Thirty years ago, the Centennial Poker Run was an excuse for a mid-winter party. Now it’s a destination event for hundreds of people and part of Centennial’s mountain town culture.
This year’s event is set for 10 a.m. Saturday starting in Centennial. For $15, participants can purchase a coaster, which will be used to record five cards they draw throughout the event to form a poker hand.
The highest and lowest hands of the day will win prizes, and there will also be prizes for best participant video and costumes.
After registering at Antlers at the Post, participants make their way to the Green Rock Trailhead on Wyoming Highway 130, usually by hitching a ride up the mountain.
By a variety of non-motorized modes of transportation — skis, snowshoes, bikes, sleds, snowboards — participants travel down the mountain along the Barber Lake Trail, usually stopping at Barber Lake itself to enjoy a campfire and have a hotdog. Back in town, live music is scheduled to play late into the night at several different venues.
“It’s probably the best damn party in Wyoming around this time,” said Mike Vanata, who is organizing this year’s edition.
The first running of the poker run took place in 1989, when Centennial native Murray “Murf the Surf” Self gathered five friends to ski the trail with him while collecting cards to form poker hands.
As legend has it, Self was among the first winter sports enthusiasts to try sliding down a mountain on a contraption resembling a surfboard.
His initial design was a modified early version of the snowboard known as the Snurfer. Self found a discarded version while tubing near Lake Marie in the 1970s and tried riding it downhill using surfing skills he picked up from living in Hawaii for a few years.
He built several more versions he rode mainly on powder days, some of which hung above the fireplace in the Trading Post for many years. Self ran the establishment together with Linda Taylor before selling it a few years ago.
The poker run, another legendary Self invention, became a small annual event after its inception. Then word got out around Wyoming and Colorado and people began arriving in droves. Vanata said he’s expecting about 500 participants this year.
“They always show up,” he said.
Self and Taylor organized the poker run until their retirement. Then, fans of the event stepped in informally to keep it running. Vanata took the reigns this year alongside a board consisting of Centennial residents.
Vanata said the registration fee helps cover the costs of the poker run, including an expanding musical line-up. Any proceeds will be donated to a group in Centennial.
“We have so much music this year,” he said.
That line-up, scheduled to run from 2:30-10:30 p.m., includes John Poland, The Lonesome Heroes and The Peculiar Patriots at Antlers at the Post; Timothy John, Dyann Diercks, The Woodpile, Banshee Tree and Elk Tongue at the Friendly Store; and Mumble the Peg at Beartree Tavern and Café.
The Centennial Poker Run has been an annual event for Vanata since he moved to Laramie in 2012. He even tried Nordic skiing for the first time to make it down the mountain one year. The poker run is special, he said, and he’s happy to see it continue.
“It’s a great thing during our mid-winter craziness,” he said.