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Mountain Games celebrates 10 years

Lauren Glendenning
lglendenning@vaildaily.com
Vail, CO Colorado
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VAIL, Colorado – Teva Mountain Games founder Joel Heath walks around Vail this week and can hardly believe how things have changed since he started the event 10 years ago – the town used to be desolate; businesses were mostly closed.

“When we started this event, you couldn’t find a place to have lunch, let alone stay overnight,” Heath said.

It’s because of the Teva Mountain Games that Vail now has vitality in early June. Heath said he overheard the employees at the hotel he’s staying in talking about the Teva Mountain Games – it’s the reason those folks are able to work this week.

It’s a great feeling, Heath said, but it’s not something he ever predicted would happen.

Before the Teva Mountain Games took shape in Vail, the event was a whitewater race from Minturn, through Dowd Chute, to Avon. It was called the Jeep Whitewater Festival, remembers kayaker Ken Hoeve, of Gypsum, who has competed in every Teva Mountain Games.

“That was pretty much it,” he said. “That’s the real roots.”

But when Heath brought the event, which had become the Teva Whitewater Festival, to Vail and added sports like rock climbing and trail running, word got out that the event, which was now called the Teva Mountain Games, was the place to be for outdoor sports athletes and enthusiasts.

Joe Blair, the original vice president of operations, and Adam Druckman, the sports marketing manager at Teva, also had a lot to do with that, Heath said.

“This space (in Vail) is a powerful space, but it wasn’t until you brought all the sports together that the magic started to occur,” Heath said.

Professional kayaker Brad Ludden, who has also competed in every Teva Mountain Games, said that while he loved that the event mostly revolved around kayaking in the beginning, there weren’t many other draws.

“Every year they plant a new seed with a new sport,” Ludden said. “It’s evolved every year – it just gets bigger and bigger.”

Competitors like Hoeve and Ludden now enjoy the event as spectators, too.

“You can participate at the highest level in your sport and then go watch people participate at the highest level in their sport,” Hoeve said.

Now the Teva Mountain Games include everything from kayaking to standup paddling to bouldering to mountain biking.

Last year’s new event was standup paddling and it took off. Hoeve said some of the best in the sport are traveling from all over to compete in Vail this weekend.

This year, the Teva Slopestyle event – mountain bikers showing off some of their best tricks – takes place in the spotlight on Friday night, a change from last year’s Sunday afternoon showcase.

“There’s a bigger emphasis on it – it’s an exciting new addition,” Heath said.

Heath used to run the Teva Mountain Games with a staff of about four or five people. Vail Valley Foundation Vice President of Communications John Dakin said he always marveled at the fact Heath could pull off such a massive event with such a small staff.

The Vail Valley Foundation bought the event from Heath and his company, Untraditional Marketing, in late 2008. This is the third year that the Foundation is putting on the event.

Dakin said the Foundation realized the value of the Teva Mountain Games to the community and that it had really become the official kickoff to summer.

“We wanted to make sure the event didn’t go somewhere else,” Dakin said. “We were very intent on making sure it stayed a Vail event.”

And with the resources of the Vail Valley Foundation, the event has continued to grow. The Foundation reported record attendance in 2010.

It’s obvious to people like Hoeve why the growth has continued. It’s because of the vision of the people behind the event.

“I’ve never seen the Mountain Games take a step back – it always takes a step forward every year,” Hoeve said.

From 241 athletes in the early days to more than 2,100 in 2010, the growth is almost overwhelming to Heath.

Heath even saw a guy on a beach in Mexico wearing a Teva Mountain Games T-shirt. The guy didn’t even speak English.

“It has truly become global,” he said. “It’s pretty crazy.”

Community Editor Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or lglendenning@vaildaily.com.


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