Man of the Cliff returns to Avon Oct. 14-15: Sign up for hammer tosses, archery, ax throwing and more | VailDaily.com

Man of the Cliff returns to Avon Oct. 14-15: Sign up for hammer tosses, archery, ax throwing and more

Katie Coakley
Special to the Weekly

It's a beautiful day at Nottingham Park in Avon. The sun is bright, people are milling around chatting and a breeze is blowing off the water. In the distance, I see an arrow loosed; a few hundred yards away, an ax glances off a stump. There's a rousing cheer and the ax-wielder shakes his head in dismay at the miss. Atop a bright yellow Weston snowcat, a guy in overalls good-naturedly heckles the competitor, the crowd and anyone else he lays sight on.

There aren't many opportunities to throw an ax or hammer in the security of a sanctioned event, but Man of the Cliff is the exception. Since 2009, men and women have been gathering together to compete in what is best described as a lumberjack competition/Highland games/strongest man in the world event.

This year, Man of the Cliff returns to Avon on Oct. 14-15 for two days of archery, chopping and weapon tossing — all to raise funds for First Descents.

Chopping for charity

Man of the Cliff has become firmly entrenched in the fabric of the community and, for a weekend in Avon, it's definitely plaid. However, amidst the hammer throws and speed chopping, the reason for the event remains clear: it's a fundraiser for First Descents, a nonprofit organization that provides life-changing outdoor adventures for young adults impacted by cancer.

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 ninth year, Man of the Cliff has grown exponentially, moving from its home in Red Cliff to new digs in Avon three years ago. It attracts participants from across the state and country, raising thousands of dollars for First Descents.

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"First Descents was born in the Vail Valley back in 2001. To have thousands of Man of the Cliff participants and spectators come out each year and support our mission means the world to us," said Ray Shedd, director of development and marketing at First Descents. "What Adam and Amanda (Williams) have created with Man of the Cliff speaks to the importance of community creation. In addition to the flannel, axes and frosty beverages, there is a whole lot of love and caring. The Vail community shows out with beards and rolled up sleeves to support young adults impacted by cancer."

To date, MOTC has raised more than $80,000 for First Descents.

For Brian Welch, who has been involved in Man of the Cliff since 2010, the fact that all of the proceeds goes to First Descents has been a big part of his involvement.

"I really enjoy the atmosphere of the event and the people," Welch said. "And, at the end of the day, it's for First Descents to raise money and awareness for young adults with cancer. That's the biggest piece of why we help and volunteer — we also like to compete."

Names in the game

If there is a first family of Man of the Cliff, then Welch and his crew are probably it. Not only do Welch and his wife compete (he took home the title in 2015), but his parents also take part, often taking prizes in the Masters division.

But you'll know them when you hear about them: Each has their own competition nickname.

One of the most memorable components of the event are the nicknames: "Peach Fuzz," "The Godfather" and "Will Bill" are just a few.

"The nicknames are an element of entertainment," said Welch, aka Peach Fuzz. "Eric Williams is a quick wit on the mic. He's going to come up with some nickname for you if he sees you doing something good or bad or silly. It can be a great nickname, or it could be one that you don't want to share too often."

Everyone who registers has the opportunity to create their own nickname, but Welch said that the monikers that are bestowed during the competition are the most fun.

Put on some plaid and get out there

Though Man of the Cliff may look intimidating to the uninitiated, the main point to remember is that it's supposed to be fun.

"Without a doubt, go for it," Welch said. "It's for all skill levels and it's just to be out there and have fun. You don't have to know the sharp end of the ax from the different ends of the hammer. Literally, you can go out there and compete."

Often, people who compete for the first time end up doing well and surprise themselves, Welch explained. Even if someone has participated for several years, there's often luck involved. Perhaps the biggest surprise is that it's not all about strength: there's finesse, too.

Though events like ax throwing may seem to take a lot of strength to make it stick, 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.

"It just takes a little bit of courage," said event co-organizer Amanda Williams. "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."

However, even if you decide not to compete, then the spectating is entertaining as well. For the best experience, make plans to attend the opening ceremonies, and then wander around the various competitions. Multiple events are occurring simultaneously, which gives more variety of action to watch and there are opportunities to try ax throwing if you want to try your hand at the sport for a small donation to First Descents.

"It's pretty infectious once you get there," Williams said. "If you plan on stopping by for 20 minutes, you might want to carve out another hour. It's two days of non-stop comedy and entertainment."

Though Man of the Cliff continues to grow each year, the core concepts remain the same. The camaraderie and competition, created to benefit a local nonprofit, continue to attract men and women of all ages and backgrounds for some good old, lumberjack-inspired fun.

"The money goes to a great cause and you get to enjoy a great event and funny commentating and cold beer," Welch said. "It's not a bad deal."

If You Go …

What: Man of the Cliff, a fundraiser for First Descents that incorporates events like ax throw, keg toss, spear throw, archery, caber toss, hammer throw, speed chop, cross-cut saw and tug of war.

Where: Nottingham Park, Avon.

When: Saturday-Sunday, Oct. 14-15.

Cost: $85 for pre-registration; $100 for day-of registration. Registration includes two days of competition and a 2017 Man of the Cliff shirt. Register online; registration will close as the event fills up. Spectator entry is a suggested $5 donation for First Descents.

More information: Visit http://www.manofthecliff.com.

Man of the Cliff events:

Ax throw

Keg toss

Spear throw

Caber toss

Hammer toss

Archery

Speed chop

Tug of war

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