By Eugene Buchanan
Your local eddies might be a little light this weekend. Most of the world's top paddlers will be stretching their sprayskirts on in Vail, Colo., for the GoPro Mountain Games, one of the country's largest celebrations of outdoor sports.
In all, amateur and professional athletes from nine sports and 25 disciplines will converge on the rivers and trails of Vail to compete for more than $100,000 in prize money during a weekend filled with free concerts, expos and parties. And as usual, paddling will continue its command as a backbone of the event.
Events include the Bud Light Steep Creek Championships on Homestake Creek on Thursday, June 5; a freestyle kayak competition on Gore Creek on Friday and Saturday, June 6-7; a downriver kayak race on June 7; and the popular Eight Ball event on June 8.
Of all the kayaking events, it's the Homestake race that carries the most prestige, last year drawing 50 of the best kayakers from around the world to plunge down a high-flowing, Class V gauntlet a half hour out of town. Once again, all eyes will be on Mike Dawson from New Zealand, who last year won the race for the fourth time, as well as Martina Wegman of the Netherlands for the women, who defended her title successfully in 2013.
Challenging 2012 Olympic slalom kayaker Dawson will be last year's second-place finisher Bryan Kirk of Charlottesville, Va.; Jackson paddler Nick Troutman of Rock Island, Tenn.; and this year's three-time Whitewater Grand Prix winner Dane Jackson.
“Homestake is an awesome race,” says Dawson. “Especially at high water like we'll likely have this year. It turns the run into two rapids — the top to the middle pool and from there to the bottom — meaning any mistakes would make it pretty hard to save the run.”
Wegman, meanwhile, will face stiff competition from last year's runner-up Natalie Anderson of Fort Collins, Colo., and third-place finisher Adrienne Levknecht of Greenville, S.C.
In freestyle, look to Dane to retain his crown and sister Emily to take the title again for the women.
All this action will be captured by the products of sponsor GoPro, who took over sponsorship of the event after Teva pulled out before the 2013 Games. "GoPro truly helped elevate the Mountain Games last year, raising their overall awareness globally," says Michael Imhof of organizer Vail Valley Foundation. "Now that they've got a year of experience under their belt, they're committed to making this the best outdoor festival in the world with bigger on-site activation, top music talent, more world-class athletes from their roster and more social media promotion."
Other events to take in include a variety of SUP events, including downriver and cross races, drawing the likes of Kai Lenny; the Bouldering World Cup, where Austria's Anna Stohr will vie for her fourth gold while men's champion Dmitri Sharafutdinov from Russia looks to retain his title; and a mountain bike race where last year's women's winner Erin Huck tries to defend her title and Olympian and national champion Todd Wells attempts to win it for the men.
The GoPro Mountain Games are a project of the Vail Valley Foundation. Info:http://www.gopromountaingames.com