Man of the Cliff welcomes new masters’ age division to level the playing field | VailDaily.com

Man of the Cliff welcomes new masters’ age division to level the playing field

Katie Coakley
Special to the Daily

Bill and Connie Welch, pictured here with their son Brian Welch, are proof that you’re never too old to throw an axe.

AVON — Man of the Cliff, an annual event that premiered in Red Cliff and now takes place in Avon, attracts all sorts. Men and women, mothers and sons, those who are just barely shaving and those who are enjoying their seventh decade of life … you'll see them all at Man of the Cliff. However, if you think this urban lumberjack competition is all about the strongest or fastest, think again — the fiercest competitors might surprise you.

Now in its eighth year, Man of the Cliff is, first and foremost, a fundraiser for First Descents, a Colorado-based charity that provides outdoor adventures for 19- to 38-year-olds with, or recovering from, cancer. Man of the Cliff participants, many of whom choose to don flannel and sport a burly beard, try their hands at a variety of activities including tossing a keg, throwing spears and hammers, speed chopping and archery.

In its inception, there was one group for participants. A women's category was soon added, and this year, founders and organizers Adam and Amanda Williams decided to add a masters' category for entrants 50 and older.

"We have a number of competitors that have the advantage of a few years of age over the others and wanted to give them the opportunity for the recognition they deserve" Amanda Williams said. "Some of the guys out there can be pretty intimidating, and we want to further level the playing field and hopefully encourage some additional folks to get involved."

Fighting For it

The addition of a masters' category is an opportunity for an underrepresented demographic to take their place on the winners' platform. They'll have to fight for it, though.

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Bill "Wild Bill" and Connie "Mountain Mama" Welch, who split their time between Edwards and Denver, have been participating in Man of the Cliff since 2011. Their son, Brian "Peach Fuzz" Welch, started competing in 2010 and is the reigning Man of the Cliff.

"We went to watch because he'd been in it and we thought, 'what is this event in Red Cliff?'" Connie said. "We found out about the cause and I thought, well, I'll just donate some money and I was standing there at the registration table and his friends said, why don't you just participate?"

Connie registered and has been a regular at Man of the Cliff ever since. Bill got in on the fun the next year.

Focus on the Fun

Competitors must be at least 19 to compete; at 66 and 73 years old, respectively, Connie and Bill are on the upper end of the age spectrum. But that doesn't seem to matter. Connie missed first place in archery last year by one shot — her son, Brian, took first. Bill has made it to the semifinals in wood chopping, competing with men decades younger than him.

"It will be interesting, I think, when they see a masters' category," Bill said. "It will be more encouraging for older people. At 73, you can't compete against the young guys (in some events)."

While most of the events require skill and finesse, some of the categories, such as the hammer throw and keg toss, are more about strength. Amanda Williams said they're taking that into consideration with the masters' category.

"With the regular competition, we drop each contestant's lowest score so that if they don't want to do the keg toss, they can opt out of that and not negatively impact themselves," Amanda Williams said. "With the masters' division, in an effort to further level the playing field, we'll allow them to drop two scores so they won't have to throw a keg or a caber. If they do, it could help their chances at winning, but if they choose not to, it won't hurt their score."

Williams said hopefully, with the new category and the ability to drop two events, more people older than 50 would choose to compete.

Regardless of how many people are in the new category, Bill and Connie are ready to represent. Connie said she's looking forward to the archery event and hatchet (axe) throwing; Bill agreed.

In the end, though, the point of the weekend is about having fun.

"I feel that at any stage of life, it's important to try something new and different," Connie said. "You can enter and not do every event … just jump in and try it. No one's judging anyone. … Get in and give it your best shot and just give it a try."

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 manofthecliff.com.