By Kim Fuller Published in The Denver Post
VAIL — May is often a sleepy, muddy month in Vail. It’s a pause of anticipation for the next pulsing season, like the breath you hold before an adventure begins. June arrives, and the trails get tacky, the aspen trees pop and the thirst for outdoor action surges with the river runoff. It’s the start of an alpine summer, and it’s when the GoPro Mountain Games come to town — this year, June 4-7.
ABOVE: Garrett Robertson launches off a jump at the summer GoProMountain Games in Vail.
The high-flying sports on display at the games — which are in their 14th year, featuring a growing number of endurance and adrenaline-inspired events — are exhilarating in person, even for spectators. Stand on the International Bridge above kayakers turning barrels in Gore Creek and you’ll also be within view of climbers competing for world titles. With concerts at night and up-close views of athletes giving it their all by day, plus great dining and free yoga and fly fishing, it’s a chance to take in the mountain lifestyle.
Take a cue from locals getting in on the fun.
“It’s a stand-out event because there is something for everyone,” said Vail resident Erik Sale, who has signed up for the 2 Fly X-Stream fly-casting competition this year, with hopes to head back to the semi-finals. In past years he’s also done the 8 Ball kayaking competition, and his golden retriever took first place in one of the dock dog events.
“Literally everyone — kids, dogs, seniors and elite athletes all competing in some of the same events,” he said. “Plus, it really kicks off summer in the Vail Valley, with thousands of people, great and unique events, good music, food at every turn — I mean, what more could you want, really?”
Watching the events can be, for some, the better way to experience the mountain games.
The family-friendly KIND Adventure Village is a free, interactive exhibition at the Golden Peak base area, located at Vail Mountain’s eastern access point. Kids can practice their water skills on large kayak tanks, their rock maneuvering on a portable climbing wall and test their balance on slacklines. Families can stroll tents to snag free swag.
This is also where you’ll be able to watch events like the dock dog competition, slopestyle biking and the infamous mud run. Four expo villages will be scattered throughout the sprawling valley venue, and new this year, athletes can relax and rub elbows with competitors in the Strong & KIND Athlete Lounge.
ABOVE: The crowd reacts as Masayuki Takahata, left, falls out of a raft and Todd Toledo reaches for him during a Teva Mountain Games Raft Cross event in Vail during the GoPro Games.
Adventure in the arts is prominent at the games as well. The event includes a mountain photography competition, a film festival (this year at a new outdoor location) and an adventure film school.
In the evening, look for the mountain lifestyle parties, like happy hours, held throughout the games, and the free concerts held every night in Vail Village.
If you want to stay active, but not compete, there’s free yoga every day during the games at the Solaris Plaza, a free group run with mountain runner Joseph Gray on Vail Mountain, June 4 at 5 p.m., and free disc golf clinics throughout the weekend. Those activities can actually make for an affordable weekend in Vail.
If you do plan to compete in one or more of the 25 disciplines from any of the nine different sports, sign up early. Not only will you save money, but you’ll also be more likely to get a swag bag.
There are plenty of options for novice and veteran athletes who are new to the games, including a road bike time trial and a cross-country mountain bike race; a trail run, mud run and road half marathon; water sports from kayaking to stand-up paddleboarding and rafting; plus climbing, fishing and disc-golf competitions. And be sure to sign up your talented water dog for the dock diving.
“The only two sports that are restricted are the Bouldering World Cup and the Slackline Invitational,” said Kate Peters, senior marketing and public relations manager for the Vail Valley Foundation, organizer of the games. “All others can be for amateurs up to pros — you can sign up for any level you want.”
The Ultimate Mountain Challenge is an option for go-getters, as it combines the times of four major events to determine the ultimate male and female athletes in their categories.
Plan your trip
The 2015 GoPro Mountain Games will be held June 4-7 in Vail. Full event schedule.
Summer parking is free in the Vail Village and Lionshead lots, which is a good enough reason to make the drive for some mountain playtime.
Discounted lodging options are available in collaboration with the event. Stay at a one-bedroom condo at the Westwind in Lionshead for $90 per night, or for more upscale amenities and an ideal location, the Sonnenalp Hotel rates start at $185 per night if you’re staying for three or more nights. See the full list of Summer Games lodging options at www.mountaingames.com/summer/mountains/stay-play/lodgingplaces-to-stay.
If you’re looking to camp, the closest sites are at Gore Creek, 6.7 miles away and connected to the road and bike path through East Vail. Check out more, car-commutable options at mountaingames.com/summer/mountains/stay-play/places-to-camp.
Get your espresso to go or sit and stay awhile at Yeti’s Grind coffee shop, located at the far end of the Solaris lawn off of Meadow Drive. They carry cupcakes from Batter — try the savory Love Me Tender, made with fresh banana cake, peanut butter frosting and maple-bacon crumbles. 141 E. Meadow Drive #108; 970-476-1515
Green Elephant Juicery
Take a shot of wheatgrass for the win, or try Packie, a leafy green-filled and lemon-charged juice. This new Vail Valley juice company has a small space on the western edge of Lionshead — it’s a decent walk or an in-town bus ride away from the games, but well worth it. 616 W. Lionshead Cir #206; 970-470-4042
A stone’s throw from Gore Creek, Mountain Standard is defining contemporary mountain cuisine in their lunch, dinner and cocktail menus. Try their charred tomato Bloody Mary — it has a distinct hint of rustic smoky to it, like the smell of a campfire when it first hits your nose. 193 Gore Creek Drive; 970-476-0123
Pair nice wine with wholesome, healthy food at Terra Bistro, located in the Vail Mountain Lodge, near the eastern edge of the village parking structure when you’re walking to Golden Peak and Adventure Village. Try their signature house-sprouted quinoa cups, and stop in for “Appy Hour” with half-priced apps and drink specials from 5-6 p.m. daily. Vail Mountain Lodge & Spa, 352 E Meadow Drive; 970-476-6836