This weekend, Martin City will awake from its winter slumber for a raucous weekend of racing, socializing and perhaps, more than a little imbibing. The 40th annual Cabin Fever Days includes events like the mountain man competition, arm wrestling tournament, snowshoe softball and even a kids pool tournament. But an account of the three-day mountain festival would be incomplete without mention of the barstool ski races, where contestants fly down a groomed hill on home-engineered contraptions affixed to a pair of skis.
The origin of the barstool races is somewhat muddled. Ben Shafer with the Trapline Association, the nonprofit organization which runs the event, said the most widely recounted version attributes the start of the races to a verbal challenge and a man by the name of Jerry Downing.
“The original barstool races were held at the Belton Chalet near West Glacier,” Shafer wrote. “A couple of skiers came in and tried to talk these old-timers into going out skiing. They said, ‘The day you put skis on this barstool is the day I’ll go skiing with you.’”
Today, the barstool races are divvied up into four classes: non-steerable, steerable, open and a show class, which isn’t timed, but rather decided by ballots cast by the racers. Qualifying runs begin at 1 p.m. both days, with race finals at 3 p.m. Sunday. Last year’s contest drew 20 entries, down for their usual average, Shafer said.
Prospective racers pay a $20 entry fee per class and can win $100 cash prize if they take the top spot in their respective divisions. Barstool racers must be at least 16 years old and helmets are strongly recommended, according to race regulations. Shafer also added that contestants over 21 tend to have the most success if they save the lion’s share of their “celebrating” until after the races have concluded. But the barstool races wouldn’t be the legend they are without a dash of debauchery. The event is consistently a hit for the spectating crowd, in part for the costumed competition, but also for the crashes.
To attend the races or any of the Cabin Fever Days’ other events, visitors must purchase a $3 button, which can be procured at the registration table in Martin City or at any of the Canyon bars. Another $5 will get you a “get out of jail” button, which will grant the wearer freedom from the jail trailer.
“For a few dollars, you can have someone thrown into the jail,” Shafer said. “To get out, they’ll have to deal with Sheriff Chad and buy a button. We also offer a memorial button most years to honor those in our community who have had a big impact but who are no longer with us. This year we will be honoring Laura Djonne (Green).”
Proceeds from button sales help fund community organizations — last year, Cabin Fever Days brought in $8,500 for the Martin City Fire Department, the Canyon QRU, the Canyon Kids Christmas, Flathead Sheriff’s Posse, Canyon Cleanup, and the Canyon Sign Fund.
The general buttons also grant attendees access to the parking shuttle which transports visitors from designated parking areas to the barstool ski races and other event locations. The shuttle runs from noon to 2 a.m. Saturday and noon to 8 p.m. Sunday. Parking areas include the Dam Town Tavern or Zip Trip in Hungry Horse; and the Parker’s Roost, Glacier Center Cenex or Dew Drop Inn in Coram. Glacier Country Transportation is also providing a sober chauffeur service this year courtesy of Xanterra, which will offer free rides home Saturday only from 5 p.m. to midnight. Pickup is in downtown Martin City or can be arranged by calling 261-0808. For a full schedule of events, visit www.cabinfeverdays.com.
Visitors can catch more than a dozen live musical acts throughout the Fever Days weekend, beginning Friday night at 8:30 p.m. with Marshall Catch at the Packer’s Roost. Saturday’s lineup will include local groups such as the Flathead V8s, Pedactor Project and Dirty Old Men, among others.
Apart from the ski races, Cabin Fever Days has a number of unique amusements to keep visitors entertained throughout the daytime hours, like the Ro-sham-bo tournament — better known as rock, paper, scissors — and the wildly entertaining mountain man competition. In the race to be crowned Mountain Man Champion, contestants must win at least two of the five categories which include hatchet throwing, knife throwing, BB gun marksmanship, a keg toss and beer guzzling.
Over at the Stonefly Lounge, both men and women who want to test their strength can pony up to the arm wrestling tournament, which also features a teen bout, new to this year.
“It is a great spectator sport and the action is shown on all screens in the lounge. No bad seat in the house,” Shafer said. “Fun fact — the actual table used was featured in ‘Over the Top’ with Sylvester Stallone.”
In the event’s 40-year lifespan, Cabin Fever Days has grown and progressed — incorporating new technology such as online race results, an improved sound setup and a groomed barstool ski track — but has never lost its quirky spirit.
“Being a community comprised of several unincorporated townships, this event really brings the Canyon together,” Shafer said. “By February, many of us have spent too much time inside and not enough in the sun. People come out for the weekend and get to let their hair down. For many, it’s a social event. We see old friends we may not run into often enough.”
Reporter Mackenzie Reiss may be reached at 758-4433 or firstname.lastname@example.org.