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Rocks and rolls

Shane Macomber/ Vail DailyAnna Levesque takes a hard line through Dowd chute in last year's kayak paddlecross at the Teva Mountain Games.
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The unofficial tagline for the fourth edition of the Teva Mountain Games could be: “If you fill it, they will come.”With the upper Eagle River, Gore Creek and Homestake Creek all pulsing at near-capacity, event organizers for this year’s five-day sports, arts and music festival hope to draw 10,000 more spectators to Vail than last year’s total of around 20,000.”That’s kind of been the talk in the news in Denver and on the Front Range is how big the water has been there and up here,” said Betsy Haling of the Vail Valley Chamber and Tourism Bureau. “I think it’s a huge draw for athletes and spectators.”The whitewater won’t be the only thing that attracts athletes and mountain-sports fans to Vail next Wednesday through Sunday, however.Four years ago when the games debuted in Vail, the event was a revamped version of the former Jeep Whitewater Festival with tacked-on competitions in trail running, mountain biking speed trials and bouldering. Since then, event founder Joel Heath and event director Joe Blair have turned the games into one of the biggest outdoor sports and lifestyle festivals in the United States.This year’s festivities include amateur and professional competitions in kayaking, rafting, rock climbing, biking, trail running, fly-fishing, adventure racing and a dog challenge. There is also an outdoor film contest, an outdoor photography contest, an awards ceremony honoring the world’s best outdoor athletes and a Friday night concert at Ford Amphitheater featuring hip hop legends Coolio, Young M.C. and Digital Underground.To bite a line from Digital Underground rapper Humpty Hump, Heath and Blair have dramatically changed “The image and the style that you’re used to” when it comes to hosting a paddling festival.”We wanted to maintain our heritage within the whitewater community, but also wanted to embrace the entire mountain lifestyle,” Heath said. “We looked around to see what we were participating in and what other locals were doing and then looked for the best local and regional athletes, but also turned to the national and international front to bring in those athletes from those disciplines as well.”

The Teva Mountain Games haven’t just added more disciplines over the years, they’ve also added prestige to respective events.United States Track and Field (USTF) designated the 10-kilometer trail running competition as the annual national trail running championship last year.This year, the 14-mile cross-country mountain bike race on Vail Mountain has been selected by the National Off-Road Bicycle Association (NORBA) to serve as its Colorado state championship.The top finishers in the race will qualify for the national championship at Mammoth Mountain, Calif., in September.”It’s a great race on its own, so that’s even better that it’s the state championship now,” local mountain-biking pro Jay Henry said. “In fact, I know of a lot more guys coming because of it. Each year they’ve had it, it’s gotten a little more popular. I think this year’s gonna have a really strong field.”The paddling competitions are also considered some of the most prestigious in the country because of the level of competition they attract with their hefty prize purses. Altogether, the games will shell out more than $60,000 in prizes during its five-day stay in Vail next week.

The athletes aren’t the only ones who benefit, Haling said. Local businesses reaped the rewards of packed parking structures and heavy pedestrian traffic in and around Vail Village last June, and should expect to pull in even more business this year.”From a tourism standpoint, it’s huge,” she said. “It’s easily the biggest event that happens in the summer. Also, just from the standpoint of it being a great event, it’s got really something for everyone. All of the events are really easy for people to watch.”Heath began rethinking the format of the event two years ago specifically to attract more non-competitors. The concerts, parties, film premieres and exhibits, he said, are additions that have made the festival a more complete presentation of the mountain lifestyle.”We’ve grown exponentially each year,” he said. “We really turned and said, ‘We want to focus on the core athlete, but we also want to present an incredible lifestyle option to the mountain games as well.’ Bringing the music, photography and film have done that. The newest addition is the film competition this year.”

The success of the Teva Games rests on the principle of strength in numbers.Individually, the six sports showcased at the games have their respective niches of fans and competitors.When combined into the same event, Heath said, they are a more marketable commodity.”When we were in the architectural phase of building the games, there were two things we wanted to focus on,” Heath said. “It was, ‘Well these are great disciplines, but we don’t think they’re strong enough to compete on a national platform when it comes to television and sponsorship. But, when you bring all the sports together in one area where you can harness the energy of (kayak) rodeo, speed-trials riding, climbing, etc., the method becomes very vibrant.”Portions of this year’s games will be taped and featured on the Outdoor Life Network. Henry is a perfect example of the one-for-all mentality that exists among athletes at the games.He said one of his favorite things to do is watch kayakers pull tricks in the rodeo park next to Vail Village.”They make it pretty accessible for spectators,” he said. “I enjoy that, and I think this year will be great because the water is going to be raging. It’s a lot of fun.”

Catherine Baskins, who works for Lakota River Guides in Vail and will be competing in the downriver paddlecross in Dowd Chute, said the Teva Mountain Games are arguably her favorite rafting competition of the season.”I think it’s more fun, more of a relaxed vibe,” she said. “The other competitions have just been raft competitions. This one is more exciting because there’s more people around. It kind of bumps up the energy level.”Added Heath, “What I’m hearing from athletes who are coming to the games for the first time are, ‘I’m excited to race, but I’m also really excited to see the other athletes compete.’ It’s not very often the best climber and the best biker get together in the same city. Usually, they’re on separate tours in separate places. It really gives them an opportunity to share a common lifestyle thread that they all have.”Nate Peterson can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 608, or via e-mail at npeterson@vaildaily.com.Vail, Colorado


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