Cabin Fever Days is Back, and So is a Storied Barstool Racer

The multi-day fundraiser and celebration kicks off Friday, Feb. 11

By Mike Kordenbrock
Jay Healey and Owen Hinkley crash near the finish line during the barstool ski races at the 39th annual Cabin Fever Days on Feb. 11, 2017. Beacon file photo

Cabin Fever Days are returning to the Canyon this year after a one-year pandemic hiatus, and there’s a growing buzz about the rumored return of a legendary barstool racer once thought to be retired.

Steve Paugh, a Martin City resident and announcer in the barstool racing scene, says that three-time world champion racer Mike Murray will be back this year after last racing in 2019.

The races are head-to-head, double-elimination, and one of the requirements is that racers have to be in drinking position when they reach the finish line atop their barstool, which is mounted atop skis. In the non-steerable class, which is what Paugh called “the purest class” of barstool racing, the only way to steer is by shifting weight on the seat.

“There’s a lot of former champions,” Paugh said. “They’ll be there, and they know Mike’s coming back. And they’re not going to let him just sashay in and take it away.”

Cabin Fever Days in Martin City on Feb. 9, 2019. Beacon file photo

Known for his signature leaned back style on the barstool, Murray, who is in his 60s, decided to call it a career after the last time he beat Jamie “North Dakota” Ordahl during the competition which takes place on Saturday and Sunday of the three-day fundraiser and Martin City celebration that kicks off on Friday.

Ordahl, as one might guess, is from North Dakota, and it’s from there on a recent afternoon where the 42-year-old described his last encounter with the champion in 2019. It was the second consecutive year Ordahl took second to Murray’s first.

“I said ‘Next time I race I’m beating ya,’” Ordahl recalled. “He said ‘Well, I think I’m retired.’”

Murray is known for consuming two Bloody Marys on race day, and the Beacon previously reported him to be firm on that number. Ordahl said he tried to tempt him atop the Sugar Hill racecourse with a shot once, and that “he absolutely refused.”

The North Dakotan said “If you’re sober, you’re going to get hurt,” going into a barstool ski race. (Paugh, who also races, said “You can’t compete in this sport if you’re inebriated. You’ve got to be on your game.”)

Asked if his fellow North Dakotans would understand bar stool racing, Ordahl was confident they would. “We learn to snowboard with a ski rope behind the car,” he said. “We get plenty of snow out here, too.”

Of course, Ordahl isn’t the only one eying Murray’s return warily. Dan Ward also said he’ll also be gunning for Murray. The 38-year-old said the last time they raced against each other they both crashed. Ward said owing to his relative youth he was able to beat Murray on the getup, but at the end of the day it still wasn’t enough to win it all.

Ward will be relying on his signature ride, a birch barstool known as “Son of Birch” that is mounted atop a pair of old Black Diamond Kilowatt skis. The birch was sourced from a fire-killed tree found in the 2017 Gibralter Ridge fire burn zone east of Ward’s hometown of Eureka. The tree needed to be cut down, and Ward said he milled a chunk with his chainsaw before making the barstool.

“He’s got a few more gray hairs than I do,” Ward said of Murray, who he added still has to be respected for his speed and track record.

 “I’m the only winner since his retirement,” Ward said. “Defending world champion of the barstool races. What a thing to say.”

Cabin Fever Days is a fundraiser benefitting the Canyon Quick Unit Response, Martin City Volunteer Fire Department, Canyon Kids Christmas Fund, and the Canyon Community Group. The multi-day event has activities in Martin City, Coram and Hungry Horse for families and children, as well as adults. Events and activities include arm wrestling, leg wrestling, a dart tournament, a roshambo tournament, a mountain man competition, and live music. A $5 entry button is required for events and to ride the shuttle. More information can be found at cabinfeverdays.com.