It’s all in the family

Prince Albert Winter Festival Beerd Derby competitors and organizers pose for a photo during the first day of registration on Sunday, Nov. 27. -- Jason Kerr/Daily Herald

Beards are big in Jason Hedstrom’s family. Literally.

In the ‘50s, Hedstrom’s grandfather would frequently enter beard-growing competitions in his hometown of Swift Current. Fast forward a few decades, and he’s carrying on the family tradition in Prince Albert.

“He can grow a huge Santa Claus beard within pretty much a month-and-a-half, and I’m not even there yet in maybe two or three months,” Hedstrom said with a laugh when asked who had family bragging rights. “But, I’m definitely trying my best. It’s all about having fun this time of year.”

Hedstrom is a newcomer to the beard derby world. He wanted to compete in previous years, but couldn’t for a variety of reasons. His schedule was free this year so he jumped at the chance to take on a new challenge.

So what’s the secret to growing a great beard?

“You’ve got to eat all your vegetables,” Hedstrom joked. “No, it’s in the family. It’s genes. I can sit here and tell you I squeeze them out of my face, but it ain’t going to happen.”

Hedstrom was one of seven contestants who came out to the Prince Albert Winter Festival’s first Beerd Derby registration night. The group contains a mixture of newcomers and veterans, who come out for the competition, the camaraderie, and a chance to compete in a long-time Winter Festival tradition.

“There’s a certain amount of rivalry between all the guys who’ve been involved with it for years, and yet at the same time they’re so happy when new guys want to come join them,” Winter Festival secretary and beerd derby director Chrissy Halliday said. “It’s a very fun event. It’s very social. There’s nothing that serious about it (and) there are never any hard feelings. Everyone just comes out and has fun.”

Despite its enduring appeal, there were doubts at one time over whether the annual event would continue to grace the Winter Festival calendar.

Halliday said beards went out of style for a few years, which contributed to a decline in competitors and interest. Fortunately, that trend has started to reverse itself in recent years.

“It kind of lost momentum,” she said. “Facial hair wasn’t in anymore and when myself and a few other people got involved with the Winter Festival a couple of years ago facial hair was coming back. It’s trending, so we’ve used that to our advantage.”

Beerd Derby contestants will gather two more times over the next few months for fuzz checks before crowning a new champion in February. Progress will be updated online at the festival Facebook page. The final registration night will be held on Jan. 17. For more information, contact the group through their Facebook page.