Mountain Games start today | VailDaily.com

Mountain Games start today

Daily file photo/Shane MacomberTao Berman speeds down Homestake Creek, winning last year's Teva Mountain Games steep creek race. The 2008 Mountain Games start today with the Homestake races.

VAIL ” This all started simply enough.

The unofficial beginning to summer in Vail was marked by a few rafts and kayaks paddling down Dowd Chute every Memorial Day Weekend.

The annual Whitewater Festival is a thing of the past, not only in name, but date and format. In its place are the Teva Mountain Games ” thankfully not on Memorial Day Weekend because as all locals know, the weather stinks ” a smorgasbord of all things summer-like ” whitewater, biking, cycling, climbing, running, fishing, paragliding and, yes, dogs.

And after a very long winter, the 2008 Mountain Games start today the steep creek challenge up in Homestake Creek, which should be roaring with Class V water with snow melt.

New headliner

Last year’s headliner was Floyd Landis. The then-2006 Tour de France winner, embroiled in a steroid scandal which eventually stripped him of his crown, resurfaced in public to compete in the mountain-biking and Vail hill climb events. This year, the crown jewel is not a person but an event, the IFSC (International Federation of Sport Climbing) Bouldering World Cup.

This is the first time a World Cup bouldering event has been held on American soil and there will be athletes from 30 nations competing in Friday’s qualifying at 9 a.m. and Saturday’s finals at 6 p.m.

Today’s steep creek competition is always a rush literally. Kayakers get two runs with the best combined time winning. Tao Berman edged local Brad Ludden in last year’s competition, while Nikki Kelly topped Tanya Faux.

Kayaking moves to Gore Creek during the weekend. The kayak freestyle finals are Saturday at 4:30 p.m. In this discipline, paddlers have 60-second runs to perform as many tricks as possible “in the hole” just east of International Bridge. This usually turns into a family affair with Eric Jackson the defending men’s champ, and his daughter, Emily, winning the ladies’ side in 2007.

The action on the water gets physical on Sunday with raft cross and the ever-popular 8-ball. Raft cross, a new event, will have four boats per heat speeding down Gore Creek with full contact allowed. Eight-ball is essentially aggression-therapy kayaking. Four racers will try to be the first to get down the Gore with other kayakers, called-8-balls, bursting from behind rocks and from the shore doing everything to impede the racers’ path.

Multiple sports

The Mountain Challenge is back for the second year. This is a four-event team and individual competition spread over Saturday and Sunday. It starts with a down-river sprint and mountain-biking race on Saturday. Sunday’s slate has a 10-kilometer run and a road-cycling race up Vail Pass.

Teams can enter athletes in the assorted disciplines or hearty individuals can compete in all four.

The Freeride finals are Saturday at 3 p.m. Here mountain bikers race against each other in time trails over an obstacle course with the end result usually being some impressive wipeouts. Jeff Lenoski is the defending champ here.

Climbing is not limited to the pros. The kids tackle the rock today at 3:30 p.m. The speed bouldering finals are Sunday at 1 p.m.

Souvenir hunting

Several events are open to the public, including the mountain-bike race Saturday and the hill climb and running race Sunday. There is also the 1K Mud Run Saturday at Golden Peak at 7 p.m. Bring soap.

The area surrounding the event venues in the Vail Village are also participatory in nature for spectators. The most-popular unofficial event of the Mountain Games is the Swag (Stuff we all get) hunt from vendors for assorted hats, T-shorts and other goodies.

Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 748-2934 or cfreud@vaildaily.com.