40 Years of Cabin Fever Days

A beloved Flathead Valley tradition, organizers say the future of the event is in the hands of new volunteers

By Molly Priddy
The barstool ski races at the 39th annual Cabin Fever Days on Feb. 11, 2017. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

As long as people have been building shelters to protect against winter’s chill, this time of year has represented that odd tic, an itch, a sudden desire to bulldoze the walls around you and put on shorts to hang out in the sunshine.

In February in Northwest Montana, that particular urge, called cabin fever, plays out in many different ways, but in Bad Rock Canyon, the last 40 years have proven there’s really only one way to blow off winter’s steam.

Cabin Fever Days celebrates its 40th year on Feb. 9-11, promising a full schedule of unique and exciting events. But as the valley has come to expect this tradition from the folks at the Trapline Association – the nonprofit that organizes the event and doles out the funds raised to local causes – the future of this event isn’t set in stone.

“It is the 40th and we’re giving it the best go we can, but the trend has been that each year for the last five years is that we’ve been making more things happen with fewer people,” said Stacey Schnebel, owner of the Stonefly Lounge in Coram and former Trapline president who now does marketing and advertising for the group. “We’re really down to a skeleton crew.”

Volunteers are the lifeblood of Cabin Fever Days, taking six months to organize the huge event that typically draws thousands of people a day into the canyon. It takes multiple people to set the stage for the weekend’s most popular event, the Barstool Ski Races in Martin City.

“We can’t even recruit volunteers to pull off the barstool races until a week before the event,” Schnebel said. “What we really need are the soldiers to pull it off this next weekend. We could use a solid 10 volunteers to set up and take down the racecourse.”

Cabin Fever Days started with a group of folks out in the woods looking for new ways to cut loose during the winter. Schnebel said the festivities have tamed considerably since it all began in 1978, when events like deer and mouse races were common. (Those were shut down due to the “availability of the animals and the health department,” Schnebel said.)

“It’s hard trying to keep it appropriate in the woods,” Schnebel acknowledged with a laugh.

But in the decades since, Cabin Fever Days has become a staple fundraising event for many of the canyon’s nonprofits, including the Martin City Volunteer Fire Department, the Canyon QRU, and the Canyon Kids Christmas Fund, which provides gifts for the kids of Bad Rock Canyon.

In 2016, the event raised $13,000 for nonprofits, and about $8,100 in 2017.

Schnebel said now that Cabin Fever Days is a largely family-friendly event, it’s become part of many families’ traditions. But unless they get some more volunteers to help keep the event going, there’s a chance Cabin Fever Days could be on its last barstool legs.

“We are struggling,” Schnebel said. “There’s a question of, ‘Will it go on?’”

Schnebel got involved with Cabin Fever Days to get the Stonefly Lounge on the shuttle route for the weekend, and she realized there was ample opportunity to increase the event’s reach.

“It used to be you’d go to the Whitefish Winter Carnival and they’d pass out an 11-by-17 piece of paper with the events listed on it,” Schnebel said. “That’s back when they were donating about $2,000 a year. We grew it but now what you can definitely see is that when your crew is drastically reduced, what you’re able to do is also reduced.”

Despite the challenges, the crew behind Cabin Fever Days said they expect a great weekend to celebrate 40 years, with the traditional events such as the barstool ski races, poker run, mountain man competition, roshambo tournament, arm wrestling, snowshoe softball, shuffleboard, a hog roast, and kids’ activities.

New this year is the Killer Pool Tournament at the Dam Town Tavern, as well as a 71-passenger bus shuttling folks on Friday night. The shuttles run all weekend, with two large buses available.

“It’s the most capacity that we have ever had for moving people on the shuttle,” Schnebel said.

With so much popularity for its quirks and so much potential to add many more, Schenbel hoped the 40th anniversary serves as a call to volunteer for a new generation who’d like to see the traditions they love continued.

“There are so many possibilities, it’s a regional draw,” Schnebel said. “It would be sad to lose. I don’t think we will.”

Anyone with interest in volunteering at Cabin Fever Days is invited to reach out at [email protected]. For more information, including a full weekend schedule, visit www.cabinfeverdays.com.