GoPro Mountain Games brings bikes, boats, SUPs, slacklines and 70,000 people to Vail June 8-11
The Vail Daily
If you go …
What: GoPro Mountain Games, a weekend of outdoor sports, music and mountain culture.
Where: Various locations, with hubs at Vail and Lionshead villages.
When: Today to Sunday.
Cost: Free to attend, entry fees vary for competition.
Athlete spotlight: Up the river with Rafael Ortiz
Kayaking has always been a mainstay of the GoPro Mountain Games, and this year is no exception. With many of the world’s top kayakers congregating on area rivers, it can be hard to know where to look, but keep your eyes open for Mexico City native Rafael Ortiz. The 29-year-old kayaking daredevil is best known for successfully paddling over Niagara Falls, an adventure documented in the documentary “Chasing Niagara.”
Spectators can catch him in action at the Mountain Games competing in the Steep Creek Challenge, the 8 Ball competition and stand-up paddleboard cross.
“I learned how to (whitewater) SUP two days before the event last year,” he laughed. “That’s the coolest part of the GoPro Mountain Games — as a kayaker I can go out and try something else.”
Ortiz started kayaking in his early teens when his sister saw the boats and begged their father to buy them. She didn’t continue with the sport, but her brother did, honing his freestyle skills on the rivers near their family’s ranch. When he finally got the chance to run bigger rivers away from home, his career took off, and he went pro in his early 20s.
These days, the Red Bull athlete travels the world kayaking some of the world’s most raucous and remote waters, including a 150-mile, five-day trip in southern India.
While eyes might be on Ortiz in the river, he says he’s looking forward to seeing some of his heroes as well.
“I love meeting interesting personalities from different sports. Last year I got to meet (slackliner) Alex Mason, and that was definitely a highlight,” he said.
GoPro Mountain Games music schedule
All concerts are free and will be held at the Gerald Ford Amphitheater (The Amp).
Bonfire Dub – 6 p.m.
White Denim – 7:30 p.m.
Moon Taxi - 9 p.m.
Brother’s Keeper – 6 p.m.
The Marcus King Band – 7:30 p.m.
Keller Williams’ Grateful Grass – 9 p.m.
Town Calvary – 6 p.m.
Trevor Hall – 7:30 p.m.
Nahko and Medicine for the People – 9 p.m.
The GoPro Mountain Games are about to get shaken up.
Like any beloved annual event, parts of the Mountain Games have become tradition. Kayakers will still brave the rapids on Homestake Creek during the Steep Creek Championship, the top bouldering athletes in the world will converge at the IFSC Climbing World Cup, and mountain bikers will still test their skills and fitness on the Everbank XC Mountain Bike race’s lung-busting climbs and twisting descents. This year’s event is set for today, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and organizers expect to draw more than 3,300 athletes and 70,000 spectators throughout the course of the weekend.
However, sometimes even a good thing needs a breath of fresh air, which is why this year’s edition of the Mountain Games will feature some changes that athletes and spectators are sure to notice.
Ultimate Mountain Challenge
This year brings an entirely new format for the Ultimate Mountain Challenge, previously an all-round best male and female competition that required athletes to run, mountain bike, kayak and road bike. This year, anyone who enters the Mountain Games will automatically be in the running for the Ultimate Mountain Challenge, except for the climbing championships, the slackline invitational and DockDogs.
It gets a bit complicated, but each event of the weekend will be given a difficulty rating, and athletes earn Ultimate Mountain Challenge points depending on how they do. For example, a kayaking competition will earn more points than the mud run. Competitors also get bonus points for competing in different sports (such as a bike event and kayak competition versus two biking events). A leaderboard will track the top competitors through the weekend, and at the end, the top three men and women will be awarded a total prize purse of $8,000.
Vail Valley resident Gretchen Reeves has only missed one Ultimate Challenge Competition since the event started in 2007, climbing the podium every time, and she’s attacking the new format with tenacity. The former World Cup mountain biker and adventure athlete expects she may have to acquire some new tricks in addition to her existing strengths, but she thinks the change is good and says she “wants to play.”
“This format opens the competition up to everybody, not just the ones who specialize in this every year,” she said. “If you come and compete and are reasonably good at several different events, you could win the whole thing.”
Reeves is undoubtedly seeking another win, but is keeping her strategy a secret. She’ll be participating in at least one new event she’s never done before, and hopes the new format will encourage others to do the same.
“Winning one race won’t get you the whole win. What’s cool is that this new format encourages a sense of adventure and might motivate someone to try a new sport,” she said. “Who knows, I may not even podium, but I love the Mountain Games, and I’m going to give it a try.”
Pushing the Limits
The Mountain Games will also be introducing its newest event, the Pepi’s Face-Off hill climb challenge on Vail Mountain. The uphill-downhill race promises to be short, but brutal, and will be replacing the traditional road half-marathon.
Not your style? Hit the trails in the mud run or trail 10K. You might even spot U.S. Mountain Running champions Joseph Gray and Addie Bracy as they blow past the field.
And, as if the DockDogs competitions couldn’t get any cuter, the new Blue Buffalo DockDogs Dueling Dogs competition will now feature two side-by-side pools for double pup value. Traditional DockDog favorites such as Speed Retrieve and Big Air will be returning as well.
Look out for pooch celebrities such as Tango, a Long Island-based Instagram star (@tangomunch_pitbull), dog model and pit bull ambassador, who will compete in the Big Air competition with his owners, Chris Geymayr and Autumn Peralta.
The couple adopted the unwanted pit bull puppy when he was a few months old and quickly found that he would do anything for a toy.
“We realized he had a high toy drive and high energy. We’d toss a toy into the lake near our house and he’d go fetch it,” Peralta said. “Chris works at Blue Buffalo and heard about DockDogs. He thought, ‘Hey, Tango would be great at this.’”
He was, now jumping more than 22 feet in the Pro Dog category. He’ll be cheered on at the Mountain Games by his brother, a Boston terrier named Poukie. Poukie isn’t a DockDog athlete, but he will be running with Peralta in the Rocky Dog Trail Run.
Peralta says that people are constantly amazed to see a pit bull compete. She takes it as an opportunity to show people that the breed matters less than the training.
Sports, music and more
Of course, there’s much more to experience at the Mountain Games. Highlights include the return of the enduro mountain bike race in Eagle, expanded yoga offerings from nationally known instructors, the popular slackline invitational and free concerts and demos all weekend.
The event is a rare summit for outdoor-loving folks, athlete or not.
“I love the environment at the Mountain Games,” Peralta said. “Everyone is in such as great mood, and the location is amazing. It’s just a perfect weekend in the mountains.”
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