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GoPro Mountain Games athlete registration open: $130,000 up for grabs

More than $130,000 in prizes are up for grabs at the GoPro Mountain Games, returning to Vail for four days June 4-7.

Registration is open for athletes at www.mountaingames.com. Early bird pricing is available for most events.

Thousands of athletes (including dogs) will take on the 12-plus disciplines and 30-plus events at the Mountain Games. Last year, athletes included retired NHL forward Brooks Laich (and his dog); The Mud Stud (aka Jess Manning, of Utah); Xterra national champion, two-time USA winter triathlon champion and all-around stud Josiah Middaugh, among others.

Pro surfer Kai Lenny participated in the 2019 GoPro Mountain Games. The famous Jackson family, of Jackson Kayaks, are also regulars.
Benton Inscoe | Daily file photo

“Pros and joes compete side-by-side throughout the weekend — it’s amazing to see the friendships and camaraderie that form at this event,” said Dave Dressman, event director, in a news release. “You have folks who are trying something for the first time, and they’ll be getting encouragement from some of the top pro athletes in the world. It’s an experience unlike any other.”

The Mountain Games is put on each year by the Vail Valley Foundation and also features three nights of free concerts.

“This is going to be a phenomenal year,” Dressman said in the release. “We are bringing back some old favorites and have a few new things in play to level up the GoPro Mountain Games in 2020.”

Founded in 2002, the Mountain Games are known as an all-around mountain experience. The Mountain Games include 30-plus events in 12-plus disciplines and brings in more than 150 brands, 80,000 spectators and 3,000 athletes to Vail over four days. People of all ages, backgrounds and abilities compete in fishing, kayaking, SUP, rafting, climbing, mountain biking, road cycling, trail running, disc golf, DockDogs, yoga, photography and more.

Spectating is free.

Canine competitions have become a marquee part of the Mountain Games. This year’s competitions will see the return of the Canine Super Wall, adding to the DockDogs Big Air, Extreme Vertical and Dueling Dog events. Everyday dogs can give the pool a shot, too, at the Try DockDogs event, returning for its second year.

DockDogs is a fan favorite of the GoPro Mountain Games. There’s also other dog competitions over the four days in June. Want to test your dog in the pool. Check out the Try DockDogs event this year.
Barry Eckhaus | Daily file photo

The GMC Ultimate Mountain Challenge also returns in 2020, a multi-disciplined event over the course of the four days resulting in the crowning of the toughest mountain folk in the land.

Slacklines, the 8-Ball Kayak event and more return as well.

For more information and to sign up, visit www.mountaingames.com.

Assistant Editor Ross Leonhart can be reached at 970-748-2984 and rleonhart@vaildaily.com. Follow him on Instagram at colorado_livin_on_the_hill.

GoPro Mountain Games brings first ebike race to Vail

The final day of the GoPro Mountain Games saw the first-ever ebike race in Vail, starting and finishing at the base of Golden Peak and taking riders both uphill and downhill, over and around jumps and even a snowfield.

The inaugural event saw over 60 competitors take to the Mountain Games course in three divisions: juniors, amateurs and pros.

“This is a historic day here in Vail,” said Steven Sheffield, strategic marketing manager for Bosch eBike Systems, the sponsor of the Mountain Games race along with Troy Lee Designs.

Local ebike company QuietKat was also seen around the racing venue, based out of Eagle.

“I think the biggest thing is people think an ebike is something with a throttle, where these are pedal-assist and you pedal them just like a bicycle,” said Victor Sheldon, 52, of San Diego, who competed in the pro division a day after winning the expert cross-country mountain-bike race at the Mountain Games. “It helps you get places not so much faster, just easier.”

Ebikes in the race assisted riders up to speeds of 20 mph, helping them on the uphill portions of the course. Weighing about 50 pounds, the bikes also help bring some extra speed downhill, too.

“With everybody on ebikes, it’s still going to be the strongest riders and the riders with the most skill that come out on top,” Sheffield said.

The course for the inaugural Mountain Games ebike race featured wooden jumps, rolls and ramps as well as a tunnel, all with views of the Gore Range. Riders were given the option to go around the features as well.

“There’s even a snowfield up there, bringing in some of the ski resort vibe,” Sheffield said. “It’s such a great location for an ebike event.”

Racers were respectful in the inaugural ebike event, all finishing with a bit of mud from the course.

“It was pretty awesome,” said Amory Kindle, 14, of Salida, who competed in his first ebike race at the Mountain Games. “It was nice going uphill compared to a normal bike.”

Bosch supplies ebike systems to many top brands in the industry, Sheffield said, and also hosts ebike races across the country. However, this was the first one in Vail. He said the ebikes is the fastest growing segment in the bicycle industry.

“Anyone whose ridden one, it’s easy to understand why,” he said.

Sheffield said he hopes to bring the race back again next year.

Assistant editor Ross Leonhart can be reached at 970-748-2984 and rleonhart@vaildaily.com. Follow him on Instagram at colorado_livin_on_the_hill.

VIDEO: Pro surfer Kai Lenny finds the waves in Vail

WATCH: Kai Lenny is known for hitting huge waves and setting records in hydrofoil races, but many didn’t know he’s also whitewater curious. Vail Daily reporter John LaConte caught up with the world-class waterman at the GoPro Mountain Games, where they discussed fitness, whitewater and waves, and, of course, snowboarding.

On the Hill is brought to you by The Steadman Clinic and the Steadman Philippon Research Institute

Wearable tech at the GoPro Mountain Games: Vail Daily On the Hill

With Pepi watching, Mike Kloser wins Ultimate Mountain Challenge at GoPro Mountain Games in Vail

VAIL – It was a glorious day for local legends Pepi Gramshammer and Mike Kloser on Sunday.

The pair of mountain athletes of different specialties, from different generations, whose names are among the most well known in Eagle County, were both at the base of Gondola One for the wrap up of the GoPro Mountain Games’ Ultimate Mountain Challenge on Sunday. Pepi sent off runners in the Pepi’s Face Off race, and Kloser put together a performance good enough for the win in the six-event Ultimate Mountain Challenge.

Pepi’s Face Off was the final event in the challenge, which also included five other competitions leading up to the race up Pepe’s Face, the steep ski run at the base of the mountain.

Kloser, a former world champion adventure racer, said going into Sunday, he knew his friend and longtime rival Josiah Middaugh would win the Ultimate Mountain Challenge if he won the Pepi’s Face Off race.

Kloser was surprised to learn he had won.

Mike Kloser crosses the finish line in the Pepi’s Face Off at the 2019 GoPro Mountain Games in Vail.
Kevin Arnold | Special to the Daily

“When the day started and I found out I was tied with Josiah … I thought, if he doesn’t win, and I take top 10, I should be guaranteed second place,” Kloser said. “I thought I was racing for second place the whole day.”

Mountain bike ‘master’

Middaugh finished second in the Pepi’s Face Off, with his 15-year-old son finishing third. Kloser finished 10th.

“I had to bust my butt to get top 10, it was hard,” Kloser said. “There was once a day where I could beat Josiah. But those days have come and gone.”

At 59 years old, Kloser was by far the oldest competitor in the Ultimate Mountain Challenge. Middaugh, at 40, was actually the nearest in age to Kloser, along with Eric Holmlund, who finished eighth. Middaugh was second overall in the Ultimate Mountain Challenge.

By competing in the Masters sport division of the Ultimate Mountain Challenge’s XC Mountain Bike event, which took place Saturday, Kloser said he was able to gain his advantage.

“The masters is a competitive category, it’s 45 plus, I didn’t want to sandbag, but age wise, I’m 59,” Kloser said. “But when you look at the results, timing wise I was right in the ballpark where I could have stepped up to the plate if I needed to in the vet expert, 35-plus category. I didn’t have to give it full gas in my class.”

Pepi’s Face now a summer attraction

In sounding the horn to start off the action at the Pepi’s Face Off on Sunday, Pepi Gramshammer said he was surprised to see people running up the ski run.

“I’d rather ski down,” he said.

Now 86, Pepi arrived in Vail in 1962, the same year Vail Mountain started operation. Pepi was a champion Alpine skier who was lured to Vail as an ambassador of sorts, a skier who could make the mountain look good with his skillful navigation of the terrain. Pepi fell in love with the area and started a hotel and restaurant in town with his wife, Sheika. The Pepe’s Face ski run was named after him, a steep piece of terrain that is visible from the base of the mountain, where onlookers enjoy watching skiers and snowboarders wreck and slide down to the base of the slopes.

On Sunday, Sheika said she was pleasantly surprised to learn that Pepi’s Face is now a summer attraction, as well.

“I had no idea,” she said. “That’s a wonderful honor for Pepi.”

A couple of weeks ago, the Vail Valley Foundation suggested to Sheika that it would be nice if Pepi could be there for the race.

“Of course he would be there,” Sheika said with a laugh. “I will make sure he will be there.”

When Sheika told Pepi there was a race on Pepi’s Face, “He said ‘How will they do it? Where are they getting the snow from?’” Sheika said.

“I have a picture from August 6, 1989, a picture of Pepi skiing down Pepi’s Face,” Sheika said. “Because they made the snowmaking that year for the World Championships.”

Thankfully, there was wonderful weather for the Gramhammers to enjoy on Sunday at the base of Vail Mountain.

“But we would have been here even if it was raining,” Sheika said.

Was that Brooks Laich casting lines at the GoPro Mountain Games?

Yeah, it sure was.

The NHL star center who played for the Washington Capitals, Los Angeles Kings and Ottawa Senators made an appearance on Saturday afternoon at the GoPro Mountain Games to cast some lines before the 2 Fly X-Stream Casting Competition.

How did he match up against a pro?

You can probably imagine how this goes.

After a few commendable casts, at the targets, with some merit but mostly to the crowd’s amusement, Laich challenged Audrey Wilson, who was competing in the women’s semifinals to follow.

“I just want to see you hit that target,” Laich said as he pointed toward a hoop target hanging from under the International Bridge in Vail, the farthest away of all the targets.

Wilson hit the target, and a few others.

Morale booster

One can argue there’s an extra bump of morale to be won from ousting an NHL star in any side competition.

Regardless, Wilson was on fire Saturday. She proceeded to take first in the semifinals, with a commanding 7 target hits that overshadowed the 3 hits by her runner-up, Eagle resident and last year’s second place winner Amanda Hertzfeld.

Fish first, talk hockey later

Saturday was all about fishing for Laich.

The hockey talk between him and the announcer was brief. Though within that time, he did squeeze in a few nice words about the home team.

“You guys have a great hockey team,” Laich said of the Colorado Avalanche. “They’re doing it right in Denver.”

Now an unrestricted free agent, Laich’s future with the NHL is unknown. He chuckled when the announcer entertained the idea of coming to play for the Avs. But Laich didn’t seem concerned; he seemed to be in fishing mode.

“They can call me if they want,” he said.

On Sunday, Laich participated in Pepi’s Face-Off, a race up a steep ski run on Vail Mountain and back down — as many times possible in 30 minutes. He was competing with his dog, who got tired and required a few stops.

Laich was in Vail for the first time, he said, enjoying his time, and freedom, away from professional sports.

WATCH: Onewheel ride at the GoPro Mountain Games

Race for the Rail moves from Vail to Northstar

VAIL – After experiencing tremendous growth, the Race for the Rail Onewheel cross competition will not be held at the 2019 GoPro Mountain Games, as it has in years past.

Jack Mudd with Onewheel said the company had to make the decision with a heavy heart, as the GoPro Mountain Games in Vail has always been such a big part of the Onewheel community.

“We had 75 entrants last year and that’s looking like it’s going to double or triple,” Mudd said. “The Mountain Games has been such a wonderful experience for us, and has been so good to us, but it’s time to cast off on our own.”

‘Mountain Games is special’

The Race for the Rail will take place at Northstar Resort in Lake Tahoe August 1-4. Mudd said the format developed over the course of four years of experimenting in Vail will be refined even further in Tahoe, but rough-and-tumble competitors who looked forward to racing at Golden Peak for its variety of terrain and head-to-head racing opportunities won’t be disappointed in Tahoe.

“I remember our first year, we were in town by (10th Mountain Whiskey), and we just had a couple of ramps which we built by hand,” Mudd recalls. “We built the ramps outside of Home Depot the night before.”

By 2018, a four-person head-to-head race had become a main attraction at Golden Peak, where spectators lined a course that contained dirt, asphalt, hills, banked turns, jumps and a variety of other challenging features.

“I’ve done a ton of events, all over the country, and Mountain Games really is special,” Mudd said. “We have employees we’ve met at the Mountain Games, made lifelong friends there, it’s been amazing.”

Mudd said as the Race for the Rail course continues to grow each year, the fact that they’ll have the Northstar venue all to themselves in early August will allow it to grow even more.

“The sport needs progression, and that’s what we’re seeking (in Tahoe),” Mudd said. “But Mountain Games is so special to us, we’re hoping to find a way to continue to be there in the future.”

Rentals still available

As electric skateboards, scooters, bikes and unicycles started to become ubiquitous across the U.S., the Onewheel brand of electric personal mobility device found itself to inhabit a particular niche with its offroad capabilities, long battery life and fast recharging capabilities. For many people, the GoPro Mountain Games was the first time they had ever seen the device in action.

Professional skier Taylor Seaton said he’ll never forget the first time he saw one in Vail in 2015.

“It was different than anything I had ever seen,” Seaton said. “A really impressive toy for sure.”

Seaton entered the Race for the Rail in 2016, and said since then riding a Onewheel and seeing the device around town has become an integral part of the Mountain Games experience for him.

“The funny thing is, already I’ve seen tons of other people on them as the Mountain Games are getting set up,” Seaton said Wednesday. “So even though the Race for the Rail isn’t here this year, I think you’re still going to see a lot of them around.”

Rocky Mountain Adventure Rentals in Eagle-Vail will have Onewheels available for rent during the Mountain Games and beyond. Owner Stan Morris said the product fits in perfectly with his unique selection of adventure toys.

“I saw an old surfer from California get on one, a guy in his 60s, he took one lap around the parking lot and came back and bought one,” Morris said. “I knew it was a perfect device for this area. People can rent them here and hop right on the rec path through Dowd Junction into Vail. We’ve been getting 15 to 19 miles on a single charge.”

Big wave surfer Kai Lenny ‘cross’ training in Vail

VAIL — World-class waterman Kai Lenny sees the swift current of Gore Creek as an ideal cross-training opportunity.

He also plans on entering in the Yeti SUP Surf Cross competition today.

Stand-up paddleboard racing arrived in Vail in 2010 in one of the first river stand-up paddleboard races ever seen by a large audience — and the longest-running race to this day. Lenny raced in 2014 but hasn’t returned since.

“It was a lot colder and rainier,” he said.

This time around, the water temperatures aren’t bothering him, but he’s definitely feeling the elevation, as few people spend as much time at zero feet above sea level as professional surfers.

“If anything, I’m below sea level at times,” Lenny said.

Lenny competes on the World Surf League’s Big Wave Tour, where he finished this season at the Jaws Challenge. He also enjoys hydrofoil paddling races; in 2017 he made headlines by beating the course record from Molokai to Oahu by more than an hour.

“Every sport I do, endurance plays a key role,” Lenny said. “Inner island channel crossings on a hydrofoil, but big waves, as well, because … if you get caught inside on a really big wave, or you get caught on a big one, you’re gonna have to have that stamina to last those minutes of getting absolutely tortured underwater.”

Top river racers

As he’s in a bit of an offseason at the moment, Lenny hopes to cross-train by taking to a river, rather than the ocean waters he calls home.

“This is totally out of my wheelhouse,” Lenny said on Saturday, after racing in the Yeti Downriver SUP Sprint. “I’m typically riding water that moves in much different ways.”

Of course, in training across various water venues, Lenny hopes to surf well out of his comfort zone.

“It’s a new challenge,” he said. “Something that is unique and fresh … I’m looking at this as maybe a platform to project me into a really good training run when I get home.”

In Saturday’s downriver SUP sprint, Lenny said he appreciated the level of athleticism on display at the GoPro Mountain Games.

“When you have some of the best river guys in the world chasing behind you, it’s an extra little bit of fire to try to go as fast as you can,” he said. “I really just focused on my paddling technique, and the little knowledge I do have of a river, to try to make my run quick.”

Lenny finished fourth behind Spencer Lacy, Michael Tavares and Bradley Hilton.

“I put it all out there,” he said. “It was super-fun.”

‘Crowded lineup’

On Sunday, Lenny will participate in the Yeti SUP Surf Cross competition, where all competitors take to Gore Creek at the same time.

Race organizers described it as a “battle royal.”

“I think it’s gonna be like being in a crowded lineup at a surf spot, and everyone’s caught inside, and they’re trying to make it out for the next wave,” Lenny said. “In this type of racing, you can get bumped wrong, and you can just miss all the gates … It’s probably a lot more well suited to the river guys, but I’m really excited to throw my hat into the mix.”

World Cup climbing thrills crowds in Vail

VAIL — The closest thing might be hanging on the rim after a slam dunk.

There are very few moments of “I’m the boss” in sports like hanging by one arm, looking out at a huge crowd after summiting a course during an International Federation of Speed Climbing Bouldering World Cup at the GoPro Mountain Games on Saturday afternoon at Vail’s Mountain Plaza.

The Czech Republic’s Adam Ondra works his way through a problem during the IFSC World Cup Bouldering event at Vail’s GoPro Mountain Games on Saturday. (Max Phannenstiel | Special to the Daily)

Sure it’s “only” 30 feet, with perils abounding in “rocks” extending outward, placing climbers in conflict with gravity. The athletes put their entire weight on toeholds that seem only suitable for insects. These people have muscles on muscles to get into the crevices and angles required to make it to the top.

So hang around a little while, if you make it.

“OK, this is so unreal,” Slovenia’s Janja Garngret said after winning her sixth straight World Cup, a new circuit record. “I don’t know what happened. This year I was never nervous before a World Cup, but this time, I was freaking out. But I had fun, and it was enough for the win.”

Japan’s Yoshiyuki Ogata won the men’s competition.

Janja again

In the women’s comp, the first difference maker came on the second wall with a quarter sphere jutting out from the wall about 15-20 feet up the course.

That problem dropped France’s Luce Douady, and Fanny Gibert and Japan’s Mao Nakamura.

Wall No. 3 featured three different panels, all at 90-degree angles and flummoxed all but Garnbret, who summoned her experience as a spider in a previous life — there is no other explanation — and Gibert.

That left the Slovenian with a 10-point advantage over Japan’s Akiyo Noguchi and Miho Nonaka and Gilbert, going into the final wall of the afternoon.

The last problem of the day inverted climbers at a 45-degree angle over the stage before the crest. Successfully navigating the 45-degree plane to the final panel perpendicular to the stage was the challenge.

Noguchi was the first to make it all the way up, but Garnbret answered in her first try with a successful summit. At the top, she appeared to cup hand to her face in joy, knowing she had clinched her sixth straight World Cup.

“After the last boulder, I couldn’t hide the feelings,” Garnbret said. “All the hard work paid off. I was so happy I made it.”

We’ve got a problem

In official climbing parlance, the routes up each of the four walls are called problems.

And with good reason.

By and large, there is one solution to each problem. The men’s competition took on a more deliberate pace as the athletes mapped out their path during their allotted four minutes.

The pauses added to the drama in front of a crowd backed up all the way to Bridge Street, all looking at the climbing competition with Vail Mountain as its backdrop.

The third wall to the far east of the stage started separating the six finalists. Ironically, in a climbing competition, this feature tested the athletes’ ability to work horizontally across three panels.

Japan’s Tomoa Narasaki and Yoshiyuki Ogata were the only to navigate it, the latter head-butting the wall in celebration at the top.

In the de facto all-Japanese final on the fourth climb, Narasaki fell four times trying to make the transition from the 45-degree inverted angle to the final panel. By finishing second, Narasaki clinched the season World Cup title.

Two climbers later, Ogata summited the final problem on his first attempt, hanging at the top joyfully, seemingly on top of the world.