John LaConte
Special to the Daily

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June 5, 2013
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GoPro Mountain Games in Vail: Ready for the lights, cameras & lots of action

The country’s largest celebration of adventure sports and mountain lifestyle is best seen through the eyes of an action camera.

Those are the words of Ken Hoeve, a whitewater stand-up paddleboard star who is unbelievably excited about his chance to shred down Gore Creek in this year’s 12th annual Summer Mountain Games in Vail.

And now that action camera guru GoPro is the title sponsor, expect to see more footage of crazy guys like Hoeve doing crazy things like whitewater SUP.

“We’re inviting a handful of top-tier adventure and tech publications out to cover the games,” said Katie Kilbride, a media relations coordinator with GoPro. “It’s people who wouldn’t necessarily come out to Vail to cover the games, but we’re creating a tech challenge ... where our new app will allow media to take the images on your GoPro and post them on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter as quickly as possible.”

The games will serve as a testing ground for GoPro’s new app, with selected media able to use it on site before its official release to the public following the games. But that’s not to be confused with the games’ official mobile app — FOMO Sonar — which will help you keep track of what’s going on where. With whitewater events, bouldering, mountain biking and dog jumping all happening simultaneously, you’ll want the app to keep tabs on the action in real time. After all, there’s certainly a lot of it.

Here’s a summary:

Ultimate Mountain Challenge — Trail running, biking and kayaking

The summer games’ new sponsorship is bringing excitement to every facet of the competition.

After a half dozen years of winning the games’ Ultimate Mountain Challenge, you’ll understand if Josiah Middaugh doesn’t show up to the starting lines as nervous and excited as some of his less experienced competition.

But this year, Middaugh seems more stoked than in year’s past.

“I think it will bring a lot to the event, what they’ll be able to do with GoPro cameras on the athletes,” Middaugh said. “With GoPro so popular right now and them having so much stature in so many different sports, it seems like the perfect fit.”

The Ultimate Mountain Challenge combines four of the games’ regular events to determine one overall winner. The 10K Spring Runoff trail run, the X-Country Mountain Bike event, the Road Bike Time Trial and the Class III Down River Sprint kayaking comp comprise the challenge, with two events happening on Saturday and two on Sunday.

“It’s definitely one of the biggest events that I do all year,” Middaugh said.

Slacklining

At last year’s Summer Mountain Games, slacklining made its debut in an exciting arena — the Solaris Plaza in Vail Village.

“It’s so cool how people can watch from the ground level or up above like this,” said competitor Mike Payton from a second-story vantage point at Solaris. “Definitely one of the best venues we’ve ever had.”

And with an endorsement like that, it’s no wonder why a slacklining comp has been booked again for this year.

And this year’s — which is being billed as the 2013 Slackline World Championships — should be even bigger.

“It was a huge event last year, and an overwhelming crowd favorite, but that’s nothing compared to the talent we’ll be showcasing in Vail,” the Vail Valley Foundation wrote in a press release.

Among that talent is pro slackliner Andy Lewis, who has performed in a venue better than Solaris. In 2012, Lewis did slackline tricks on stage alongside Madonna at the Super Bowl halftime show.

Whitewater

Ken Hoeve is especially excited about this year’s SUP sprint down Gore Creek because, as you may remember, last year’s SUP events were canceled due to low water.

But with an impressive runoff this year, SUP events at the GoPro Mountain Games are expected to take off without a hitch.

Dubbed the Standup Paddle Battle Royal, the SUP cross is a 200-yard sprint down Gore Creek with multiple competitors sharing the water.

“That’s always a really fun one to watch,” Hoeve said.

Other kayak and whitewater raft cross events take place in the same venue on Gore Creek, but in terms of spectator action, none compare to the final event of the competition, the 8-ball sprint.

Conceived by Hoeve himself during a round of beers with other kayakers, the 8-ball sprint is full-contact kayaking at its finest.

According to the Vail Valley Foundation’s official marketing material, the competition is “kayaking’s version of NASCAR, where rubbin’ is racin’. After a floating start at the Covered Bridge, as many as 10 kayakers will push, shove and jostle their way through a 200-meter sprint in the narrow confines of Gore Creek. Along the way, boaters must avoid being knocked off by the 8-ballers — loathsome kayakers in full body armor waiting patiently to attack the sprinters and slow them down throughout the course.”

Hoeve says it just gets better every year.

“After 10 years of doing this, finally last year I got barreled over and was forced to swim out of my kayak to shore,” he recalls with a hearty laugh.

After a big collision in last year’s 8-ball event, Hoeve, who was playing defense, found himself underwater with nowhere to go as boat after boat stacked up on top of his overturned kayak. Hundreds of spectators, gathered at the International Bridge in Vail Village, watched in shock and horror as enough time had elapsed to actually wonder out loud to oneself, or ask the people in your company, “is he going to make it out of there?”

Eventually Hoeve emerged at the shore, having “popped his skirt” (released himself from his kayak while underwater) and swam away from the melee — a terrible shame for a kayaker.

Embarrassed, he did the only thing one can do in that situation.

“I drank a beer out of my shoe,” he said. “As the tradition calls for.”

Which leaves us with our final piece of advice: If you only go to one event at this year’s GoPro Mountain Games, make it the 8-ball.

“It just gets better every year,” Hoeve said.


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The Summit Daily Updated Jun 5, 2013 04:03PM Published Jun 6, 2013 07:21PM Copyright 2013 The Summit Daily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.