When it comes to winning an oyster-shucking contest, Keith Rose says there is no such thing as luck.

"It's skill," according to the Wellfleet, Mass.-based sea clam boat captain.

Rose ought to know. He is the reigning East Coast champion after winning the Boston Seafood Show's shucking contest last month.

His pedigree is precisely why Jax Fish House & Oyster Bar flew him out to Boulder to participate as one of 15 contestants in a shuck-off, one of the marquee events of the inaugural High West Oyster Fest, held at the Boulder Theater on Tuesday night.

"I'm 51, and I've been shucking since I could hold a knife," said Rose, who brought with him the knife that helped him win the Boston contest. In the end, though, Rose was bested by Jesse Migchelbrink, of Jax's Denver location.

The shuck-off is a new part of Jax's 15-year celebration of oysters every spring. The oyster eating contest -- during which seven people were challenged to suck down as many raw oysters as they could within 90 seconds -- has been a longstanding tradition at Jax. Steven "Guido" Orth, of Aurora, won the oyster eating contest Tuesday after slurping 70.

The High West Oyster Fest drew more than 400 people to the theater Tuesday night and served up 8,000 donated oysters, according to Jax general manager John-Mark Larter.

All proceeds from the event are being donated to Colorado-based nonprofit Veterans Expeditions, organizers said.


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The popular seafood restaurant celebrates the "charitable mollusk" by donating money from each oyster sold throughout March to charities every year, but Tuesday's event -- during which Larter estimated $50,000 would be raised if all 8,000 oysters were sold as expected -- was a new level.

"This is by far the biggest, craziest thing we have ever done," said Larter, who reached out to Veterans Expeditions after learning about it through friends. "My grandfathers were veterans, my little brother is a veteran, so it wasn't a big jump for me to get involved."

Now based in Salida, the nonprofit Veterans Expeditions was founded in Boulder in 2010. It is dedicated to using wilderness challenges, such as climbing trips, to help military veterans connect with one another, build camaraderie and focus on reintegrating into daily life at home.

The money raised Tuesday will all go directly to programs for Colorado veterans, according to organization co-founder Stacy Bare. That includes helping send veterans to the organization's planned 9/11 climbing trip to Mount Olympus in Washington.

"I'm shocked at how many people are here to support veterans, and I think it is awesome," Bare said.

Among other events Tuesday was a raffle featuring prizes including custom Folsom skis and Whole Foods gift cards. Folsom and Whole Foods were two of the numerous sponsors. Live tunes were provided by local funk-rock band, Juno What?!.

And, of course, there were oysters, Odell Brewing Co.'s Emersum Oyster Stout beer and lots of other food.

Boulder's Chris Owens started off with two dozen of the mighty mollusks to get things going Tuesday.

"I love oysters, and I love dancing," he said. "I think this is great."

Contact Camera Staff Writer Joe Rubino at 303-473-1328 or rubinoj@dailycamera.com.