Somewhere between my third (or possibly fourth) spill off my paddle board into Gore Creek and my first lung-busting lap up the mountain bike course, it finally sunk in that the GoPro Mountain Games in Vail, CO was so much more than just the suffering I was subjecting myself to. Featuring adventure and mountain sports like freestyle kayaking, bouldering (think rock climbing 25-foot walls with no rope), mountain biking, a dock dogs competition, and slacklining, the Games has a competition for just about everyone. That’s not to mention the carnival of fun one-offs: the gear expo, open air concerts, a mountain film festival and demos of new bikes and boards. To be sure, the majority of my time was taken up preparing for, and being worn down by, the Ultimate Mountain Challenge, a two-day race consisting of a down-river sprint through class II and III rapids, a world class mountain bike race course, a 10k trail run straight up the ski slopes and a road bike time trial climbing Vail Pass. But even if the Ultimate Mountain Challenge isn’t on your bucket list, the GoPro Mountain Games should be high on your adventure travel calendar as a place where testing your physical mettle and enjoying the mountain lifestyle come together.
- Gore Creek runs right through the main Vail Village, and the new addition of a tunable wave system –- organizers could actually control the strength and depth of the main set of rapids through an innovative series of gates and underwater bladders –- showcased some of the amazing tricks the kayakers and stand-up paddlers could pull off.
- Not to be outdone, the K-9 competitors put on an equally exciting show at the Dock Dogs competition.
- The slackliners spent the days leading up to their World Championship competition pulling tricks that would normally be reserved for skate and ski parks, all while balancing on a tiny elastic strap.
- Bouldering: essentially, rock climbing 25-foot walls with no rope.
- Day one of the Ultimate Mountain Challenge started with a cold plunge in the river. I finally started to get my balance and legs under me after the worst of the rapids, and the shrinkage-inducing water was a great motivator to stay on the deck.
- A mass start up the fire road climbs of the mountain bike course was a quick remedy to the cold water – and to holding my lunch down as we pounded out what seemed like miles of steep climbs.
- The road bike race was not so much a test of aerodynamic gear as it was to see who had anything left in the legs; a finish section of 12% graded climbing combined with utter exhaustion from two days of racing didn’t make for a speedy ascent.
- For some reason, the trail race course designers thought it would be fun to run straight up the ski slopes not once, but twice.
- Doing this tends to draw crowds.
- It wasn't only dogs that were getting some air.
- Showing off the ups.
Celebrating Adventure Sports in Vail, CO