Best climbers in the country compete in Vail at the 2022 GoPro Mountain Games

Kerry Scott, Autumn Lloyd of Rock Warriors, and Paloma Slowik gracefully tackling the North American Cup Vail Women's Qualifying Round for the GoPro Mountain Games Friday in Vail.
Madison Rahhal/Vail Daily

The GoPro Mountain Games is home to many friendly contests, but for competitive rock climbers, Vail has long been a place where the best in the world test their strength and climb for official world rankings.

Vail hosted the only World Cup climbing contest in North America for over a decade, until it was moved to Salt Lake City in 2021. Following a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic, Vail is now back on the map in the climbing world after hosting one of five competitions in the new North American Cup Series for the first time this weekend.

The North American Cup is an elite-level contest for U.S. and Canadian climbers that opens up the playing field by allowing any registered USA Climbing member who turns 16 in 2022 to take part in the competition. Unlike the World Cup, which requires participants to be members of Team USA, this weekend’s contest was an opportunity for up-and-coming climbers to go head to head against the continent’s best.

Sergey Lakhno competes in the first round of mens qualifying for the North American Cup Vail during the GoPro Mountain Games on Friday in Vail.
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily

Local Larry Moore is the owner and founder of Eagle Climbing + Fitness, and has been organizing the climbing events in Vail since the beginning.

“It’s kind of a big deal that it doesn’t require somebody to have gone through a competition, league or format or event to qualify to compete against some of the top names in the nation,” Moore said. “There are new names that unless you are local to their climbing region you might not even know their name, and they were just super impressive.”

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In the quarterfinals, 140 men and 80 women participated, making it the largest USA Climbing event of the year so far, with competitors as young as 15 and as old as their late 30s competing side by side on the wall. 

“I think it’s neat that we attracted so many people,” Moore said. “There’s a lot of young people that have probably seen the event, maybe even volunteered to brush holds or do something at the event back when they were a kid, and now they’re in Vail competing.”

The walls were rearranged for every contest and gender group, constantly challenging the athletes to conquer new routes to rack up points for “tops,” meaning they reached the top of the route, and “zones,” meaning they reached a certain point on the wall that registers for points. At the end of the contest, the climbers who reached the most tops and zones in the least amount of tries topped the leaderboard.

Olympian Kyra Condie dominates the women’s competition

While many lesser-known climbers showed impressive results, all three rounds of the women’s competition were dominated by Kyra Condie, a current Team USA member and one of only two women who competed for the United States in the 2020 Olympic Games.

Condie won the qualifying round, which gave climbers three hours to attempt eight different boulder problems, with a maximum of six attempts on each route. The top 20 finishers went onto the semifinal round on Saturday afternoon, where Condie once again topped the competition as the only competitor to get three tops and four zones on four total walls.

During the finals on Saturday evening, Condie secured her decisive victory with two tops and four zones.

“Felt so good to have a bouldering comp where I was able to feel like myself on the wall,” Condie wrote in an Instagram post after the competition. “I knew this feeling was still in there somewhere, I just had to find it on my own terms. Was really happy to feel consistent again and won every round.”

Condie was followed by Catherine Harty in second and Alex Johnson in third. Johnson, 33, won the first-ever World Cup climbing event in Vail, and over a decade later is still finding her way to the podium. Campbell Sarinopolous, another Team USA member, took fourth.

Most of the finalists were American, but Team Canada member Allison Vest placed fifth overall, with one top and three zones. Vest became the first Canadian woman to climb a V14 route earlier this year, one of the highest levels of difficulty in bouldering.

Zoe Bitters took sixth in the finals with no points, saying that she became intimidated in the round, but that the experience of competing in Vail reflected her favorite things about the sport.

“All in all, this competition encapsulated everything I love about competitive climbing,” Bitters wrote on Instagram. “Fun climbs, meeting new people, trying hard, surprising myself, and learning lots and lots of new things.”

Team USA member Timothy Kang wins men’s title

In a very crowded men’s field of 140 competitors, Team USA member Timothy Kang rose to the top, but not before 18-year-old Isaac Leff could steal the show in the qualifying round with an impressive first-place showing on Friday.

“I’ve won two rounds of national competitions before, but it’s definitely not all the time, so I’m super psyched to do well today,” Leff said after the qualifiers. “It’s just really good practice for the bigger competitions coming up, and really good to get to climb against basically the strongest national field in a competition like this.”

After a fifth-place finish on Friday, Kang powered through the semis, topping all four walls in one attempt, and clinching victory in the finals after topping a B3 wall that the majority of finalists couldn’t even reach the zone on. All of the runners-up were gunning hard to complete the elusive route, but only fifth-place Canadian climber Sean Faulker managed to get a point on it.

The four runner-ups had similar performances on the four walls, getting the same number of tops and zones on the same routes, but second-place Charles Barron and third-place Simon Hibbeler managed to do so in fewer attempts. Dillon Countryman, who placed fourth overall, is only 16 years old, and already finding himself among the ranks of America’s climbing greats.

There are three events left in the 2022 North American Cup series, with the next one taking place in Richmond, British Columbia, on the weekend of July 15. The climbers with the top 40 results from all five events will have the opportunity to compete in trials to become part of Team USA, and potentially qualify for the 2024 Olympic team.

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