Return of GoPro Mountain Games a confidence boost for Vail, businesses and residents
Vail mayor: ’I think it shows a willingness to return to things that have been a staple of our town for a long time’
No one wants to use the word “normal,” but the announcement Friday morning that the GoPro Mountain Games are returning to Vail in 2021 provides a “light at the end of the tunnel“ for organizers, participants, valley locals and regular visitors to the Vail area.
The Mountain Games are the annual kickoff to summer in Vail, usually attracting thousands of athletes and even more spectators to the resort in June. This year, organizers are prioritizing safety by focusing on athletes, limiting audiences and other protocols. New this year, organizers are excited to present daily programming with Outside TV to allow people to watch from wherever they are, and the show will go straight from event coverage from the day to a live performance at the Gerald R Ford Amphitheater in Vail.
“It’s a huge announcement,” said Vail Mayor Dave Chapin, avoiding the “normal” word. “I think it shows a willingness to return to things that have been a staple of our town for a long time.”
The Mountain Games celebrate adventure sports, arts and music in the mountains and were first hosted in Vail in 2002. The event has since grown into one of the community’s biggest festivals of the year, attracting world-class athletes from across the globe as well as outdoor enthusiasts, musicians, dog lovers and others.
“I was surprised, it’s super exciting,” said Kim Fuller, who competes in the annual Mountain Games and also has hosted yoga events as part of the event. “It’s a new hope, a light at the end of the tunnel … It makes me want to get my butt in gear.”
While certain events will not return this year due to COVID-19 protocols — the World Cup climbing event, which usually has thousands of spectators packed in Vail’s Mountain Plaza, will not be happening this year — there is a solid list of events organizers are comfortable offering.
This year’s events — open to amateurs and professionals — include biking, fly-fishing, kayaking, trail running, disc golf, rafting, stand-up paddleboarding, yoga as well as a photo contest.
“The pandemic’s been hard on everybody, and certainly it’s been hard for people who have faced loss, economic hardship and just isolation — it’s a serious, big deal,” said Tom Boyd, director of communications for the Vail Valley Foundation, which puts on the GoPro Mountain Games each year, among other cultural and educational offerings throughout the year across the valley. “And we need something to celebrate. We need something that we can say, ’We’re back. We’re coming back,’ and this is it for mountain communities across the world, for everybody in Vail and the Rockies — this is the first big clarion that we’re coming back.”
The Mountain Games were canceled in 2020 due to the pandemic.
“Clearly, safety has to be the no. 1 priority,” Chapin said. “I think with the town and the ski company and the foundation, safety’s always the no. 1 concern.”
With the focus on safety, organizers will continue to closely monitor any changes in health protocols from the county or state — like the Vail Valley Foundation has done since the start of the coronavirus. More announcements will be released closer to the event, including the musical lineup.
“It gives a boost of confidence to business owners, event producers and also residents that we can do this,” Chapin said of the announcement.
The Vail mayor is also looking forward to the live music aspect of the Mountain Games, adding that the event is “one of the first steps” in a return to larger events in the valley.
“We know people are rearing to go, and this could be a great kickoff to our summer,” Chapin said. “But it has to be done to a level where we can maintain the safety of the participants and the people that are here. That’s really what it is.”
The Vail Valley Foundation, town of Vail and Vail Resorts have held multiple meetings over the months to coordinate the return of the event.
“This might be the best day I’ve had in 360 days,” Boyd said of finally sending out the official announcement on Friday. “It’s the best day for all of us involved in the Mountain Games community.”
Lisa Reeder has been working with the Vail Valley Foundation and the Mountain Games for about five years. With an extensive background on the water, Reeder is the event’s whitewater coordinator. Along with a team of three to four people, Reeder works behind the scenes to ensure the on-water events go off unhitched. She said in addition to COVID-19 protocols, the water events also rely on river flows which are out of their control.
“We’re going to stick with the things that keep the athletes spread out,” she said, adding that events like the 8 Ball Kayak — which requires competitors to slam into each other on the water — is not coming in 2021.
But the Mountain Games organizers are able to present the event by tweaking the usual programming — with the focus on safety.
“It’s a staple in respect to the summer kickoff in the Vail Valley,” Reeder said of the Mountain Games. “Even though we won’t have the full blown event, I think it’s monumental that this is going to happen. I think it just gives everybody the feel of return to normalcy.”
Nick Troutman, a GoPro athlete and regular at the Mountain Games kayaking competitions (along with his family), said the event is one of the first major competitions to return to the country.
“I am extremely stoked and very happy to be coming back to Vail,” Troutman said. “I’m excited to just bring the joy back to everything — get on the road with the kids, go explore and adventure in the mountains and just stoked to keep the tradition going with the Mountain Games, even if it means happening a little different this year.”
The Mountain Games might not be “normal” this year, but it’s a giant step in a return to normalcy for this valley.