Montana’s Barstool Race Turns 40

It’s time to get stooled! Montana’s Barstool Race Celebrates 40 Years of downhill drinking. By Clare Menzel

It began with a blind-drunk bet in a backwoods American bar in 1978. The challenge: a street race on barstools mounted on skis while holding a beer in a “drinking position.” This inaugural event marked the birth of Cabin Fever Days, a festival to combat the February blahs in Montana’s rough-and-tumble Martin City, just west of Glacier National Park in Badrock Canyon.

“By February, many of us have spent too much time inside and not enough in the sun,” says Ben Shafer, president of the event’s organizing body, the Trapline Association. “Some good-spirited debauchery seems to be the prescription.”

Now in its 40th year, Cabin Fever Days is a rowdy, but family-friendly multi-day party that also features arm-wrestling, a roshambo (rock-paper-scissors) competition and a snowshoe softball tournament.

Barstool racing is still the marquee spectacle, though. The professionally-groomed track runs down Sugar Hill, the community’s thoroughfare, and terminates just before the South Fork and Deerlick Saloons. Well-oiled hopefuls cough up $20 to compete in one of three classes: steerable, non-steerable or the “anything goes” open. Rigs range from the simple—a barstool screwed, welded or duct-taped to a pair of thrift store skis—to the complex, like an outhouse or a stage that carries a three-piece rock band and shoots flames.

The event has seen national attention from what locals suspect are voyeurs peeking at the antics of an unrefined, rural America. However, the Trapline Association doles out major donations to community causes such as the Canyon Quick Response Unit, Martin City Fire Department, and Canyon Kids Christmas Fund. The event also gives local businesses a bump during the slow winter months.

“It is fun, it is loud and it is always proud,” says Shafer. “And (it) has a connection deeply woven by those who live here.” Yes, Cabin Fever Days is lively but it’s not lawless. Maybe just don’t ask anyone dressed in camo on a barstool to recite the ABCs backwards.

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