Man of the Cliff returns to Avon on Saturday, Oct. 15, and Sunday, Oct. 16 | VailDaily.com

Man of the Cliff returns to Avon on Saturday, Oct. 15, and Sunday, Oct. 16

Katie Coakley
Special to the Daily

Freshen up that flannel and brush out your beards: Today and Sunday, Man of the Cliff returns to Harry A. Nottingham Park in Avon. The competition, now in its eighth year, is composed of throwing cabers, kegs and hammers — plus all sorts of other events that would most likely get you kicked out of your apartment complex.

Lauded as an amateur lumberjack competition that appeals to the weekend lumberjack, Man of the Cliff incorporates events that most people have seen but never attempted. From ax throwing to archery, speed chopping to spear throwing and several other events in between, the weekend is full of frontier-style fun for a good cause: All of the proceeds go to First Descents, the Colorado-based charity that provides outdoor adventures for 19- to 38-year-olds with or recovering from cancer.

Competitors come from around the valley, the state and beyond, donning nicknames and pitting themselves against friends and neighbors. However, for those who think it's all beards and brawn, perhaps it's time to think again.

Run the world (girls)

While the name Man of the Cliff certainly conjures up images of the Brawny Man or Paul Bunyan, perhaps Rosie the Riveter should be included in this projected pantheon: Approximately 30 percent of competitors are women. The percentage has been holding steady for the past few years, said Adam Williams, who created and organizes the event with his wife, Amanda. Even as the number of overall participants grows, a third are women.

"We were surprised, early on," Adam Williams said. "We were expecting more guys and less women, but even during the first year, there was a surprising number of females who decided to compete."

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Amanda Williams said that she often has to talk women into it, but once they try it, they're hooked.

"I'm usually talking to people when they're coming in and I'm like, 'you have to do it, you just have to try,' then they finally agree and they love it," she said. "It's modified for everyone to be able to do it."

Jaclyn Randall, a former Vail resident, has competed in Man of the Cliff for the past four years. She said that she doesn't think about being a woman in the competition.

"Male or female, who wouldn't want to throw axes and kegs around with their friends while throwing back a few local beers?" Randall said. "Everyone is so supportive and encouraging. I think we all get a little competitive, but at the end of the day, we remember why we are there, and that gives the event such a positive vibe."

Participants come from a variety of locations and backgrounds, shedding the day-to-day to pick up a hatchet or hammer for the weekend. Kelly Hanagan, who is the reigning Woman of the Cliff, works for a corporate investment firm during the week.

"I live a much different lifestyle than people think I do," Hanagan said. "I work in a corporate world where I deal with a billion clients, but I live a kind of life where we throw axes and shoot arrows and that kind of stuff."

Hanagan started competing in Man of the Cliff three years ago. Her husband, Sean, was a competitor, and as he was practicing, she said that she would pick up the bow or throw a hatchet.

"I just gave it a whirl and it was super fun to be in it," Hanagan said. "Because as women, we don't get opportunities to speed chop wood, throw hatchets or a caber. It was really neat as a woman to try it. It's not as hard as you think, and it's empowering."

The Hanagans have become the couple to beat in the competition (both Sean and Kelly have several titles under their belts), but Kelly said she wants even more women to sign up and compete.

"Win or lose, I don't care — I do it for fun and I love it, and I want other women to feel empowered," Hanagan said.

A family affair

Perhaps what is most surprising for a newcomer to Man of the Cliff is the family aspect. There are families that participate, such as Peach Fuzz and his mom (not his real name — all competitors register with a nickname and can also be assigned one by the commentators). Married couples are common, such as Sean and Kelly Hanagan. There have also been couples that have met at the competition or have gotten engaged at Man of the Cliff; one couple even scheduled their honeymoon around the event so they could compete.

"It does spark some romance," Adam Williams said.

"It's the best man-watching in the valley," Amanda Williams added.

But more than the families that participate, there's a feeling of family that permeates the event. Competitors come from near and far: Some lived in the valley in the past and return specifically for the event; some journey from other parts of the state.

Randall now lives in South Lake Tahoe, California, but feels compelled to return for the event.

"The bulk of the competitors in the event have been attending it annually, and it almost feels like a family reunion these days," Randall said. "And the fact that all of the proceeds go to such a great organization, First Descents, is the icing on the cake."

The Williamses agreed.

"It's always like a family getting back together. … It's a fun way to reconnect," Amanda Williams said.

"It's like summer camp," Adam Williams added. "We're setting up on Friday afternoon and you see people roll in and you haven't seen them since last October. It's pretty awesome."

Masters of the Cliff

New for this year is a masters category for competitors. While participants have to be at least 19 to compete, there is no upper age limit. The Willliamses have seen a growing number of older competitors and decided to add a new category to the existing men and women's categories.

"We have had an older contingency," Adam Williams said. "Not massive amounts, but it's good to have that group out there. It'll be nice to tap into that other playing field."

The masters division will be available for anyone 50 or older.

Man of the Cliff continues to grow each year, but 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. Whether you're a seasoned veteran or first-time spectator, it's time to channel your inner woodsman and make your way to Avon for Man of the Cliff.

If you go …

What: Eighth annual Man of the Cliff.

When: Saturday, Oct. 15, and Sunday, Oct. 16.

Where: Harry A. Nottingham Park, Avon.

Cost: $80 for preregistered competitors or $100 for day-of registration; suggested $5 donation for spectators.

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