Photo by John F. Russell
Jake Fielder, of San Antonio, Texas, holds onto his drink while taking his best shot during a washers tournament at the base of Steamboat Ski Area on Wednesday. The game has become a MusicFest tradition in Steamboat Springs.
According to the International Association of Washers Players (www.washers.org), the washers used are standard metallic 2.5-inch washers with a 1-inch diameter hole. The recessed holes can be pits dug in the ground or above ground in the case of a tin can or PVC setup. The hole should be about 4-inches in diameter, according to the IAWP.
Steamboat Springs The rules to the backyard game washers depend on who you ask.
And if someone knows one of the many variations of the game, they're probably from the South.
“Every Cotton Festival and every barbecue, if a dice game doesn’t break out, a washers game breaks out,” Dean Clements, of Brownwood, Texas, said.
In the case of a brisk afternoon in Gondola Square, it was a crowd of more than 100 people from mostly Texas and Oklahoma competing in an annual washers tournament that’s become a competitive tradition as a part of MusicFest, a 5-day group ski trip and festival of Texas and Americana music.
Although a giant washers tournament might seem a bit out of place at the base of a ski area, it’s a bit of Texas culture infused into Steamboat right along with the music.
“Every local bar has washers,” Jake Thigpen, of Atkins, Texas, said. But it’s not necessarily a drinking game. “It gets serious. There’s a lot of pride involved.”
Washers is a lot like the backyard game cornhole or horseshoes — at least the MusicFest version of it is. Teams of two split up and stand next to a member of the opposing team. Two carpeted boards with holes in them are set apart about 20 feet, and each team has four washers to throw on each turn.
A team gets one point for a washer that’s on the board and closest to the hole, three points for one leaning over the hole and five points for one that goes in.
A team can block its competitors' points by matching them on the same turn. The first team to 21 wins.
Here are few loose guidelines for washers, MusicFest style:
The best way to ensure a good throw is to keep the washer flat as it flies through the air, Joseph Amaya, of Dallas, said. But other players chimed in as he described his own strategy. Some throw with a backspin to keep the washer on the board. Others flip it end over end, hoping it doesn’t land on its side.
“You really want to throw it flat, if it lands to the left or right, it’s going to roll off,” Amaya said.
There are no referees, which means the players police one another. In some backyards, there might be arguments, but not here in Steamboat. The MusicFest players pride themselves on honesty, and each team keeps the other in check. On Wednesday, games commonly ended with a friendly handshake and the obligatory “good game." Note: This does not mean you can’t make fun of the other team during the game.
March to the beat of your own drum
Some of the teams Wednesday held true to their own rules. For many, this meant obeying the cardinal rule: You must always have a beer in your hand when you throw the washer. Winter in Steamboat might not be ideal for that, but MusicFest fans are resilient. Other variations of the game only have three washers, some games have a board with three holes in it, and some play with the rule that a team has to hit 21 points exactly without going over.
Don’t need to win too badly
Ambiance is everything, and it helps when the band serenading you is a high-energy alternative country band called The Washers, who played on the Steamboat Stage on Wednesday afternoon. The players were interested in winning, but distractions — music, friends and beer — didn’t hurt.
“I want to win, but it’s just fun,” Jake Fielder, of San Antonio, Texas, said.
Amaya said he had just won a game 23-0 and was ready for the next one. But in the end, the washers tournament is just a piece of a larger puzzle, and that’s the camaraderie that builds around an event like MusicFest.
“This is my happy place,” he said.
To reach Nicole Inglis, call 970-871-4204 or email ninglis@ExploreSteamboat.com