Walk the line: Men, women touch the sky in new GoPro Mountain Games event
VAIL — Kiley Hartigan signed up for the GoPro Mountain Games a week ago on a whim. Little did she know that she’d make history Friday when she attempted to walk across a 200-foot long slackline spanning Solaris Plaza— some 50 feet in the air — and do it as fast as humanly possible.
Yes, you read that right. Highline speed walking is really a thing, and it’s way cooler than that racewalking thing they do in the Summer Olympics.
Friday’s competition was the first of its kind in the United States, and Hartigan couldn’t have been more inspired.
“I won’t be bashful about it. I really enjoyed it,” said the 23-year-old who lives in Lyons, north of Boulder, in a retrofitted van and lives to ski, climb, slackline and travel. “When I first saw highlining, I was so blown away by a person’s capacity to do something so outrageous. And I know that, for people who are seeing this for the first time, there are people out there, just like myself, who will see this and be like, hey look at that super-awesome girl walking that highline. I love motivating people and encouraging people. It’s part of the reason why I did this.”
Mission accomplished. Hartigan fell three times on her run, which disqualified her from getting an official time, but it was more about the journey than the result.
Personally, she said, she likes highlining better than being just a few feet off the ground. It’s where she can zone out and be completely at one with her body. She did admit, however, that the idea of speeding up a process as precise as walking across a 1-inch piece of webbing some 50 feet in the air is a “total oxymoron.”
“Trying to go fast is really confusing,” she said.
Caleb Beavers, 22, who moved to Boulder from Nashville to attend the University of Colorado, said he started highlining about three years ago. Friday’s event was his first official speed walking competition, though you wouldn’t have known it given the way he nimbly maneuvered, without a fall, across the 180-foot portion of the slackline where competitors were timed from start to finish.
“It’s really interesting, because usually, we’re out in the middle of the wilderness, you know, over a canyon,” he said. “It’s serene and calm. It’s meditation for me, almost. This one is super fun, but I definitely don’t enter that meditative space with everyone. It’s really fun to interact with the crowd and pump people up.”
For Dakota Collins, 26, of Fort Collins, Friday’s competition wasn’t his first rodeo. And slacklining isn’t just a hobby — it’s how he makes a living as the founder of Rocky Mountain Slackline, which sets up rigs like the one used at the GoPro Mountain Games.
Collins took one of the biggest falls of the day Friday, losing his ballcap when his harness caught him after going headfirst off the highline, drawing oohs and aahs from the crowd below.
“That was my first time on this line,” he said. “I wish I would’ve gotten a practice run, but it worked out good.”
Collins went to Argentina last year to help set up a highline rig over a music festival and competed in his first speed-walking contest there.
“It was friggin’ awesome,” he said.
His company, which he founded in 2013, is focused on slackline instruction and integration into communities.
“We work with public school districts, gyms, anything like that,” he said. He also helps put on the biggest slackline festival in the United States each year, BREATHE, in tiny Spencer, Indiana.
The hope is to inspire the slackliners of the future, some of whom were taking runs on the apparatuses set up below the highline in Solaris Plaza.
Slacklining takes lots of practice, and technique and core strength are essential, but Beavers said arguably the most important component is the strength of the mind.
“Usually when you’re not speed walking, you can take a second to balance yourself out,” Beavers said. “This one, you just have to walk through it. That’s just all I had to tell myself was, just don’t stop. Walk through.”
Nate Peterson can be reached at email@example.com