Kids Adventure Games sees major growth, bigger events this summer |

Kids Adventure Games sees major growth, bigger events this summer

Melanie Wong
Knox Holton and Max Sutter tube down the creek at last year's Vail Kids Adventure Games.
Photos courtesy of Michael Holton |

VAIL — Many people travel great distances to compete in various races — in the case of the Kids Adventure Games, they’re coming to you.

Billy and Helene Mattison, founders of the very popular Vail Kids Adventure Race, are now in their second year of taking the race series on the road. Including the Vail race, which goes from Aug. 5 to 9, there are Kids Adventure Races in eight ski resort locations around the country. Other locations now include Snowshoe Mountain, West Virginia; Mammoth, California; Big Sky, Montana; Sun Valley, Idaho; Snowbird, Utah; Stowe, Vermont; and Squaw Valley, California. (Find out more at http://www.kidsadventure

The Mattisons have been traveling the country in trucks and trailers full of rigging, tools and other equipment, building courses that include slip-n-slides, cargo net climbs, ziplines and other obstacles.

Last year, the races saw moderate success, but this summer, Billy Mattison said that they’ve been seeing huge jumps in attendance.

“The first year, it’s hard to arrive in a strange ski town where you don’t know everybody like you do in Vail. We had good turnouts, but not what we needed,” he said. “This year we’ve doubled attendance at every event we’ve done so far. I credit a lot of that to the parents from last year telling their friends about it, and the fact that the kids really have fun. The ski resorts have done a good job marketing it, too.”

Support Local Journalism

This obstacle-adventure-orienteering concept for kids is a relatively new one. Billy Mattison said that several other obstacle-course races like Tough Mudder have small kids obstacles for the children of participants but that his races are the only ones he’s heard of that are solely dedicated to children.

Vail race grows

None of the events have been as popular as the flagship Vail race, which was sold out weeks before the event with more than 360 teams of kids participating. The two days preceding the race are full of clinics to prepare the kids, and those are sold out, too. This year’s Vail race will feature three different courses for different age groups.

Part of the appeal is that the races bring real challenges and require outdoor skills (which kids can often learn at workshops run by the Mattisons in the days preceding the event). The races involve orienteering, hiking, mountain biking, climbing on cargo nets over water and, of course, the purely fun thrills, including ziplining and the Tarzan swing portion. This year’s course features more mud sections and a new pool for the slip-n-slide so that it will be “bigger, faster and with more air,” Billy Mattison said.

Vail parent Michael Holton, whose 8-year-old son Knox will be competing again this year in a team with friend Max Sutter, said the races are just as fun for parents as it is for the kids.

“Part of the reason you raise your kids in the mountains is to provide them with opportunities like the Kids Adventure Games. Last year was his first year and he’d never done anything like it, so the goal was just to finish and hopefully have fun,” Holton said. “He had a blast. The team aspect of the race is great for the kids, and finishing an event like this builds confidence, character and courage. As a parent, the pride of seeing your child give their best effort, struggle, not give up and succeed is awesome.”

Returning for the second year, the whole family can participate in the Family Mud Run on Saturday, Aug. 8 beginning at 4:30 p.m. Starting from the base of Gondola One in Vail Village, families and individuals of all ages and ability levels are invited to come test their competitive streak during a 1-mile, mud-filled racecourse.

“The Mud Run was a well-received addition last year as we are always looking for fun ways to get younger and older participants involved in the event that may not be within the age requirements of the Kids Adventure Games,” said Beth Pappas, of the Vail Rec District. “It’s also a great way for visitors, who may not have the whole week to spare, to get down and dirty on a Saturday afternoon.”

Appeal of adventure

The Vail race started out as a mostly locals race in its first couple of years, but it has since started to attract people from all over the state.

“We’re seeing it reach more to Denver and Boulder, and even Colorado Springs. Word is spreading well beyond our valley,” Billy Mattison said.

And what’s made the Kids Adventure Games so successful?

He thinks it’s a fun way for athletic kids to compete in a format that’s fun, versus feeling overly strenuous or masochistic. His own kids’ interests are a perfect example, he said.

“If I told my kids, ‘Let’s hike up Bald Mountain,’ they’d say ‘no,’ but if there’s a race and other kids are there and there are fun obstacles, they’d sprint up that mountain,” he said.

The races have garnered such rave reviews that other locations have expressed interest in hosting the event.

“We received calls from a couple other areas in New England, and we even got calls from Germany, Great Britain and New Zealand asking about it,” Billy Mattison said.

Assistant Managing Editor Melanie Wong can be reached at 970-748-2927 and Follow her on Twitter @mwongvail.

Support Local Journalism