Since the winter carnival began in 1945, the Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous has been a popular tradition and none more so than the Strength and Style competition. “Strength and Style has always been one of the core events from the start,” said Bruce Sahlstrom, vice-president of Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous board.

The Strength and Style event features six competitions this year:

  1. Hairy leg or armpit (women only) – 1st prize only
  2. Hairy chest – 1st prize only
  3. Best mustache – 3 prizes
  4. Best old growth beard – 1st prize only
  5. Best new growth beard – 1st prize only
  6. Top ink – 1st prize only

The event evolves every year, and can often change at the last minute depending on the number of entrants or the crowd’s atmosphere. A big change from last year’s competition is that there will only be one tattoo competition and one prize for the winner (last year there was best tattoo on an arm or leg, and best chest or back tattoo, each being awarded first, second, and third place prizes).

The Strength and Style competition is a popular event and whether you’re new or old to the Yukon, it brings people together.

“It represents the Yukon and Yukoners,” Sahlstrom said. “Look at 1898, as back in the gold rush days, mustaches and beards were the style of the Klondike.

“And the strength needed for things like hiking the Chilkoot pass can be demonstrated in the Flour Packing contest.”

So how do the judges determine the best of each competition?

“Tattoos – it’s not just about the artwork,” Sahlstrom says, “There’s usually a story there.”

One such story is that of Manu Keggenhoff, Rendezvous’ photographer of last year’s event, who decided to enter the competition on a whim.

“It was a great night, the audience was super enthusiastic and the vibe at its peak,” Keggenhoff recalled. “It was spontaneous. And though I knew my tattoo wasn’t the biggest that was shown I decided to join the fun.”

Although she didn’t win the competition, she told her tattoo story. “It’s a mountain scene with a river flowing in front of it. I had a little creative low for a while due to personal losses,” Keggenhoff said. “In 2016 I was invited to speak at a photographer’s conference on P.E.I., which was just the right thing to do. It was called ‘Land and See.’ It got my creative juices flowing again and that’s what the tattoo is all about.”

The judges also look intricately at the hairy contestants, magnifying glasses and rulers get pulled out to make the judgement, measuring the length and assessing the hairiness of the hair.

Meanwhile the beards and mustaches are judged by the care the owners take, the oils used and the overall style-aesthetic and how they meet the Rendezvous expectation of the traditional Klondike look.

“In Yukon you can rebuild yourself and no one judges you – except the judges,” Sahlstrom laughed. “I think that’s what this event represents to a lot of people. Everyone has a story and they want to tell it.”

One such story is the tale of Loretta Westman and her daughter Jess Westman. Throughout the 1980s, Loretta competed in the Strength and Style competition, specialising in the hairiest leg competitions. She competed many times and won best over all in 1985 and won most horrific hairy legs in 1989.

“I always felt uncomfortable having hairy legs. In the eighties it was very taboo,” Loretta said. “But Yukon women aren’t like regular women. They can do many things like use a chainsaw, build a home. Elsewhere these things are considered ‘unlady like,’ but to demonstrate you’re a real Yukon woman you have to be tough. I entered because it was something you’re told you’re not supposed to do, but is celebrated up here. That’s what makes Rendezvous and the Yukon so special.”

Loretta was proud to enter and win. At that time the competition used to be anonymous.

“I was heavily pregnant one of the years I entered at the time and you had to put your leg or arm through a cardboard cut out of a can can dancer,” Loretta said. “It was so the judges wouldn’t play favourites with who was competing. But because I was so pregnant, people had to hold me up so I could reach my legs out of the cardboard holes.”

Back in those days, the golden razor blade was one of the prizes to the winner. Loretta won three with the intent that she, Jess and her other daughter would each have a golden razor.

This year, Loretta’s daughter Jess will be competing and following in her mother’s footsteps. “I’m super proud of my mom, she is a great role model,” Jess said. “If I ever have a daughter I will encourage her to enter, as girls should be comfortable with their bodies and the way they look naturally.”

Jess saw last year’s winner’s picture and thought that she would most certainly win. “My mom thinks I will win the hairy armpit competition for certain,” Jess said.

“She has her father’s leg hair though, so I don’t think she will win that,” Loretta laughed.

Jess is excited to compete and has been growing out her armpit hair for a few months. “It’s great to celebrate Yukon women,” she said. “We are pioneers and we don’t have time nor care to shave – and it’s great to celebrate that.”

The legacy of the Westman Women may continue on this February 21st.

The Strength and Style competitions are sponsored by Jats Backyard Landscaping and will be held in the lounge at the at Towne and Mountain Hotel, located at 401 Main St. in Whitehorse.

The event takes place on Wednesday, February 21 at 7:30 p.m. You can pre-register or register on the night for $10, possibly win some prizes, but certainly gain some Yukon notoriety.

Ink on ink