Bavarian Fun, Montana Style

Great Northwest Oktoberfest returns to Whitefish for its seventh year

By Justin Franz
From left: Hop Queen contestants Margaret Roche, Betsi Morrison and Jeanne Laugan compete in the stein holding competition at the Great Northwest Oktoberfest in Whitefish on Sept. 25, 2014. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

A few years ago, Kevin Collom was at the Great Northwest Oktoberfest in Whitefish watching the stein-holding contests when his wife urged him to get on stage and give it a try.

Unbeknownst to Collom, it would be the beginning of his reign as one of the greatest stein holders in the West. Collom will be defending that honor in the coming days during the seventh annual Oktoberfest, which runs from Sept. 29 to Oct. 1 and Oct. 6 to Oct. 8 in Whitefish’s Depot Park. The traditional German celebration of autumn includes games, music, food and an endless number of beer-filled steins.

Last year, Whitefish’s Oktoberfest partnered with the Hofbrauhaus Brewery in Munich, Germany to hold an officially sanctioned stein-holding contest. Collom, a local plasterer, won the competition and earned a ticket to Las Vegas for the national semifinals. Earlier this year, Collom emerged from a crowded field of competitors in Las Vegas by holding an overflowing stein for more than eight minutes and earning a spot in the national championship in New York City.

Collom failed to win in New York — where he held a five-pound stein for 13 minutes — but said he’s ready to defend his crown in Whitefish in hopes of going back next year. Despite that goal, Collom isn’t doing a lot of preparation.

“I go to work, do my job and that pretty much keeps my arm in shape,” he said, adding that plastering walls works a lot of the muscles needed to straight-arm a stein. “My workout regimen is pretty lax.”

Collom’s best advice to potential competitors is to “be stubborn.”

“You’ve got to work through that pain,” he said. “My arm usually starts to hurt after three minutes, so I start to think about something else besides the pain and sing a song in my head.”

C.K. Jorgenson, the 2015 Oktoberfest Hop Queen who will be handing off her crown in the coming week, has similar advice for would-be stein holders.

“It’s a mental game — just focus on having a beer after the competition,” she said.

Jorgenson was selected as the 2015 Hop Queen after partaking in a number of competitions, which included stein holding. As Queen, Jorgenson has spent the last year serving as ambassador for the festival and getting people excited about one of the most popular local events of the season. Jorgenson, who works as a bartender at the Great Northern Brewing Company, said she loves the festival because it gives locals an excuse to come out and enjoy Whitefish’s traditional shoulder season.

Kevin Gartland, executive director of the Whitefish Chamber of Commerce, said the event has becoming a local favorite since it started in 2010 and usually attracts more than 7,000 people over six days.

“It’s been a huge success,” he said.

Gartland said this year would be bigger and better than ever. Among the highlights will be Hofbrauhaus Brewery supplying four of its legendary German beers. Great Northern Brewing will also be serving up its own beers, including local favorite, Frog Hop. Piggyback BBQ will serve authentic Bavarian food.

Besides stein-holding contests, there’s keg-hurling, log-sawing, dancing, music and even a brat-eating contest (dubbed the “wurst minute of your life” by organizers).

For more information, visit www.whitefishoktoberfest.com.

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