Man — and woman — up for annual Man of the Cliff competition
Special to the Free Press
IF YOU GO ...
What: Man of the Cliff, a fundraiser for First Descents that incorporates events such as ax throw, keg toss, spear throw, archery, caber toss, hammer throw, speed chop, cross-cut saw and tug of war.
Where: Nottingham Park, 1 Lake Street, Avon.
When: Saturday and Sunday.
Cost: $80 for preregistration; $100 for day-of registration. Registration includes two days of competition and a Man of the Cliff T-shirt.
More information: Visit www.manofthecliff.com.
Ladies, grab your flannel. Gentlemen, groom that facial hair. It’s time, once again, to crown the Man of the Cliff.
This event, which is best described as a lumberjack competition with elements of World’s Strongest Man and the Highland Games thrown into it, is about more than burly men throwing large objects. Yes, there is heckling and posturing (mostly from the announcers), but it’s mainly about camaraderie and competition for a very good cause.
The best part? No beards are required.
New digs, new future, same soul
As with all great ideas, the impetus for Man of the Cliff started with a few friends hanging out, drinking a few beers and discussing the merits of ax throwing and archery for charity. Now, in its seventh year, Man of the Cliff has grown exponentially, attracting participants from across the state and raising thousands of dollars for First Descents, which provides outdoor adventures to young adults battling cancer.
This expansion necessitated a move last year from the event’s original home in Red Cliff to its new home in Avon. Adam Williams, who organizes the event with his wife, Amanda, said that they didn’t know how the move would be received last year. However, even with adverse weather conditions on the second day of the competition, the overall reaction was positive.
“We were thrilled with how it went last year,” said Adam Williams, who is also known as the Godfather for the weekend. “The new location made it so accessible to people. Having this much space and having four activities going on at one time — it’s been great.”
Justin Conrad, a firefighter for the U.S. Forest Service who lives in Eagle and has competed five out of the past six years, agreed.
“After Man of the Cliff last year, I wrote Amanda (Williams) and said, ‘This was way better than I thought it was going to be,’” Conrad said. “Red Cliff is a magical place to spend a weekend, but they were able to spread out more and get different competitions going at the same time. It’s something that will continue to grow, hopefully, and you need space to do it. Nottingham Park is a good place for it.”
The event has shifted to a few weeks later this year, a move that not only eliminates conflict with other major events that draw a similar clientele, such as the Great American Beer Festival in Denver, but also extends the events season for the town of Avon, said Danita Dempsey, director of festivals and special events for Avon.
Additionally, the later date will most likely bring cooler weather — all the better for flannel wearing and beard growing.
“We’ve already done our due diligence and put a request in to the weather gods to have beautiful weather for Saturday and Sunday,” Dempsey said with a laugh.
There’s a technique to it
If you were imagining that this competition is all about brawn, then you’d be mistaken. Yes, some of the competitors seem like Paul Bunyan made flesh (sadly, without Babe), but many of the participants who place well at the end are not big guys — or guys at all.
“We’ve seen an increase in women competing,” Andy Williams said. “About 30 percent of competitors are women, and we have women that score in the top 10 and 20 each year.”
Andy Williams said that most of the events are finesse-oriented. Though events such as ax throwing may seem to take a lot of strength to get the ax to stick in the target, the competitors who have a light touch seem to be more successful. In the speed chop, the smaller and quicker participants tend to come out on top.
However, there are still events that can benefit from a bit of training. Conrad, who admits that he only trained one year for the competition, suggested strengthening your back for the keg toss with some straight-leg dead lifts. Working out your back and legs also helps for the caber toss, an event where competitors throw an almost 20-foot tree for distance.
For Conrad, though, it’s not about winning.
“I’m not going to win, I’m never going to win, but it (the money) goes to a good cause and my friends and I have fun,” he said.
Sean Hanagan, a land-use planner for Eagle County and reigning Man of the Cliff, said that it’s all about consistency.
“The truth is, for me, being consistent across the board has been beneficial,” Hanagan said. “I’m not the biggest; I’m not the strongest. Being consistent has gotten me my wins. Each year, I’ve won an event outright, but finishing high in all the events is crucial to being in the top five, then the win.”
Despite a video floating around of a secret training ground, Hanagan said that he’s just well-rounded and generally fit: strong enough to lift heavy things with enough fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination.
“I’m an 8-to-5 desk job guy,” Hanagan said. “That’s the other misconception, that you have to be (a big, burly outdoorsy guy) to go out and do it. You can learn these skills — you may have them already.”
In the end, the biggest challenge for competing in Man of the Cliff is taking the plunge and signing up.
“It just takes a little bit of courage,” Andy Williams said. “When you see it on the website, it sounds daunting. Throwing trees and kegs, archery — most of this stuff you haven’t done since camp in grade school. But it sounds way tougher than it actually is. Just come and watch — it isn’t that tough.”
“Don’t think about it, just do it,” he said. “I just did it, and I had as much fun getting 31st as I had wining. Just being part of the event is really fun. I wouldn’t say come watch and do it next year — do it this year. If you have an inclination that it’ll be fun, it’ll be fun.”
Watch and learn
Man of the Cliff is not just about the competitors; it’s an entertaining event for spectators, too.
Conrad suggested that if you want to watch the action, make plans to attend the opening ceremonies and then wander around the various competitions. One of the benefits of the larger venue is the fact that multiple events are occurring simultaneously, which gives more variety for spectators, as well as keeping the competition moving.
There are also opportunities for the general public to get involved: There will be an archery area and ax-throw area where you can try your hand at these events for a small donation, which goes to First Descents. Food and beverage tents and other vendors are on hand with sustenance; all proceeds from Bonfire Brewing beer sales also go to First Descents.
From the good-natured ribbing and comedy that flows from the announcer’s booth to the awe-inspiring nature of events such as the caber toss, it’s almost as much fun to watch as it is to compete — almost.
“It’s pretty infectious once you get there,” Andy Williams said. “If you plan on stopping by for 20 minutes, you might want to carve out another hour. It’s two days of nonstop comedy and entertainment.”
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