Kids Adventure Games brings serious fun to Vail
August 14, 2016
VAIL — It's running, jumping, climbing, biking, tubing, swimming, slacklining and more. There's a mud pit, a zip line, a Tyrolean traverse, a giant slope n' slide, a gondola ride and a dash across the river.
You'd expect the kids taking on all these features would be beaming with smiles, but that's their parents. Upon the kids' faces, looks of seriousness and determination is all you'll see during the race.
Colt Burkley, 8, enjoyed the Vail Kids Adventure Race for the first time this year.
"I saw it on someone's phone last year and I really wanted to do it," he said. "I climbed up this slippery thing, then there was a steep hill. I went up it. It was really fun."
In the six years it has now been running, the Kids Adventure Games has quickly become one of the most successful events ever to come out of Vail.
Toyota is now the title sponsor, on a two-year deal. Visiting from Nashville, Rachel Smith with Toyota said the Kids Adventure Games aligns well with the brand's slogan, "Let's go places," and with their vehicles that cater to family travel.
"Our vehicles are meant for getting families outside and active, so the Kids Adventure Games is a great tie-in for that," she said. "We were so excited to come here and see where it all started."
Toyota sponsored 20 kids from SOS Outreach and the Boys & Girls Club to participate in the event this year. Among the recipients was Steamboat Springs Boys & Girls Club member Baylee Walker, 9, who enjoys NBC's "American Ninja Warrior" and has been urging her father to build her a course in their backyard like the one featured on that show.
"She plays soccer and gymnastics but never gets to do anything obstacle-course like this," Baylee's father, Nathan Walker said on Sunday.
"We tried to get our son (Sky Walker, 7) in but it was sold out in like a day," said Summer Walker, Baylee's mother.
Event founder Helene Mattison said the event fills quickly every year.
"It was three-quarters filled right away, and then just before we upped the price on May 15 that was it," she said.
There were just over 400 two-kid teams racing this year, Mattison said, and 300 kids participated in the skills clinic which took place in the days leading up to the race. That's up from 50 teams in 2010, when the event went from an obstacle course in the Mattison's back yard to a transformation of Vail Village.
"(After the first year) we went to 75 teams, and kept capping it, not allowing any more, so we could manage the growth," Mattison said. "Then after two or three years we went to two days, now we're at three days."
Two years ago the Kids Adventure Games expanded to include one-day events at a handful of other resorts across the country, and already this year four of those resorts have expanded to two days.
"After years of now being established, my vision is to have a national championship, possibly even a world championship" she said.
Mattison said she has had contacts from England, France, New Zealand, Mexico and Canada express interested in hosting Kids Adventure Games events.
"But the championships will always be at Vail," she said.
The Adventure Games started as a partnership between Mattison, her husband Billy, and the Vail Recreation District. Beth Pappas with the Vail Recreation District has worked the event every year.
"Thinking back to that first year, it was a huge undertaking," Pappas said. "I remember all the work that went into it, and how happy and relieved I was that it was over, because it had gone so smoothly. Now I think it's funny how your perspective changes because now the thought of doing this for 50 teams would be, like, a day at the spa."
This year, Vail Resorts and the U.S. Forest Service signed off on allowing the Kids Adventure Race to incorporate Gondola One into the mix. The expert course started atop that Gondola, at Mid Vail, before descending down the mountain into a staging area where the kids had mountain bikes — and single track sections of course — waiting for them.
"It was a really legit course for adventure racing this year," said Pappas.