gather in Idaho Springs at this weekend's Creek at the Peak 2012 festival for the U.S. National Championship downriver, slalom and sprint races. Each year, bids come in from festivals wanting to host the national championship races. Last year, the national championship race was held in Oregon, qualifying teams to head to Costa Rica's 2011 World Rafting Championships. This year, it's at Clear Creek somewhat by default, as there is no 2012 World Rafting Championships for teams to attend. However, they see it as a chance to compete and train for the 2013 world event. It's also a chance for locals to see what rafting competition is all about - and this whitewater festival features rafting and kayaking as much as it does free music - and proceeds benefit outdoor education programs on rivers through GOALS (Get Outside and Learn Something). Roughly 10 nationally ranked raft teams descend on the small city that sits along Clear Creek, including teams from Oregon and Maryland as well as four local teams. The eight team members from Behind the 8 Ball and the eight from Ark Sharks will be divided into two teams each, because this year features four-man crews instead of six-man crews. Women's teams include the Red Ladies and the U.S. Teva Whitewater Raft Team. "This is the only time of the year you can see all three raft disciplines," Behind the 8 Ball member and Breckenridge resident Joe Sialiano said. Kayakers also compete in the events, but the rafters are vying for the No. 1 position as they prepare for next year's world championships in New Zealand. Downriver races typically last 45 minutes, and courses are adjusted based on water levels (this year, Clear Creek's flows are minimal, even in the lower canyon). This year's race will end near the junction of highways 6 and 119 - approximately 6.5 miles of Class III and IV whitewater. "As a result of the low flows, the 2012 race course has been moved to Clear Creek Canyon," the Creek at the Peak website reads. "This is a 'blessing in disguise,' as the canyon offers a more beautiful and challenging race course than the upper stretch of Clear Creek where the race has traditionally taken place." Amateurs have the chance to race after the national teams run the course. It all starts at 5 p.m., with events launching a half hour apart until the amateurs push off at 7 p.m. Festivities continue Sunday, with the spectator-friendly slalom and sprint U.S. National Championships set at the Lawson play park and beginning at 9 a.m. The slalom course includes upriver and downriver gates, requiring navigation against the flow. "It's going to be pretty exciting because of the play park," Sialiano said. "There's some moves to be made through there. ... It's the pinnacle of how four (rafters) can move the boat. It's about speed, but it's also about technique." The sprint puts two boats head-to-head on the narrow Clear Creek current. Like a ski or boarder cross event, crews bump against each other, vying for position in the race that typically lasts two minutes. Because the event is so well-organized and it benefits a charity he believes in, Sialiano calls Creek at the Peak "the best whitewater event I've been to."
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