GoPro Mountain Games gets even more massive with expansion into Wolcott, Eagle-Vail
EAGLE COUNTY — The GoPro Mountain Games start on Thursday, June 7, transforming Vail into a massive arena of activity.
In recent years, however, the event has outgrown Vail and has branched out into the surrounding areas, impacting the county as a whole.
The kick-off event — a kayak race down Homestake Creek — takes place near Red Cliff and has been a staple competition for the Mountain Games. That event is a spin-off of the original competition, which took place in Dowd Chute just outside of Vail. Before long Vail Village became incorporated into the games, Vail Mountain was activated, and classic Vail competitions such as the Vail Pass time trial cycling race — an homage to the days of the Coors Classic — became a part of the action.
These days, competitions stretch from Vail Pass to Eagle and many places in between.
Former journalist Tom Boyd, now the director of communications for the event, has been blown away by the growth. Boyd’s ties run deep in Vail, in the ’70s he watched his father kayak the same waters you’ll see Olympian Eric Jackson floating this week.
“We are at the point now where Saturday is the biggest single-day on the Vail calendar, and with more than 13 different disciplines and more than 30 events, there is a lot to take in,” Boyd said.
DISCS TRAVELING FAR
One event that symbolizes the rapid expansion of the GoPro Mountain Games is the competition’s disc golf event.
Incorporating disc golf into the mountain games started a five years ago as a test of sorts, to see if the growing sport would fit in well with the Mountain Games showcase of outdoor recreation and lifestyle.
It’s now one of the biggest tournaments in the Rocky Mountain region, featured in international media, with venues in Wolcott, Eagle-Vail and Vail Village.
The payout of $8,500 is one of the largest a competitor is likely to see in the sport.
While the payout attracts the pros, local organizer Steve Klehfoth says the vibe of the GoPro Mountain Games is what attracts so many players from around the country.
“There’s so many other side events — live music, gear town, competitions in the water and on the trails, giveaways, walking around and putting free stuff in your goodie bag — all these other elements make it attractive to people from all over,” Klehfoth said.
The disc golf event alone is likely to attract hundreds this year. Last year the total number of participants was well over 200, Klehfoth said.
“If you play in it, you’re guaranteed to see at least three different venues on Friday and Saturday,” he said. “Even if you’re new to the sport you will find joy in competing in this event, which is what I think makes it so attractive to people.”
TRYING NEW THINGS
The impressive volunteer culture at the Vail Valley Foundation has also contributed to the GoPro Mountain Games success.
Klehfoth and the Flying Eagle Disc Society have put in hundreds of man hours carving out a brand new venue, an 18-hole course at 4 Eagle Ranch in Wolcott, which will make its debut at the Mountain Games.
Another new venue for the Mountain Games will be the Willow Creek par-3 golf course in Eagle-Vail.
“It will pretty much follow the exact layout of the golf course,” Klehfoth said. “That course will be an accuracy challenge, where you take a tee shot at a basket and measure how close the shot is.”
A third disc golf venue will take place right in the heart of Vail Village, where disc golfers will be tested on miles per hour and putting in front of a large crowd.
“After everyone competes on Friday and Saturday, we’ll then narrow it down to a final 72 players or so on Sunday,” Klehfoth said.
Klehfoth said the Vail Valley Foundation’s vision in trying new things helped the Mountain Games transform from a humble whitewater event in Dowd Chute to the behemoth it is now, and he saw that open-mindedness help the disc golf competition blossom into one of the sport’s premier events in the U.S.
“When the Vail Valley Foundation took the risk of incorporating disc golf into being a trophy sport at the Mountain Games, they really didn’t know if it could be successful,” Klehfoth said. “I think their willingness to take new avenues in trying things like disc golf really speaks to the success of the Mountain Games as a whole.”