Athletes ready for GoPro Mountain Games
VAIL — The GoPro Mountain Games begin today with a bigger Thursday schedule than competitors and fans are used to seeing.
In addition to the usual first-day kayaking action on Homestake Creek near Red Cliff, today will also host the freestyle kayak qualifiers at the Vail Whitewater Park under the International Bridge and the first few waves of DockDogs competition will take place at Golden Peak. In addition, the Gerber Gear Town will be open at the International Bridge, the KIND Adventure Village will be opens at Golden Peak and River Town will be open on Meadow Drive.
Sixty percent of the GoPro Games visitors come from in state, and many of those athletes and spectators come from the Front Range. Kayaker Nick Yourd said the GoPro Mountain Games are one kayaking competition where his non-kayaker friends still want to come out to the event.
“There’s so much for everyone to do,” he said.
Yourd has been coming out from Golden every year, bringing friends and camping at the Core Greek Campgrounds in East Vail. This year he’s bringing four friends along with him.
“It something I look forward to every year, for sure,” he said.
STAND-UP FROM THE GROUND UP
Among the new events on this year’s lineup is the two-person stand-up paddleboarding competition, held in a cross format where racers compete head to head.
It’s fitting the sport would see such a bold new event here in Vail as whitewater SUP experienced its first taste of competition at the Mountain Games five years ago when the games added sprint and cross events to the schedule of events. Whitewater SUP pioneer Ken Hoeve helped bring those events to the games. He recently shot a program on the Hudson River for the Travel Chanel.
Hoeve said there were a lot of naysayers when SUPers started running rivers, and to see an event like the two-person cross is a testament to just how far it has come.
“People called it a niche and a fad that would never succeed,” Hoeve said. “It seems pretty successful here in Vail.”
Whitewater SUP competitor Matt Buckley teaches SUP at Standup Colorado in Rancho Del Rio. He says people have shown much more interest in the sport in the five years it has been at the Mountain Games.
“We’re seeing a lot of people come out for personalized instruction, we show them all the little ninja tricks so they can start running higher-class rapids on the Colorado,” he said.
Buckley says there’s a lot of camaraderie between the whitewater SUPers at the GoPro Mountain Games.
“We like to support these events and take part in them not only to fine tune the competitive side of our nature, but also because we believe in SUP from the ground up,” he said.
While the GoPro Mountain Games offers something different for everyone who attends, for anglers, it’s something really different.
Fly Fishing Team USA member Josh Graffam says he’s really excited about competing in the GoPro Mountain Games this year. Graffam is a regular at the America Cup International Fly Fishing Tournament, also held here in Eagle County, but pro fly-fishing events like that one are quite a bit different than the GoPro Mountain Games.
“There’s a couple thousand people, crowds there from all the other events going on, not exactly what we’re used to,” he said.
Graffam said the fly-fishing format, which narrows down competitors in casting competitions held at the International Bridge, makes it highly competitive on the last day when it is narrowed down to the final eight and brought out to a real fishing venue somewhere in the county.
“There’s some good local competitors who come out,” Graffam said.
Among those good locals are Mark Sassi and Michael Pukas, who have been doing drills in preparation for this year’s competition.
“We set up a course in a field to mimic what we’re going to see at the International Bridge,” Sassi said. “When you’re competing against guys on the U.S. Team, you had better have your skills in check.”
The GoPro Mountain Games wrap up Sunday with carnage on the water — the 8-ball kayaking finals is set for 4 p.m. at the International Bridge.