GoPro Mountain Games kicks off in Vail with a few new plot twists in event’s return
A new race in Gore Creek and a new live show every night are among the innovations to this year’s event
VAIL — Cascade Village and Donovan Park could be good spectating areas for a new kayaking race on Friday, and that’s just one of a few plot twists in the script for this year’s GoPro Mountain Games.
What could have never been scripted was just how perfectly Gore Creek’s high-water period is overlapping with the annual event this year. The creek, after a prolonged period of flows of 200 cubic feet per second or less in May, has risen to reach levels of 600 cfs over the last few days.
Visiting from Phenix City, Alabama, junior world champion kayaker Mason Hargrove said he has only competed in a couple events since competing in the ICF Freestyle World Championships in Spain in 2019.
“It’s been a big family reunion,” he said of being in Vail. “Everyone comes to GoPro.”
With COVID-19 restrictions recently lifted in Vail, organizers are expecting quite a turnout. The headlining concerts are sold out, with the exception of Thursday’s show from Yonder Mountain String Band, which still had tickets available at press time on Wednesday.
The fact that the concerts are ticketed is a new feature of this year’s Mountain Games; organizers say when planning the concerts, they needed to use a ticketed format because they weren’t sure what the situation was going to be with restrictions.
“We had to come up with new approaches to things in preparing for all levels of restrictions,” said Tom Boyd with the Vail Valley Foundation.
Artists on scene
Some of the innovations were planned for a scenario where restrictions would be in place, but will provide an added bonus in the current atmosphere of no restrictions.
In addressing a concern they thought would be unique to this year’s event — the fact that some of the people who would want to see it wouldn’t be able to get here — Mountain Games organizers have found a solution to a known issue that occurs every year: You can’t see it all at the GoPro Mountain Games.
This year, organizers have doubled down on talent on scene to cover the action. Extreme sports staple Selema Masekela will host a live show every night with Pat Parnell, which will stream online from the Outside TV app.
The live show will feature event highlights, athlete profiles, special guests and other stories from the event and will take place every night Thursday through Sunday at 6 p.m. You can also watch Masekela and Parnell do their show live from Solaris.
Following the loosening of restrictions, organizers were able to include non-ticketed music as well. There will be free shows every afternoon at the Solaris Stage; highlights include Shakedown Family Band with Members of the Motet playing a double set Saturday starting at 2:15 p.m., and Rocky Mountain Grateful Dead Revue with Rob Eaton playing a double set Sunday starting at noon.
A new art component of the event will be Skye Walker and Chris Benchetler’s live canvas creation events in gear town every day — Benchetler is known for his skiing in Warren Miller and TGR films but has evolved his career into art, collaborating with Walker on nature-driven product images and murals like the “Fire on the Mountain” mural at Mammoth Mountain’s Canyon Lodge.
Lower Gore Creek race
There will be no professional climbing or slacklining competitions this year, and there will be no ultimate mountain competition or Homestake Creek kayaking race, as well. Organizers say those events will be back next year.
The immense amount of planning required for these high-level events accounted for part of the reason for the cancellations, but organizers also sought to reduce the event’s physical footprint this year. In years past, events have stretched the Mountain Games out to Eagle, Wolcott and Red Cliff, but this year, organizers sought to keep it in Vail as much as possible to put less of a strain on emergency responders.
Instead of a Steep Creek Challenge down Homestake Creek in Red Cliff, kayakers will sprint to the finish on an iconic section of Gore Creek that has never held an event, a downvalley portion of Class IV rapids west of Lionshead.
“We’ve been talking about doing this for ages,” Boyd said. “Our sports specialists and kayakers, for years, have been begging us to do this — it’s a kayak sprint through 4 miles of lower Gore Creek.”
Longtime Mountain Games paddler Nick Troutman said there’s never a guarantee with a race like Homestake.
“We’ve had to do that a couple times, where we maybe switch to Dowd Chute or something like that, so it’s just going to be one of those years,” Troutman said.
Nevertheless, Troutman said he was “super excited” for the new race.
“I’ve done (lower Gore Creek) in the past, but I’m not sure if I’ve done the entire section,” he said.
And as of noon Wednesday, Troutman still had not yet paddled the course. He said with many Mountain Games kayakers like him not knowing the lower Gore valley very well, the race is anyone’s contest to win. Troutman said much of the usual field for Homestake Creek will be in town for the Gore IV and the rest of the kayaking events at the Mountain Games.
“Dane (Jackson) is on his way here now; Hunter Katich flew in yesterday, he’s won (Homestake) in years past; Paul Palmer will be here, he’s a local (from Colorado Springs); Rafa (Ortiz) is on his way here; and then you got youngsters like Mason Hargrove, the junior world champion,” Troutman said.
Hargrove, however, said he wasn’t planning on taking on the Gore IV competition as he wants to focus on the freestyle kayaking competition.
“GoPro’s (freestyle) kayak always has a special place in my heart,” Hargrove said from Vail on Wednesday. “I did my first competition here in 2017, and it was a huge eye opener to what a competition series was, and how big events can actually get.”
Hargrove said he has no plans to branch out from freestyle kayaking at the moment, and if he was to take on a second event at the GoPro Mountain Games, it likely wouldn’t be in the kayaking realm at all.
“I’d love to do the disc golfing competition, but it takes place at the same time as finals,” he said. “So if I make finals, I can’t do it.”
While most of the GoPro Mountain Games overall footprint has been reduced, it does sprawl somewhat with Minturn hosting the disc golf portion of the event. Disc golf organizer Steve Klehfoth said the Flying Eagle Disc Society was able to set up 36 holes at Maloit Park to keep their event contained to that area.
“We have two courses at Maloit Park this year, instead of the usual one 18-hole course,” Klehfoth said. “So it’s two completely different experiences on one piece of property.”
Klehfoth said in an ordinary year, the GoPro Mountain Games hosts a very unordinary disc golf competition with Vail Village skills challenges qualifying players for the main event on a disc golf course. But during this unordinary year, the Flying Eagle Disc Society had to go back to a more ordinary format with their Mountain Games disc golf competition.
“We are doing a more traditional format of stroke play only, we’re kind of going a little bit old school with it, insofar as that we’re doing four rounds over the course of two days, which is how things used to go back in the day,” Klehfoth said.
Nevertheless, “it sold out in just under 48 hours,” Klehfoth said. “With the pandemic, and people seeking alternative recreation opportunities to get through it, we really saw massive growth in the amount of participation in disc golf in general, not to mention an increased demand for events like ours.”
Town of Vail requests
With organizers focused on reducing their travel footprint, the town of Vail is encouraging participants to do the same. And that includes spectators.
Solepower.org is offering raffle prizes to those who log their miles after making the decision to leave the car at home.
“One of the easiest ways to travel between event venues is by boarding one of Vail’s new fully electric free buses on the in-town route,” according to a town of Vail press release issued Wednesday. “Breathe easy on this emissions-free ride.”
Vail Transit will be running express bus service on South Frontage Road with stops at the Lionshead Transit Center, Vail Transportation Center and Ford Park from Thursday through Saturday.
The in-town bus route will be running the “Farmers’ Market” in-town loop; there will be no stops at the Covered Bridge, Solaris or Vail Road. Guests will be directed to the top of the Vail Transportation Center to load and unload the in-town bus, which includes extended service to Ford Park via Vail Valley Drive from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Only service dogs are allowed on the buses.
“If you must drive, please carpool as parking will be at full capacity,” according to a town release. “The top decks of the Vail Village and Lionshead structures are reserved for vehicles that exceed the covered parking height limit of 7’2” in the Vail Village structure and 7’ in the Lionshead structure. The Ford Park surface lot is available for vehicles exceeding the height limits; a $10 parking fee will apply from 4 to 8 p.m. only at this outlying lot.”
Overflow parking on the north side of the South Frontage Road will be allowed once both parking structures are full. No parking will be allowed on the south side of the Frontage Road at any time. Public parking is also available at the Red Sandstone garage, 559 North Frontage Road, where daytime and overnight parking is free for up to 72 hours.
Other tips to reduce your environmental impact, from the town of Vail:
- Bring a refillable water bottle
- Planning to eat at the event? Bring a fork from home.
- If you see litter, pick it up and dispose of it (compost or recycle if possible).
- Dogs make us smile, please pick up their pile.
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