March 13, but there are plenty of events to look forward to. The costume parade will feature participants of all ages in Mardi Gras garb. The Snowbar will be open to visitors 21 and older from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Finally, the Tui Osborne Band will close out the festivities with a concert at the Yodeler Lodge. For a full list of events, visit the Ellicottville Chamber of Commerce website.

Tara Lynch is a Buffalo native who joined the News 4 team as a reporter in 2022. She previously worked at WETM in Elmira, N.Y., a sister station of News 4. You can follow Tara on Facebook and Twitter and find more of her work here.