By Joe Carberry
Dane Jackson has been competing at the GoPro Mountain Games' Homestake Steep Creek Championships for as long as he can remember. The 21-year-old started racing the gnarly section of Colorado whitewater when he was 11, following in the footsteps of his father, Eric. But today was special.
"That was my first time winning this event so I'm pretty fired up," he said. "My first run was awesome but my second run was gnarly. I got messed up on the last drop so I was just stoked to make the finals."
Each competitor in the men's division took two runs in the preliminary rounds. The top 10 finishers then moved on to the finals for a third run on one of the most difficult sections of whitewater in Colorado. The course’s rapids drop some 480 feet before the finish and confluence with the Eagle River. The top section is dangerous and "manky," with sharp rock deposited in the creek bed years ago from the construction of Colorado Highway 24. The bottom section features three consecutive vertical drops that need to be lined with precision, a difficult task after paddling full bore for a minute at nearly 10,000 feet.
On the women's side, French paddler Nouria Newman made it look easy on her way to her first victory at Homestake Creek in what was her first time at the GoPro Mountain Games. "It's not my favorite race course in the world," said Newman, a decorated slalom paddler who won gold at the 2014 World Championships, and who also completed a first female descent of the storied Site Zed Rapid on the Stikine in Northern Canada last year. "I'm pretty afraid of all the rocks and the places you can get stuck. It's pretty technical. It's not the hardest racecourse but the consequences are bad. I'm really happy, though."
Nouria Newman racing on Homestake Creek:
The women's final was an intense one as 14-year-old Sage Donnelly pushed Newman to the brink but got off line and lost time in the bottom half of the course. Adriene Levknecht finished third followed by Hayley Stuart who was forced out of her boat when she was caught in a hydraulic midway through her final run.
Spain's Gerd Serrasolses, one of the most hard-charging whitewater paddlers on the planet, finished second while Cole Moore came out of nowhere (Maryland, that is) to finish third. It was far and away the best finish of his competitive career and a significant upset as he knocked Nick Troutman off the podium. Troutman still managed fourth, a solid finish just ahead of another pro paddler, Dave Fusilli.
The Homestake Steep Creek Championships have become a fantastic way to kick off the GoPro Mountain Games as hundreds of spectators lined the road paralleling the powerful section of river, just around the corner from the scenic town of Red Cliff, a former mining camp turned quaint skier's village on the north side of Tennessee Pass. "The race was unbelievable," said longtime announcer Dan Gavere. "We had some great talent. It was cool to see guys come all the way from Chile and Spain. Everyone made it through the course clean, no injuries so we're super-happy to pull off another Steep Creek Championships here at the GoPro Mountain Games."
Kayaking competition continues throughout the weekend with the sprint race and freestyle competition in Vail Village.
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