The first weekend of June was a good one for sports fans: an upset at the French Open, a Triple Crown at the Belmont Stakes and a bonkers double flair by Colton Satterfield to win the X-Games BMX big air contest. There was something for everyone, including outdoor adventure enthusiasts, who were gathered in Vail for the 14th annual GoPro Mountain Games, a series of competitions in nine sports (among them cycling, kayaking and SUP) and 25 disciplines.
Though the Games weren’t televised on cable, they were widely viewed on social media as snapshots and clips from one of the many GoPro cameras attached to athletes’ helmets, chests or handlebars. We were in Vail to observe and compete (loosely speaking), and while we were there we caught up with a few of the biggest names in outdoor sports, including climber Sasha Digiulian, extreme kayaker Rafa Ortiz and Ken Hoeve, who has helped shaped the Games over the past 14 years.
Hometown: Gypsum, CO
Sport: Kayaking, SUPing
Q. I understand you’ve been involved in the Games for a long time. What’s your role here?
My role is a little bit of everything. I helped come up with a bunch of the events, like the Steep Creek, 8 Ball Kayak Sprint and others. I also compete in them and I announce and host the television show. I tend to be the person they call if athletes from out of town have a question and things like that.
Q. Can you give me some background on the GoPro Games?
The event itself is 14 years old. I’ve been involved since the beginning. The way the whole thing started was as the Jeep Whitewater Series. That took place in Minturn on the Eagle river. It was a slalom event. Then they added a downriver event. Then it became the Teva Mountain Games, and some friends of mine who owned Untraditional Marketing took it over and brought it to Vail, and it progressed from a very simple river feature for freestyle into a number of different events. The Untraditional Marketing crew sold the event to the Vail Valley Foundation and shortly thereafter Teva fell out and GoPro
came on board. I think it’s a better fit. Teva
was great — they’re a water brand — but now we have nine different sports, 23 disciplines and 2,000 athletes. All the athletes were already here recording things with GoPro cameras
when it was Teva.
Q. What’s your background in outdoor sports?
I’ve been kayaking for 23 years. I grew up surfing
in St. Augustine, Florida, and then I moved here because I got a job as an EMT at the Vail Valley Medical Center. I came out and started snowboarding
, and in the summer I missed surfing so I started kayaking on Gore Creek. I went into it full on: I got a job as safety kayaker, then started managing a kayaking company and then started paddling professionally and worked my way through the ranks. I went on to become the brand manager for Dagger Kayaks
; through good fortune and persistence I got a job in the industry. I still kayak all the time.
Q. What did you compete in here?
I competed in the Ultimate River Challenge, which is three events: the Down River Kayak Sprint, Down River SUP Sprint and Down River R2 Raft Sprint. You kayak down Gore Creek, come back up, SUP down, come back up, then raft it. I don’t know the official results but I’m pretty sure I ended up fifth. It really allows you to see how good you are running the river in different crafts.
Q. The X-Games is also happening this weekend. Can you give put the GoPro Games in context?
This is the biggest event of its kind, really. Obviously there’s the X-Games and everybody measures against the X-Games, but they have motor-powered
events. I mean, they’re awesome, they’re unreal, but these are different: this is all human powered. Everything about it is about working with nature and not having fossil fuel-powered machines. And when you win the events it carries a lot of weight. A lot of really significant athletes come in, but the most average local Joe can also compete against some of the world’s best athletes. Sometimes the best athletes are also from here. Josiah Middaugh is one of them. The guy is ridiculous. He has a resting heart rate of 10 or something, and he lives here and trains here.
Q. I understand you’re also the local weatherman. Can you tell me what Vail is like the rest of the year?
Yes, I’m the morning weatherman. People wake up and I give them their weather. If you don’t live here, you come here and you’re like, “Fuck, look at this.” Vail has a few different personas. It obviously has Vail, “Like Nothing on Earth”, that wintertime, high-end stuff; the average family of four comes here and spends $20,000 on a vacation. But when you live here you don’t spend that much, and in the summer the place is basically empty with the exception of this event. You can get into any restaurant, go anywhere, you can still ski at Arapahoe Basin; when you get down to the heart of it, we’re in these beautiful mountains
. Forget about how much this hotel is. Look around. You have everything here. The rivers are great, we have golf
, we have one of the greatest surf waves in the world on a river (the Glenwood Wave). There’s a lot of other stuff besides what people think of when they think of Vail.
Hometown: New York, NY
Q. You’ve spoken with GP before, and I understand you’re a senior at Columbia in New York. What are you up to here at the Games?
I’m a GoPro athlete so I’m here as an ambassador. I’m also doing some commentating and filming with NBC for the bouldering finals. Mainly, I’m here to hang out and be a part of the GoPro team, watch events, hang out with friends and go climbing outside. It’s a great place — I love Vail.
Q. Can you tell me about where you see yourself in the context of the climbing world right now?
is at this really pivotal point. We’re seeing rapid growth both indoors and outside. There are more climbers than ever, and there are gyms in urban environments everywhere, globally. I grew up competing when I was seven until now — I used to do World Cups, World Championships, Nationals — and now I’ve positioned my career to be more of an outdoor climber, traveling around the world and focusing on first ascents, first female ascents, interesting storylines that tell a story and show an adventure. That’s the focus of my trips this summer. As for my role in climbing, I want to share my passion with as many people as possible and share my experience and what I’ve learned going from, “Okay, this is my hobby,” to “This is my profession and how I’m making a living and paying for school.”
Q. What accomplishments are you most proud of in climbing and where do you see yourself heading?
I’ve won the World Championships and multiple National Championships. I was the first North American woman and third in the world to do 9a [watch the video here
], which is the hardest climb achieved by a woman. Obviously, the level continues to progress and it’s really inspiring to see this translation of what the gym culture is lending to the youth and how they’re progressing and setting new standards. I say embrace it. People are going to get stronger and more scientific about training and it’s great to see. I do the best when I’m having the most fun, going on the next adventure and pushing my comfort level. This year I learned how to ice climb, I’m doing more big wall climbing and I have a big project in Switzerland coming up.
Q. Some spectators here at the event are probably new to climbing. For people like them, what tips can you offer for getting into the sport?
I think the most you’re going to get out of climbing is by putting yourself out there and climbing. That means going to the gym
when you’re first starting — going several times a week to establish a base. But also acknowledging that humans aren’t engineered to be fearless. How you embrace fear and deal with fear is how you progress as an athlete. That means taking risks, being open to new experiences and challenges, not limiting yourself.
Q. How do you do that?
It depends on the situation, but generally I find my flow the best when I focus on my breath and concentrating on what I can control. When you start thinking about what could go wrong it creates negative energy that’s going to bring you that many levels back from progressing and accomplishing something new.