Teva Mountain Games challenge: Low water in Vail’s Gore Creek
VAIL, Colo. – The Vail Valley Foundation organizers of the Teva Mountain Games are used to making last-minute decisions because of the weather – they have to work around Mother Nature in some form or another almost every year.
Mike Imhof, vice president of sales and operations at the Foundation, said this year’s problems are due to a lack of snow this past winter, while last year the problem was completely the opposite.
Imhof said the safety of the competitors is the top priority. It makes cancellation decisions easier when there are obvious safety hazards, and it looks like there will be hazards in less than two weeks when the Mountain Games kick off.
Imhof said Friday there are three water events in question for this summer’s Mountain Games – StandUp Paddle Sprint, StandUp Paddle Cross and the Kayak Freestyle.
With low water flows through Gore Creek, the stand-up paddle board fins can easily rip off or snag, which could cause racers to fall onto rocks in shallow water.
Vail Valley Foundation whitewater expert Charlie Ebel said Gore Creek is running at 160 cubic feet per second, which is already too low for safe stand-up paddle races.
“Of course, the water level could worsen or become more favorable in the next two weeks,” Ebel said in a statement released by the Foundation.
Imhof said Friday that it’s likely the stand-up paddle races will be canceled, but the Foundation is going to hold off on calling the kayak freestyle event until the Tuesday before the Mountain Games are scheduled to begin.
Any athletes registered for events that end up canceled will get a full refund, Imhof said.
“This is all about the safety of the competitors,” he said.
Over the last 11 years, the Teva Mountain Games has faced many Mother Nature-related events – including sinkholes, snowstorms, floods and fires. It’s something Imhof laughs about because it’s out of anyone’s control.
“Therein lies event management – you hope for the best and prepare for the worst,” he said. “From our standpoint, it’s really not that difficult. When there’s stuff coming at you, the common denominator is whether it’s safe for our athletes and spectators, and are we providing an experience both enjoyable and in a safe environment.”
In 2010, a fine snow year but certainly not a record-breaker, the Teva Mountain Games were plagued by warm weather that caused a rapid snowmelt and powerful runoff. The Foundation canceled the 8 Ball Kayak, Teva Raft Cross and Stand-Up Paddle Surf Cross due to the runoff, which was recorded at 1,700 cfs and 2,700 cfs on the mornings of Saturday and Sunday, respectively.
The water levels reached 20-year highs around the 2010 Teva Mountain Games, and residents in East Vail faced the waters head-on as flooding affected many homes and condominium buildings. The raging water also created a flow of debris, with logs, large rocks and stumps all heading downstream, making conditions all the more dangerous.
Then, in 2011, the record snow year meant piles of snow were still left all over Vail Mountain. In the weeks leading up to the Teva Mountain Games, some worried whether the 2010 floods and fast water would return. Temperatures remained favorable, though, and the runoff was fine. The only problem was the amount of snow still left on Vail Mountain.
Foundation staff members, along with Vail Resorts staff, hand-shoveled snow on Vail Mountain to clear away singletracks for cross-country mountain biking and the 10K running race.
The past two years, and now this year, prove that the amount of snow Vail Mountain received in the preceding winter doesn’t mean you can predict what conditions will be like in early June.
Imhof said the other water events will happen, with some minor course changes possible but nothing more.
The Steep Creek Championships on Homestake Creek, outside of Red Cliff, kick off the games next Thursday.
“Homestake Creek is currently running at 65 cfs, and we’ve run that race at levels as low as 27 cfs,” Ebel said. “I think we have yet to see the peak flow of the season and I’m pretty confident we’ll be able to make this race happen. It’s amazing how the paddlers can navigate even the smallest flows on the creek and it’ll still be super exciting to watch.”
The Foundation announced that it is also confident that the Down River Sprint, 8 Ball Kayak Spring and the Teva Raft Cross can still be raced.
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