Posted by: Tom Boyd
A first-encounter with the GoPro Mountain Games is bound to raise some questions. Beyond it’s free concerts, free giveaways, more than 140 sponsor activations, Outdoor Reels film festival, a silent disco (yes it’s true), there are also 13 different disciplines and 30+ events that make-up the sporting aspect of the event.
That means more than 3,000 athletes – pro and amateur – all taking part in an event that has come to embody everything about mountain sports, music, and culture.
It can be a lot: but you’re not alone. Here at the GoPro Mountain Games Newsroom, we’re here to help you find you’re way: we’ll have daily recaps posted at 7 p.m. each day, and updated with new information as it comes in. We’ll have the stories and features that will help you navigate the event, and introduce you to the people – pro and amateur, human and canine – that are the bright red threads that tie this amazing tapestry together.
So – let’s take a look at the sports at the center of the GoPro Mountain Games as we head into a jam-packed 2018 calendar.
Let’s start with the main consideration: water is low and there are a lot of questions about GoPro Mountain Games whitewater competitions:
Consider it a comeback tour for kayakers. With water levels on the wane at Homestake Creek, the annual rock-and-roll show known as the Kayak Steep Creek Championship has had a change of venue at the 2018 GoPro Mountain Games, and has been re-named the Oh Chute Kayak Challenge. The race will be getting back to its roots on the Eagle River through Dowd Chute, where kayak competition began at the earliest iterations of the Mountain Games some 17 years ago. With fewer rocks (and a lot less rolls), the still burly, “experts only” Class IV Dowd Chute course offers the pros a legit chance to showcase their skills without concern for water levels.
Precision will still be the name of the game as racers search for speed through the crashing waves that define the course, and the sport’s heaviest hitters will still be on hand to face the challenge. Race favorites include three-time defending women’s Steep Creek champion Nouria Newman from France and multiple men’s champ Dane Jackson of Walling, Tenn. Other kayakers to keep an eye on are Gerd Serrasolses of Spain (2nd at Homestake in 2017), Adriene Levknecht, and perennial podium threat Nick Troutman, also from Walling.
Efficient paddle strokes will be just as important when the action shifts to the more forgiving currents of Gore Creek for the GMC Kayak Downriver Sprint on Saturday, June 9. The 4-mile kayak race from East Vail to the heart of Vail Village isn’t nearly as rowdy, yet still manages to push paddlers to the brink (of exhaustion). Serrasolses dominated the race last year, although cagey veteran Mike Freeburn of Durango slipped into third place at age 53.
Top kayakers will leave a little in the tank for the GMC Kayak Freestyle event that takes over Gore Creek for the remainder of the weekend. Water is low, but organizers are shaping the banks of the river, using an inflatable bladder system designed for just such an occurrence, to help create a challenging river feature.
As the reigning freestyle kayak World Champion and 2017 Mountain Games champ, Jackson will once again have the bullseye on his back in freestyle along with sister Emily Jackson, who edged out Adriene Levknecht in a tiebreaker in 2017.
Always a fan favorite, the 8-Ball Kayak Sprint is a full-contact kayak race combining speed and strategery as paddlers do their best to avoid being bumped off line by a gang of irksome “8-balls” in Sunday’s grand finale. Anything can happen, and it usually does.
Stand Up Paddle (SUP)
While all eyes were focused on Colorado-bred river surfer Spencer Lacy, Japanese SUP ninja Masayuki Takahata stole the show in last year’s YETI Down River SUP Sprint. “Yuki” won’t catch anyone off guard in Saturday’s 4-mile stand-up paddle race down Gore Creek this year, but whether Lacy can make up the 1-minute, 8-second difference in 2018 remains to be seen. Kiwi SUP star Annabel Anderson won’t be on hand to defend the women’s title, leaving the door open for Olympic kayaking silver medalist Rebecca Giddens of Kernville, Cali., to move up to the top of the podium.
The Colorado contingent of Lacy, Mike Tavares and Miles Harvey (aka, Team Badfish) lead a strong cast of competitors in the YETI SUP Surf Cross, a chaotic cross race that pits four paddlers head-to-head on a crowded downriver slalom course. Kayaker Dane Jackson always poses a threat in the stand-up race as well. On the women’s side, expect defending champion Natali Zollinger to resume her ongoing battle with Courtney Kerin, Camille Swan and Giddens on the Gore Creek course.
The beasts to beat in the Pacifico Down River R2 Raft Sprint go by the name El Chupacabra (Vail locals Jeremiah Williams and Rob Prechtl). The daunting duo has been in the mix in the 2-man downriver race on Gore Creek for the past few years, edging out fellow locals Kurt Kincel and Matt Norfleet by 2 minutes in 2017. Although they lived up to their alternative name of Team Re-Circ in the Pacifico Raft Cross last year (finishing 9th), Williams and Prechtl are always contenders when it comes to rubbing rubber bumpers in the multi-boat raft race won by Southeastern ringers Tad Dennis and Brad McMillan last year.
GMC Ultimate Mountain Challenge
The GMC Ultimate Mountain Challenge enters its second year under its new format. Each athlete can “choose their own adventure” through the weekend’s events, and gain points based on difficulty level, placement, and cross-discipline participation. This year Adriene Levknecht, Nick Troutman, Emily Jackson, Courtney Kerin, and many others are gearing up for an extremely challenging weekend of multi-sport endurance tests – keep an eye on the Mountain Games newsrooms and leaderboards throughout the event footprint to keep track of who is in the lead each day.
Historically bringing in both big-time pro racers as well as local badasses and up-and-comers, the TIAA Bank XC Mountain Bike course is all things fat tire fanatics could hope for: lung-busting, bracing and beautiful.
Launching from Golden Peak this year, the course weaves up and down Vail Mountain on smooth but steep service road, narrow, wildflower-strewn singletrack and fast flow trails. Each lap is 7 miles and climbs 2,000 feet. Last year pros Howard Grotts and Erin Huck somehow put a five-minute gap between themselves and their nearest competitors, Grotts earning his fifth straight win and Huck her second.
However, this year both Grotts and Huck will not return – this leaves the event wide-open for mainstay cyclist and triathloner Josiah Middaugh, as well as Olympian Chloe Woodruff, who is taking on the grueling GoPro Mountain Games course as she sets her eye on the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Summer Games.
If you know kids (12 and under) with an aptitude on two wheels, let them try their skills in the TIAA Bank Free Kids Bike Race. Two waves set off from Golden Peak, the first comprised of more seasoned young pedalers, who navigate a half-mile course while the younger bunch (including balance bike tots) take on a shorter loop.
In the third running of the GoPro Mtn Enduro race, athletes hammer along 25 miles of world-class, sage brush-surrounded singletrack in Eagle all afternoon but are only be timed for four stages – a few fiery moments of shrieking downhill. You gotta love being out on the dirt.
Many of these two-wheel enthusiasts grew up on BMX bikes and will get another chance to shine going head-to-head over huge jumps, rollers and around high-banked turns as BMX racing makes its Mountain Games debut for 2018.
The GoPro BMX Pro-Am Open, featuring the likes of six-time World Cup mountain bike champion Brian Lopes (fresh off of defending his podium spot in the Enduro race earlier in the day) and the GoPro BMX Standard Double Points race, open to all ages and levels of BMX racers wishing to ramp up their point total on the competition circuit.
Moving onto the skinny tires, the Road Bike Time Trial sends lean machines off the start ramp in Vail Village up Vail Pass on a course ridden by some of the fastest cyclists in history. The record (made by Benjamin Day in 2008) stands at an unfathomable 25 minutes, 48 seconds. Local triathlete Josiah Middaugh won last year and will be one to watch again along with 2017 winner and Olympic cyclist Mara Abbott.
This event will be a preview of the upcoming Colorado Classic pro cycling race, coming to Vail and Denver in August of 2018.
Now that it’s poised to make its debut as an Olympic sport in 2020, the only IFSC World Cup climbing event to take place in the United States carries even higher stakes and a louder buzz. Real-life, Olympic-bound Spidermen and Spiderwomen from across the globe compete in the IFSC Climbing World Cup in nonstop action on the wall at the base of Vail Mountain. The noise and support from the field-size crowd feels akin to Roller Derby or a Monster Truck rally, but with sinew on display rather than fumes and wheels. The communal energy continues as friends and families cheer their own human monkeys in the TIAA Bank Youth and Citizen Climbing competitions.
Gravity is certainly not on your side during the first, steep, uphill section of the Pro Trek Smart 10K Spring Runoff. Considered one of the nation’s most challenging 10K trail runs, the foliage-lined course weaves up Vail Mountain for nearly 2,000 vertical feet. It’s no surprise that World Mountain Running Champion, XTERRA World Champion, and all-around running rock-star Joseph Gray is the guy looking to five-peat in 2018.
On the women’s side, USA Women’s Long Distance Mountain Team runner and XTERRA World Champ champ Daniella Moreno takes her first crack at this incredibly difficult course, but there are lightning fast regulars like Lanie Szuch (third-place finisher in the last two races at ages 12 and 13) who’ll give the entire field a run for their money. Keep an eye on this teen in the Aprés 5K, too, since she’ll be gunning for her third straight victory on the abbreviated (but still challenging) Vail Mountain course.
As late afternoon shadows fall, the 5K is a healthy means of launching into what might become an otherwise decadent evening. If you’re the type that can’t stand being out on the trail without your four-legged buddy, you can hit the 5K course together in the Rocky Dog Trail Run, which brings out sleek and competitive speedsters of both the bipedal and canine varieties as well as casual hiking pairs in it for the camaraderie and scenery.
You’ve got to truly relish running (and crawling) through sludge to sign up for the Mountain Mud Run, which is arguably the Mountain Games’ merriest event, as costume clad foursomes, families and kids splash through the mud pits like giggling, galloping goofballs. Once again, muddy mascot Jess “The Mud Stud” Manning will be on hand to lead the charge, and internet-famous “Pickles the Pig” will be snorting encouragement at “Pickles Pit” along the racecourse for the Kids and Family wave starting at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday.
Admittedly, there is not much laughing – instead it’s more of a shared sense of anguish – among the competitors in Pepi’s Face-Off, a slog straight up and down one of Vail’s steepest and most notorious ski runs. By the end of the 30-minute time period, smiles have contorted into grimaces as whoever completes the most laps up and down the 860-foot face wins.
You have never seen such a sea of vibrant, slow motion choreography. The Klean Kanteen Zen Zone is thumping with music and meditative body flow as both nationally acclaimed and beloved local instructors lead a variety of classes for all levels. The lawn resembles a rainbow garden of yoga mats from morning through afternoon every day for Lorissa’s Kitchen Yoga at the Mountain Games. Classes range from athletic recovery to vinyasa to variety paired with tunes spun by live DJs. It’s a serene corner of the action with an energy all its own.
The silver lining of a low water year is likely to appear as a rainbow at the 2018 GoPro Mountain Games. Finalists in the Costa 2 Fly X-Stream fishing competition will have the rare opportunity to fish from rafts on the Eagle River on Sunday, where the action for rainbow and brown trout is always fast and furious. The Eagle’s current water level is prime for float fishing, but before they earn the opportunity to wet a line anglers will have to get through two rounds of casting qualifiers (distance and accuracy), including an intense do-or-die accuracy competition in front of the massive crowd gathered on Vail’s International Bridge.
The 10 survivors will likely face the daunting task of besting northwestern fly fishing phenom Camille Egdorf, who caught the biggest trout in the contest 2 years ago and won the overall title (with the second biggest fish) last year. Local fishing guide Troy Garner (Minturn Anglers) landed 10 fish to win the men’s division (5 points behind Egdorf). The real catch? Anglers only get to pick two fly patterns to fish with.
The vice squad will get their own event at this year’s Mountain Games, as the Costa Fly Tying Competition makes its debut on Friday, June 8. Feathers will be flying as competitors face three challenges testing classic tying skills, creativity and speed to determine the lord of the flies. After the formal event, hosts from Pig Farm will hold an all-inclusive Iron Fly event for novice tiers.
Top pros from around the world take to the slackline for a weekend-long battle in the Pacifico International Slackline Invitational presented by Slackline Industries. Prepare to be amazed by balance, control and acrobatics as international athletes toe the edge of insanity in the final event of the US Pro Series. Randomly paired competitors have two 90-second sessions each to post their top score based on trick variety, trick difficulty, trick combos, amplitude and style. Highest score advances to the next round. Last year’s podium — Haruki Kinoshita (Japan), Abraham Hernandez (Chile) and Martín Hernandez (USA) — spanned the globe, proving that slacking truly is an international pastime. Wanna give it a shot? An interactive slackline area will be set up for everyone to try throughout the weekend at the Solaris Plaza in Gear Town.
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