Jules Campbell retakes his crown as the 2018 Slaughterfest kayak champion
Next winter is looking a lot more promising for Jules Campbell than the past one, considering he’ll have a good bit of bragging rights to hold over the other ski patrollers’ heads. Not that the four Aspen mountains take their rivalry too seriously.
“It’s something to chuckle about in the long winter, that’s for sure,” Campbell said. “People make it out to be a thing but each mountain is so different, and we are all super respectful. We know the job is the same at each mountain. If people make more out of that than what it is, that’s on them.”
Campbell, who has worked ski patrol at Aspen Highlands the past decade, retook his crown Wednesday when he won the fourth annual Slaughterfest kayak race on the Roaring Fork River. He also won the first two races before being edged in 2017 by Conor Flynn, who recently completed his first season as a ski patroller at Snowmass.
Flynn finished second Wednesday, handing the reins back to Campbell, who has now won three times in four years.
“Racing is part of it, but we are here to have fun,” Flynn said. “It’s the one time of the year where we get together where the water is at the highest and it’s just a good time to get together and go kayaking.”
Aspen certainly has a history of racing on the Roaring Fork, going back to the popular slalom races in the ’70s and on. But for the past decade-plus, the options have been limited until the Slaughterfest was created. Wednesday’s race began at Henry Stein Park and finished roughly 4.5 miles later at Jaffee Park, near Woody Creek, and included its namesake section of Slaughterhouse Falls. Around 40 kayakers and 15 raft teams competed this year.
The race was presented by Aspen Kayak & SUP, which is operated by local paddleboard legend Charlie MacArthur, who helped with permitting and insurance. MacArthur’s influence in the valley runs deep, and he even was the person to teach Flynn how to roll in his kayak many years ago.
“It just makes my heart swell when I see everybody out here,” MacArthur said. “A lot of this grassroots stuff has a strong movement and then kind of dies and comes back.”
Winning times for this year’s race were a few minutes slower than a year ago, when the racers had more water to work with. Still, no one had any particular complaints about the conditions.
“The water was lower, so from a racing perspective it was just a little bit different,” Flynn said. “You are trying to keep off the rocks, that sort of stuff, but it was still a decent water level.”
Campbell, whose father was 1972 Olympic canoeist Sandy Campbell, won the kayak race over Flynn and third-place finisher Tommy Hilleke.
“I try to hold up the family name,” Campbell joked. “It’s just a fun time of year. Everybody’s got some paddling under them, and they come out hard. Like that Conor Flynn, he gets out on the water a bunch. … It’s cool to go head to head and fight for it.”
Maria Kallman of Grand Junction was the top woman, followed by Kestrel Kunz and Ali Wade.
While many of the competitors were Aspen locals, it did pull in some all-stars from outside the Roaring Fork Valley like Jeremiah Williams. Williams is part of the U.S. national men’s raft team and competed in Wednesday’s Slaughterfest alongside teammates Rob Prechtl, Kurt Kincel, Matt Norfleet and John Anticito.
That team, which naturally won the raft race, is mostly based out of the Vail Valley and recently represented the U.S. at the world championships in Japan back in the fall.
“Coming to these races is where you get to push yourself a little bit. It’s good to do a race from time to time and feel like you are really trying as hard as you possibly can,” Williams said. “It’s really cool because a lot of people know who we are and are cheering us on. Everyone is really supportive at these local events, and that’s what is so fun about coming out to these races really — the local support.”
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