Billy Mattison |

Billy Mattison

Caramie Schnell

For Billy Mattison, life is good. He lives in the shadow of the Gore Range and his job not only allows him, but requires him to spend a significant amount of time trekking through the mountains and along the rivers that grace this valley.”I love Vail. There are great rivers and mountains all around,” Billy says. “Living here in East Vail I walk out my front door and I can be up at 13,000 feet in two to three hours. I can ski the East Vail chutes right to my house,” Billy says.Billy moved to Vail from Steamboat in 1981 with an old girlfriend. He started off working at ski shops during the winters and guiding rafts in the summer. In ’89 he started working for ski patrol, something he still does, and Billy also became a partner in Timberline Tours.Greg Kelchner, Billy’s business partner and friend of nearly 25 years, has watched Billy’s success along the years.”He’s always been very competitive. That’s one of the things that has driven him to success, he has a great curiousity about the outdoors and amazing dedication,” says Kelchner. “I see him put the same amount of energy into his children that he put into his friends and his career. He trains a lot with his kids, carrying them right along.”Eight years ago Billy started doing something he’s been passionate about ever since: adventure racing. One of the things he likes best about adventure racing is the extensive traveling it has allowed him to do.”I’ve been all overIndia, China, Tibet, New Zealand, Africa, Borneo, Argentina, Europeand that’s just since ’96. That’s one of the reasons why I got into it,” Billy says.His third Eco Challenge race took him to Morocco, where he savored his first taste of victory in 1998.”We rode into Marrakesh just as the sun was rising; it was definitely a cool experience. We were the first U.S. team in the world to win a major adventure race,” Billy says.The classic expedition length race began with the four-person team riding camels for ten miles. Before it was done the team did coast steering on the Barberry Coast, ran sea kayaks, trekked through the Atlas Mountains, and mountain biked 120 miles through the spectacular countryside to finish in the city that lies in the foothills of the Atlas’.”With 30 miles left in the 325-mile race, we finally moved into the lead. We caught the Spanish team that had been leading the entire time in the middle of the night and battled it out. As the sun came out we dropped them,” Billy says.The key to almost any success is hard work. Billy’s Eco Challenge team trekked all over the Gore Range together and met once or twice a week to prepare. Billy says that training hard as a team that summer really made the difference: that and the food.”One of the things they told us was to bring our own food and we were one of the only teams that did that. We never got sick and that helped tremendously in our win. It was almost a race of nutrition. A lot of good teams got sick, all it takes is one person on the team to get sick,” Billy remembers.It took the team almost exactly seven days to finish the course and during that time each team member has to stay within 100 yards of everyone else the entire time. During that entire week the team figured they each managed to get a mere ten hours of sleep, something that caught up with them just an hour after they crossed the finish line.”I couldn’t have even told you my teammates first names, everyone was totally out of it. We woke up and it was getting dark out and none of us knew where we were. Then we remembered.”Now Billy has a one-year contract with the Golite/Timberland team. This summer the team will be racing in the world championships in Newfoundland, Canada, and also in the richest race in the world, the Primal Quest race. That race will take place in the Seattle area and a $100,000 purse goes to the top team while the top ten teams receive money.Billy is currently finishing up his design of the Adventure course for the Teva Mountain Games Adventure race, set to take place this Sunday, June 6.”At 46 years of age I’m starting to make a transition from racing to race directing,” Billy says. “I’d love to stay involved in the sport of adventure racing and a good way to do that is to help put on the races.”Designing this course is ideal; I’m getting paid to go out and hike, kayak and bike over and over again; as the director you have to be sure the course flows directly.”GNC is the sponsor for the adventure race this year and there’s $10,000 in prize money with first place taking home $4,500. A prize that Billy thinks is a great sprint-race fee.”I just want to make sure I have a good adventurous race set up for them. The course will include hiking/orienteering, in-line skating, whitewater tubing down Gore Creek, mountain biking and a ropes section,” says Billy. “We’re expecting 20 co-ed teams of 3 people each.”Billy’s own team, team Golite/Timberland will be racing this weekend as well, and of course, he expects them to finish strong.”It’s been a little weird, I am the race director and I obviously know the course and a big part of Adventure racing is navigating. I have to be careful when I talk to them; if they do do well, I don’t want people saying ‘well, the captain of their team designed the course.’ I’m sure people will say that because they will do well, top three for sure.”In 1996 Billy met his wife Helene while doing an exchange for ski patrol in France. He was working ski patrol; she was doing ski school. Eighteen months ago they were blessed with twins, little Liam with his perpetual grin and his sweet, blue-eyed sister, Scout.”I’m still doing the same stuff I’ve always done, but now I come straight home after work,” Billy says about his family.After a few near-death experiences (he got caught in a sieve on the south fork of the Merced River in California that got to him) he admits he’s not as crazy as he used to be.”I’ve had three good friends killed kayaking,” says Billy. “I’m not up for the real gnarl anymore.”But even though Billy isn’t skiing off 22,000-foot peaks in Nepal and kayaking “the hair”, he’s still climbing mountains and doing adventure races.”Adventure racing helps me to rationalize when I go hike all day in the Gore Range; it’s so nice to have that as a job, Billy says. “That’s what’s cool about Vail, a lot of the people here aren’t here to make the big bucks, but they love their life.”

Support Local Journalism