Highland Games competitors test themselves in feats of strength | AspenTimes.com

Highland Games competitors test themselves in feats of strength

John Colson

Tom Coney of Lakewood tosses a sheaf (a weighted burlap bag) over the bar during the Snowmass Village Highland Games on Saturday. (Paul Conrad/The Aspen Times)

The 20-something Snowmass Village man said he did not even know about the Highland Games until he read Saturday’s Aspen Times.But Nathan Ratledge ended up placing first or second in a number of categories, much to his and others’ surprise. Ratledge and his roommate, Hunt Harper, both said they are of Scottish descent and that they entered the games as a lark, although for most of the dozen or so competitors it was a very serious matter. Harper is living in Snowmass after his college classes at Tulane University got washed out by Hurricane Katrina.Ratledge, who had never competed before, ended up earning murmurs of praise and encouragement from some of his fellow competitors, as he excelled with ease in a variety of games such as the caber toss, the stone put, the sheaf toss the weight for distance and weight for height events (in which heavy weights are thrown vertically in a sand pit, or horizontally over a movable bar like a high-jump setup).”He’s got natural talent,” said Malcolm Freeberg, a stout, 57-year-old Denver-area resident who had been talked into competing by a 65-year-old friend who has a succession of Highland Games championships under his belt.

The two buddies indicated they will be back next year when the Highland Games again grace the soccer field near the Snowmass Golf Course clubhouse.The games moved this year after a two-year run at Aspen Highlands Ski Area, according to Rocky Mountain Scottish Athletes founder Greg Bradshaw, because Highlands officials “lost interest” in keeping the games at their area.But, he said, with the help of a fan in the Aspen Skiing Co. office at Highlands, organizers were invited to move their competition to Snowmass.And that was just fine with Bradshaw, who is an engineer by trade and who said he may end up working on the Snowmass Base Village project.”This is a wonderful spot to have them,” he said enthusiastically as the games went on around him, noting that while there was little room for vendor tents at Highlands, at the Snowmass athletic field there were numerous vendors set up to sell everything from T-shirts to jewelry to Scottish clan regalia.

Also in residence were three tents representing the clans Sinclair, Guthrie and Cochrane.Darin Sinclair of Breckenridge, son of the Western Chapter vice president of the clan’s U.S. branch, said, “This has potential to be a great venue.”He pointed wonderingly to the glorious autumn-tinged russets, greens and browns of the nearby oak-brush-covered hillsides, contrasted with the pale greens and golds of the higher Aspen-clad slopes, and he predicted that clan representatives would flock to the place to be part of an annual celebration of the games.The games, primarily an amateur competition that originated in Scottland, are a millenium-old opportunity for men and women to test their strength against the pull of gravity in one way or another and against the strength of other competitors (no women showed up for the Snowmass event).Bradshaw, noting that his son, Hank Bradshaw, was one of the judges at the games, said the judges usually get a fee of $150 per day for their services. But all had agreed to waive their fees to help the Snowmass competition get established.

And if that happens, Bradshaw said, it’s possible Snowmass could become one of two U.S. venues to host professional-level games.Currently, he said, there are 40-50 such amateur events around the West every year, and the Snowmass games were the last of the 2005 regular schedule.The 2005 U.S. national championship Highland Games, he said, will be held in New Hampshire next week, while the 2006 U.S. championships are to take place in Inverness, Scotland.”And I’ve been chosen to be one of the judges,” he said proudly.John Colson’s e-mail address is jcolson@aspentimes.com

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