Fasnacht Helvetia WV

Fasnacht Helvetia WV

Fasnacht? Never heard of it? That’s alright, hardly anyone has nor can most pronounce it.

Nestled in the rugged landscape of remote Randolph County, the village of Helvetia continues their Swiss pre-Lenten tradition of Fasnacht. This roughly translates to “Night of the Fast” from what I was told.

You likely haven’t heard of Helvetia either unless you are from the region. I recall the first time I saw a sign for the intriguing town.

It was either 2002 or 2003, and we were taking another trip down US- 219 on our way to make camp at Tea Creek Campground along the Williams River. Here you will find West Virginia’s, and possibly the nation’s, best trout fishing.

Helvetia West Virginia

I have always been interested in remote parts of West Virginia. The stories of their names and how they got them are important to me. I knew I would eventually make it to Helvetia, which I butchered when attempting to pronounce it, but I never thought it would take me about 20 years. Wow, am I glad I made it, and a bit upset with myself that I made excuses for so long.

Where is Helvetia, WV

Helvetia, West Virginia is a small village settled in 1869 by Swiss and German immigrants. The 2020 census lists Helvetia as having a population as 38. This might explain you haven’t heard of it before now.

It is located in Randolph County WV approximately 30 miles south of Buckhannon. Because of the terrain, it will take you nearly an hour to cover those 30 miles.

Helvetia West Virginia

We were traveling to Helvetia from the west and made a few notes about our road directions. I am well aware that GPS is quite intimidated by the mountain mama’s road network.

Additionally, the event organizers have warned that GPS routing could very likely try to get you to drive through a river.

This is very real. I came across a stranded motorist that drove their rental Camry down a dirtbike trail attempting to get to Prabhupada’s Palace of Gold in Marshall County. But that’s a story for another time…

Along our journey I was surprised to see elk on the property of the West Virginia State Wildlife Center.

I have been aware of the reintroduction of elk into the Tomblin WMA near Logan WV, but I was pleasantly surprised to come around the corner to see a bull elk proudly displaying his massive antlers. So awesome.

Now, if you aren’t familiar with WV backroads, the county backroads, this is where you need to use caution. Roads into Helvetia are not marked with signs warning of turns and there are no guardrails.

I don’t want to scare you away, that’s a job for the masks at Fasnacht, but drive with caution. Plan ahead and take Dramamine if you are prone to motion sickness.

For your reassurance, I was completely fine in a Ram 3500. My Subaru had some mechanical problems so I reluctantly left it behind that day.

While on the topic of getting there, this event is always just prior to Lent, usually in February, so winter weather is always a possibility.

Cell phone service is non-existent the closer you get to Helvetia. In an age of constant connection, for me this is an added bonus to the event.

Arriving At Fasnacht in Helvetia, WV

The Fasnacht Festival is held on the last Saturday before Lent. This year, the event took place on February 10, 2024.

We arrived around 11:45am to be sure to get a decent parking spot, wander the town before the masses arrived, and have the sampler plate from The Hütte Restaurant without waiting for too long.

At 11:46am I was immediately satisfied with my decision to make the trek to this WV gem.

The traditional WV homes, the in-tact tin roofs, the timber-frame buildings, General Store/Post Office, and the welcoming community to boot.

The Hutte Helvetia WV

We bounced around the small town for an hour or so before grabbing our sampler plate at The Hütte.

We spoke with some of the vendors that were also enjoying the traditional samplings prior to setting up their wares in the Helvetia Community Center.

I have been to Switzerland, and Germany for that matter, and this village has the best sauerkraut there is. Bold claim? I guess you’ll just have to go find out for yourself!

Included in the food was a house made sausage and cheese made in Helvetia. Both were delicious. After finishing our lunch, we made our way over to the “Cheese Haus.” It was set up with some antiques for sale along with books that were available to you by donation.

Cheese Haus Helvetia WV

These books were very interesting, with most of them being from the early 1900s. I don’t recall seeing a single book published after 1950.

Along the community property are a few other traditional Appalachian structures comprised of hand-hewn timbers and mortar.

Each contain tools, artifacts, and photos of the town’s founders housed within. The community church sits slightly elevated on a hill and sounds its bell quite often. You really start to think you are in a make-believe place.

Helvetia West Virginia

We bought our Fasnacht wristbands in advance. If you do the same, they can be picked up at the will call tent near the Star Band Hall. Advance purchase wristbands sold out about two weeks prior to the event, so plan accordingly.

Even without a wristband, you can still enjoy Fasnacht events such as the parade, masquerade, burning of Old Man Winter, as well as the excellent social atmosphere.

Fasnacht West Virginia

The Hütte Restaurant, general store, food trailer, and Cayse’s Kitchen were accessible without the wristband. I foresee this event becoming bigger year after year.

This year, the town’s intersection had cars parked about a mile in any direction. I highly recommend pre-purchasing and I encourage supporting communities like this any way I can.

Fasnacht Helvetia WV
WV Artist Jamie Lester created these Old Man Winter steins for Fasnacht.

The Helvetia Community Hall hosted vendors from the state offering their handcrafted goods and works of art.

These Old Man Winter ceramic mug/steins for sale in advance and first come first serve. Each of them handmade and unique. Quite a work of art indeed and a labor of love.

The Helvetia Community Hall hosted vendors from the state offering their handcrafted goods and works of art.

Items among the vendors included a table with some folks that were creating excellent face paintings, ceramics, honey from different regions of the state, Mead (delicious honey-infused ancient wine that predates written language), quilts, crocheted items, stickers, artisan glass, freeze-dried foods, paintings, photographs, and handcrafted espresso coffees for that afternoon kick to keep you going into the best parts of the festival that lie ahead.

Helvetia WV

My coffee included pure maple syrup harvested from West Virginia trees and combined expertly from the fine people of Rangefinder Coffee of Fayetteville WV.

Speaking of the festival, you know, the whole reason you decided to venture an hour from anywhere,
where are the masks? Oh, they are everywhere. All the time. They’ve been here since you pulled into
town.

Fasnacht Helvetia WV

They are in the General Store (but not for sale), they are on the attendees, and they are IMPRESSIVE. You brought your own mask that you spent hours making after you watched all those YouTube videos about paper mâché, right?

You’ll find yourself quite the expert, having light-hearted debates on whether you started with a balloon, chicken wire, foam mask, and if it’s better to use flour or glue on your newspaper.

Fasnacht Masks

Maybe you are a mask elitist and used plaster while you look down on the newspaper peasants. It doesn’t matter, make one, be creative, people are going to love it.

At times you just have a laugh and smile to yourself saying “Where on Earth am I!?” Helvetia WV, of course. Wild and Wonderful? Weird and Wonderful? Yes, both.

Mask creations ranged from animal renditions, to versions of WV’s favorite cryptids such as The Mothman and The Flatwoods Monster, to random creations of the imagination.

West Virginia Mothman

Another contributing factor to the growth of Helvetia’s Fasnacht is the popular post-apocalyptic video game Fallout 76, created by game developer Bethesda Game Studios.

I have spent some time playing this game, and I must say I am particularly impressed with the portrayal of the town within the gameplay.

Fallout 76 Helvetia WV

There were folks dressed as characters from the video game sporting their hand-made homages toward masks and outfits that are found in the game. Some even made semi-functional Pip-Boys. This is a portable multi-function computer worn on your character in the game. Very cool.

Is there a highlight of the night? What’s the deal with the masks anyway? Part of this tradition with Swiss and German roots is to scare Old Man Winter away. This 14th century tradition is accomplished by burning a hand-made rendition of him in a fire.

Fasnacht Helvetia WV
Old Man Winter at Fasnacht 2024 in Helvetia, WV

Helvetia’s 2024 version of Old Man Winter must have taken a wrong turn on his way to the region’s ski resorts. He was still wearing his skis and holding his ski poles as he led the parade of mask-wearing festival goers from the gazebo over to the community center.

From there he was tossed onto a large bonfire. This incited cheers and laughter of a crowd of hundreds of people as embers rose skyward.

Fasnacht Helvetia WV

After the crowd ensured that winter got the message, those with wristbands that wished to join the Alpine-Appalachian square dance and learn “The Helvetia Polka” could head inside the Community Hall and learn the ropes from seasoned local square dancers before trying their hand at dancing with their partner, or their corner, to some good old-fashioned traditional WV music, which was brought to us by Tessa McCoy and The State Birds.

Couldn’t secure a wristband but still want to dance? Entry was $10 at the door as space permitted. Worried about not knowing how to square dance? Don’t worry, you aren’t competing on Dancing With The Stars. Nearly 80% of people there square dancing for their first time, it was a great time!

If you still are not interested in the dance, there are plenty of people just outside having the most perfect ending to an evening that any Mountaineer would be proud of… a beverage or two around the bonfire conversing with people from all walks of life and from all over the country.

Fasnacht Festival Helvetia WV

I spotted license plates from 14 different states in town. I even spoke with a guy that caught a flight from Salt Lake City specifically to attend Fasnacht in Helvetia!

Planning your Trip To Fasnacht in Helvetia

Well, now that you are exhausted from reading this, I mean, exhausted from having a blast at the event, where do you sleep? Lodging in Helvetia is very limited, and planning in advance is key.

The links at the end of this article contains resources on lodging options. Give the friendly people in Helvetia a call, and give yourself the opportunity for nostalgia about the old way of trip planning. Or embrace a new approach if you are used to the dot-com’s of booking lodging and using apps for navigation.

Fasnacht Festival 2025

Many AirBnBs and other options are available in “nearby” areas. But, be warned. These roads are not for the faint of heart, especially after dark.

Due to the nature of my work, we had to book only a couple weeks in advance at a hotel in Elkins which is an hour drive in good weather. Even then, depending on ski conditions, these hotels and rooms along US-219 and US-33 can book up fast.

Final Thoughts

It may have taken me twenty years to get to Helvetia but the Fasnacht Festival was worth the wait. It was good enough for a return trip, and I encourage you to visit this unique festival in West Virginia.

Please be patient with all aspects surrounding this event, the town, and the wonderful people of Helvetia.

Fasnacht is an all-volunteer workforce who apply the proceeds to the betterment of their community. Cash is king, and well, your only option in my opinion. The General Store is able to process credit cards, but it would be best not to bet on its operation.

Helvetia WV

Plan your visit to Helvetia West Virginia for an authentic meal at The Hütte (closed from around Thanksgiving until spring), a tour of the town, check their page for their next event, or plan for your next Fasnacht celebration at www.HelvetiaWV.com or find them on Facebook at Helvetia Restoration and Development Organization for the most up to date information!

Always check ahead before making the trip out to Helvetia, WV and be sure to bring some quarters so you can call someone from the working pay phone next to the Star Band Hall.

About The Author

Randy Gaus West Virginia Outsider

Randy Gaus

Born and raised in Wheeling, WV, Randy’s parents often took trips near and far within West Virginia that had a lasting impact on his love for the outdoors and for the state.

Randy has backpacked and hiked throughout North America, traveled to 48 US states and 19 countries, yet chooses to “make camp” in West Virginia where he loves the outdoors, the people, and the culture of Appalachia.

Randy is an honorably discharged United States Air Force veteran with service in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

5 thoughts on “Fasnacht Helvetia WV”

  1. Randy is my son. What an awesome job he did on this article. He called me when he got back home to tell me all about this and what an awesome time he and Mallory had. Looks like I may be looking into this for next year.

  2. Great article Randy. Thanks for sharing your experience with our little hamlet. We were Blessed with agreeable weather this year. Y’all come back during our quiet times, too. We’re not going anywhere….all 38 of us! Hahaha
    Peace.

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