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Ski town, summer paradise

Staff Reports

Many of the world’s best skiers have come to the Vail Valley to train, compete, and prepare for competition, including the likes of Phil and Steve Mayer, Franz Klammer, Hermann Mier, and Stephan Eberharter, among many others.And there are plenty of locals who have gone on to compete on the world’s skiing stage, including Chad Fleischer, Sarah Schleper, Lindsay Kildow, Sacha Gros, and Mike Brown.But now the valley’s summer athletes are making their mark worldwide, giving Vail a name in many other sports beside skiing. Not only is the valley producing some of the world’s top summer athletes (like top adventure racer Mike Kloser and history’s best American female trail runner Anita Ortiz), but it has become an attractive training ground for world-renowned athletes from around the globe who are looking for mountain terrain, high altitude, and top-notch training facilities.Lance Armstrong, for example, has come to the valley to train for the Tour de France, and the valley is home to the U.S. Whitewater Champions of “Behind the 8 Ball.” Swedish expedition photographer Swedish Jonas Tufvesson is also based in Vail. Other world sports champions have to come to the valley permanently. The Vail Valley has been the home and spawning grounds for many talented athletes and as the word continues to spread, the Vail Valley will continue to grow toward the ideal athlete’s village.Here’s a look at some of the people who are making a world-wide mark in their sports, and are doing it from a home-base right here in the valley:Dust in the windWhen mountain bike world champion Mike Kloser moved to the Vail Valley in the winter of 1979, his heart was in skiing, the valley’s world-renowned sport. But, after he arrived, his heart found another love Adventure racing. It is a love that has allowed him to flourish in the valley and has taken him all over the world, marking him as one of the top athletes in the sport. He was named “Male Athlete of the Year” by Adventure Sports Magazine in 2003, and he was inducted into the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame in 2002.”I came out here because I loved skiing,” Kloser said. “But, once I got here, it’s pretty hard to leave it.”We have some of the best trails to ride and hike, rivers and streams to paddle and fish, mountains to climb and ski; we have incredible horseback riding, motorcycling, ATVing, jeeping, parasailing, golfing, snowmobiling, ice climbing and the list goes on,” Kloser added. “The air is crisp and clear, the rivers are cool and clean and the seasons are real.”Hooked on a borrowed bikeProfessional mountain bike champion Jimi Mortenson first picked up a bike in his hometown in Oregon. After countless accidents from motorcycles, Mortenson picked up a mountain bike from a friend, and, he said, “I got hooked on a borrowed bike.”Mortenson moved to the Vail Valley in the winter of 1995. A young kid from the West Coast, Mortenson ventured to the valley for its famous champagne powder. But then after his first winter, he explored warm-weather sports, riding his mountain bike with a group of friends and becoming a full-blown competitor and athlete.A weekend warrior, Mortenson became a member of the Vail Team Go Fast, racing in the Race Across America Tour. Mortenson won the Vail 100, the Firecracker 50 in Breckenridge and placed 28th in the World Mountain Bike Championships.”The mental part of living and training in the high altitude is that it’s good training without getting burned out,” Mortenson said. “You’re not biking 12 months a year. You can ski or snowboard in the winter. It makes a big difference in the overall picture.”Weiland’s wayThe high altitude of the Vail Valley also has been the native homeland for adventure racer Dan Weiland.Weiland’s Colorado roots didn’t make him stray far from the Vail Valley. A graduate of Battle Mountain High School, Weiland ventured to the University of Colorado at Boulder but returned to the valley shortly after graduation. Weiland attended the university as one of the cross-country ski racers. But after an altercation with the coach, Weiland took a three-year break from ski racing. When he moved back to the valley, he began training again and entered the Iron Man Competition in Florida, mainly because he was challenged by friends.A junior national champion cross-country skier in 1991 and Top 20 in XTerra World Champion, Weiland said training in the high altitude tests the body’s resiliency to other climates and gives him an edge on other competition.”Training in the high altitude allows the body to recover faster after a four- to five-day race” Weiland said.”Physiologically, it’s better to recover that stress and the altitude tricks the body. Living in Vail provides an array of opportunities as far as adventure sports go.”But the athletes in the valley are endless, Weiland said.”There’s quite a few of us here even more of us coming out of Vail than anywhere else in the world. Maybe it’s the lifestyle here.”Weiland will also be racing in the 2004 Teva Games with another lifelong Vail local, Jay Henry, who is a professional mountain bike racer and a regular top finisher at the grueling 24-hours of Moab bike race. Also on their team will be Vail local Gretchen Reeves, who rides alongside Henry at 24-hours of Moab.The Vail Valley isn’t just for professional skiers and snowboarders, adventure racers, mountain bikers or trail runners. The earth and snow sports are just the tip of the iceberg.Rodeo in the holeKayaking is no rodeo.And Brad Ludden is no cowboy.But the sprightly Vail resident can ride the hydraulic rapids, also known as rodeo kayaking, better than any honky-tonk in the world.Ludden is no stranger to rough edges, hard knocks and gushing tides. Launching his boat into agro tricks on river waves, rocks and holes the latter being swirling pockets filled with turbulent whitewater in more than 40 countries landed him the role as the first Nike ACG kayak athlete.While Ludden has ridden some of the most difficult and harrowing whitewater in the world, his greatest feat to date has been helping youth overcome the challenges of cancer.Three years ago, Ludden founded Vail-based First Descents, a motivational camp for children with cancer. The camp not only is designed around kayaking but combines a variety of outdoor sports, including rock climbing and horseback riding.Kayaking down steep, boulder-choked creeks might be something Ludden can do more than 100 days out of the year, but he said First Descents is his true passion. And it’s a passion that led him to Vail, where the whitewater rapids vary with the weather changes.”Vail combines close, accessible whitewater with altitude,” Ludden said. “The whitewater ranges from Class I to Class V. And combining the altitude and quality rivers allows any athlete to push himself or herself to their limits and beyond.”While Ludden has experienced 100 first descents in more than 40 countries, he said he would rather wrangle the waters in Vail.”I have kayaked huge, Nile-like whitewater on the barrel springs section of the Colorado,” Ludden said. “I have challenged my creeking abilities on Homestake River; cart wheeled my way down the Eagle River and looped out in the park on Gore Creek. All of this is within a short drive from downtown Vail. It certainly beats going to Africa.”It will not take centuries for the Vail Valley to be known as the high altitude sports mecca of the world. That acknowledgement is already there. And while the Olympic Village has become the temporary feeding ground for elite athletes every four years, the Vail Valley will be the home for those talents in snow, earth, ice and water sports.– Vail Trail staff report


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