Arts & Entertainment

The Champions of Oktoberfest Return

As the culture around the Whitefish event grows, so does the talent in the participants playing the games

Twelve minutes doesn’t seem long in the grand scheme of things.

A very fast human could run three miles in that time, or it could be half of a comedy episode on Netflix. But when you’re holding a traditional stein full of beer, with your arm extended straight out from your body, 12 minutes can seem like a lifetime.

Kevin Collom knows. He just did it onstage in front of thousands of people in New York, where he competed in the nationals for stein-holding. This was Collom’s second trip to nationals, which requires a significant amount of winning before it’s even a possibility.

First, Collom had to win at the Great Northwest Oktoberfest in Whitefish, which is now a qualifying event. Then, he had to take regionals in Las Vegas, which he’s now done twice in a row. Then it’s off to New York, where a win would send him to Munich, Germany, the epicenter of Oktoberfest, to compete for the international stein-holding title.

This year, Collom took third at nationals, with the winner holding his stein for 21 minutes, 5 seconds.

“The guy that won it set the new world record,” Collom said in an interview last week. “I was standing right next to him and cheering him on to get him to go.”

Stein-holding is one of several traditional games played at the Great Northwest Oktoberfest, taking place this year Sept. 28-30 and Oct. 5-7. Games also include keg-hurling, log-sawing, bratwurst-eating, and a kid’s chicken dance.

Collom, who works in construction as a plasterer, said he got into stein-holding because it was fun at Oktoberfest, and he happened to have a knack for it. For him, the challenge is largely mental.

“There’s two things that it takes: one is that you’ve got to have a certain amount of strength. The other part is just mental and working through the pain because it hurts like hell and you have to just put it out of your mind and go to your happy place,” Collom said. “Your mind has to just work through it and say, ‘No, keep going.’”

Of course, it’s easy to find a happy place when surrounded by beer, Collom acknowledged.

This year’s Oktoberfest offers plenty of that, along with traditional Bavarian food and music and dancing. A $5 entrance fee gets you in the door, though Thursday, Sept. 28 is locals’ night, so Flathead residents get in free with ID.

In log-sawing, the women’s champion team plans to be back at it this year, according to reigning champ Carla Belski of Whitefish. The competition times teams to see how quickly they can get through a log using a crosscut saw, which just happens to be Belski’s specialty.

“I’m a crosscut saw person, because I actually know how to do it,” Belski said. “I did spend six years in the High Sierra and a dozen years working in the Bob Marshall. So I’ve had some background in that.”

Belski and teammate Christina Larsen plan to enter the competition again this year, though they’ll likely miss Locals’ Night and have to compete the next week.

“We always do the women’s competition,” Belski said. “I think we almost beat the men’s time last year.”

She said anyone hoping to come close to beating her team can spruce up their skills by volunteering for the Bob Marshall Wilderness Foundation.

“I would recommend that if anybody wants to participate in the crosscut saw competition that they can get some practical experience by volunteering for the foundation because that’s where you can gain life skills — going out and clearing a trail,” Belski said.

Kevin Gartland of the Whitefish Chamber of Commerce, which organizes the event, encouraged people to sign up for the games and give the returning winners a run for their money.

“Somebody needs to beat Kevin Collom,” Gartland said, laughing. “He’s getting really cocky.”

Collom said that even though he’s competed on the national stage, nothing compares to the cheers of the local crowd.

“It’s fun. I know everybody here. When we went to New York, I just knew the other competitors because they were there last year,” Collom said. “You get back here and everybody wants to know if you’re going to be in the stein-holding contest. I still get butterflies when I compete here.”

For more information on the Great Northwest Oktoberfest, including daily event schedules, visit www.whitefishoktoberfest.com.

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