VAIL — Boating may be the latest competitive event to come to a valley long known for putting on bike, ski and running races for regular folks.
The new Vail Whitewater Series kicked off Tuesday with a speed race between the Covered Bridge and International Bridge in Vail Village. Without much advance publicity, and only a couple of weeks to pull the event together, more than 40 people were signed up to participate by late Tuesday morning. Organizers hope more people will turn out at future events.
The series was the brainchild of Bobby Bank, a member of the Vail Commission on Special Events, which provides seed money for events big and small in Vail. While the commission might be best known for promoting events including culinary and music festivals, it also provides financial help to things like street musicians. But, Bank said, the $4,000 the commission put into the whitewater series might be the least money it’s spent on anything.
Actually, the commission for the past few years has been putting about $2,000 per year into demonstrations at the town’s whitewater park along Gore Creek. But Bank, who isn’t a boater, proposed turning the demonstrations into something that might bring a few more people into Vail Village on Tuesdays in May.
When the idea for a race series turned into reality, the commission contacted Cory and Sean Glackin, owners of Alpine Quest Sports and the Alpine Kayak School. The Glackins had been putting on the kayak demonstrations in the village, and the two jumped at the chance to put on a race series.
Despite a tight timeline between approval and the first race — a whopping seven business days — the Glackins came up with an ambitious program that includes different kinds of races for three classes of boats — kayaks, stand-up paddleboards and two-person rafts — along with a weekly after-party and, apparently, a good bit of gear and goodies from various boat and boat-supply companies.
“Companies are really sending a lot,” Cory Glackin said.
Besides the goodies, the town funding also provides cash prizes for the top finishers in every race.
And, at least for now, those top finishers will probably live in the valley. That takes Glackin back to the very first days of what’s become the GoPro Mountain Games, when mostly local kayakers took to the Eagle River between Minturn and Dowd Junction in the Jeep Whitewater Festival.
It didn’t take long for the whitewater festival to turn into mountain games and start attracting pro athletes, taking some of the glory away from the local boaters. With the new series, the locals can get back some of that notoriety.
For kayaker Derrick Dreyer, the new series provides a great chance to paddle his way into shape, among other things.
“You can meet other boaters, and maybe find a partner for later in the season,” Dreyer said.
A longtime boating enthusiast, Dreyer said he can envision a day when the whitewater series rivals the Vail Recreation District’s summer mountain-biking series in popularity.
No matter the numbers, the series will offer a handful of different events during the next few weeks. Next week’s event is a “bell race,” in which boaters have to run past obstacles and ring four bells in order to successfully finish the race. Other events will include freestyle and trick boating.
“It could really appeal to a lot of people,” Dreyer said.
While people come to compete, Glackin said she hopes both boaters and spectators will enjoy an early evening along the creek.
And, Bank said, whoever turns out will put more people into Vail Village during a traditionally slack season for visitors.
Perhaps just as important, the Vail series will be unique in the region, which means it may draw boaters from surrounding communities. And, Bank said, it will continue a tradition of Vail being first.
“If we’re out ahead of everyone else, I think other communities will have a hard time keeping up,” Bank said.