Vail kids adventure race climbs to top-tier event

Skylar Laman, left, of team Double Trouble, rappels down a cliff face during the Kids Adventure Race Saturday on Vail Mountain.
Dominique Taylor | |

VAIL ­— The success of the Kids Adventure Race can be defined by one question: After seeing it, just how badly do you want to participate in it?

For most of the kids and parents involved in this weekend’s four-day event, the anticipation leading up to the competition began around this time last year, when the annual adventure race took to Vail as it has every year since 2010, with running, biking, cargo nets, a mud pit and about a dozen other mountain-themed adventure challenges.

Last year, however, the race was a significantly different experience.

Thanks to a hefty contribution from the town of Vail’s Commission of Special Events, this year’s Vail Recreation District Keen Kids Adventure Race was expanded to four days and saw more than double the number of participants from last year.

“We had 460 kids participate over the weekend, and more than 100 workers are on course today to make it all come together,” Rec District event organizer Beth Pappas said on Sunday. “The new format has been a tremendous success.”

Support Local Journalism

‘Pretty focused’

Last year, the race was capped out at 220 kids (110 two-person teams), which all raced on a single day. This year, the actual racing was expanded to two days, with two days of family adventure clinics leading up to it. A rappelling feature was added on the cliffs off Pepi’s Face on Vail Mountain, the age limit was capped off at 14 rather than 12 as it had been in years past, the zipline and Tyrolean crossings were moved, and the kids got to meet Mookie and Henry, Vail’s avalanche dogs.

“Plus our water balloon launch was way bigger and better this year,” said Pappas.

All those components, combined with the momentum of success from years past, came together to create a buzz in the village that was hard to miss.

“This weekend was really busy,” said Matt Cardille, the owner of Fuzziwig’s candy shop, which was located at the race’s tubing put-out checkpoint on Gore Creek. With large Adventure Ridge tubes in their arms, kids were running past Cardille’s shop all day Sunday en route to the climbing wall checkpoint on Bridge Street.

“I can’t say it’s from the race, because these kids seem pretty focused as they run past,” he said with a laugh. “But whatever it is Vail’s been doing an awesome job bringing people into town this summer, it’s been great … Better than the last few years for sure.”

More enjoyed by adults?

Kim Durand, of Denver, happened to be in Vail last year when the race was taking place. Her daughter, Parker, was captivated by the action, and they began planning at that time to participate this year.

“She signed up with her friend, Kate Kilroy, and they’ve been excited since last summer,” said Durand. “Kate’s mom and I were like, ‘We want to do the slip and slide, too.’”

The event was an excuse for the two families to enjoy a weekend in Vail while their kids enjoyed the competition. Durand said trying to navigate the course and see as many of the 16 features as she could was an obstacle course in itself.

“We’ll see how much I can get to,” she said.

With multiple staffers and volunteers at each of the features, the event takes a large commitment from the community as well as the participants.

Groups of volunteers like the Hall family, who came in from Colorado Springs, help ensure a successful event.

“It’s our first year volunteering,” said Kyle Besson, who was working the Tyrolean underground river challenge en route to the Tarzan swing. “It sounded like fun so we thought we’d give it a try. It’s been really great. … I think the adults are enjoying it just as much as the kids.”

Besson was just married in Vail earlier this summer to her husband, Tim Besson, who joined her on course Sunday.

“It’s fun helping out. … We’ll probably have kids of our own in the event some day,” he said.

5 times the support

Vail’s Commission on Special Events is very public about trying to support events that incorporate the whole village, and the kids’ adventure race, with its multiple village components, fits that bill perfectly.

The Commission on Special Events kicked in $25,000 in support this year, five times as much as they’ve donated in years past.

Pappas says it’s easy to see a return on that investment from the amount of out-of-town participation they had this year.

“When we first started, it was mainly locals,” she said on Sunday. “In today’s race, it’s fifty-fifty.”

Kids came in from Texas, California, Vermont, New Jersey, Illinois, Iowa, Pennsylvania and even Mexico to participate.

“And with the expanded weekend this year, I know families were staying extra days to capture the whole event,” she said.

The event keeps expanding the number of participants every year, yet continues to max out months in advance every year.

Pappas says that’s due to the support it’s received from the community.

“Businesses are giving us discounts on things we need, Vail Resorts and Julie Rust and all the ski patrollers are helping out so much, the Marriott is providing box lunches to all our volunteers, the things like that make such a big difference to be able to pull something like this off,” she said. “There are a lot of amazing people walking among us in the Vail Valley and when you bring them all together, this is what happens, and it’s really cool to see.”

But Pappas says the business component of the event is a positive side effect of what they’re really trying to accomplish, which was best exemplified through some of the compliments they received from parents.

“My daughter Caroline had so much fun,” wrote Nicole Sordi Dewell in a note to Pappas after the race Saturday. “Thank you for a wonderful experience that has empowered my daughter to believe that she can do anything!”

Stay posted on next year’s Kids Adventure Race by visiting

Support Local Journalism