Picture this: I’m standing next to a man wearing a unicorn onesie. He has a GoPro mounted to his chest. His dog has a GoPro attached to his collar. Across the river, a whitewater athlete just pulled her kayak out of the water. Her GoPro is attached to her helmet. The slackliner nearby is readjusting his GoPro wrist strap. His friend has a GoPro on a stick.
And in front of me is the greatest GoPro fashion statement of all – the very obvious free spirit, who has artfully fashioned his dreadlocks into a custom made GoPro hair mount.
Welcome to the GoPro Mountain Games!
I love it here! The energy is buzzing and everyone is fit, tanned, with craft brew in hand (or Coors, the sponsored beer of the GoPro Mountain Games). Instead of a GoPro, I’m sporting a “POW – Protect our Winters” trucker’s hat. Already, more than a few vendors and attendees have offered a trade for it. No dice.
More than 2,500 athletes are all here to compete – Whitewater kayakers, rafters, SUP boarders, fly fishermen and women, rock climbers and boulderers, slackliners, yogis, mountain bikers, disc golfers, mud runners, and even dogs skilled in jumping off docks.
Taylor and I managed to swing into town for the semi-finals and finals, accompanied by nearly 70,000 other spectators.
Here’s how it went down: (You’ll want to put this event on your calendar)
We arrived to the Vail Mountain Resort around 9am on Saturday. Immediately, we observed that VMR is HUGE, spanning 5,289 acres to be exact. I’m here from Durango, where locals ski at Purgatory Mountain Resort (1,360 acres) and nearby Wolf Creek (1,600 acres). Big difference.
We got lost three times, but I can’t blame GoPro for my poor orienteering. Everything is well signed and organized throughout the venue. The resort was broken up into sections for the event – Dog Town, Gear Town, Adventure Village, Mountain Plaza, Zen Zone and the Amp.
Based on those names, obviously you know where we stopped first. Yeah, Dog Town, where the Dock Dogs competition takes place. We tiptoed through the Zen Zone, where famous yogi Kathryn Budig was hosting a class and made our way through the grand venue entry. A massive 41 foot long dog dive pool served as the focal point of the area with a slushy ski hill backdrop. Booths from big name companies like Costa, Yeti, Taxa Outdoors, Ruffwear, Go RVing, Blue buffalo and even the famous Instagram profile Camping with Dogs lined the perimeter.
Have you ever watched a dog jump off a dock? Okay, maybe. But have you seen it done professionally? It was incredibly easy to get absorbed in this event (My money was totally on Mocha). We cheered and whooped for the professional woofers all morning, as they plunged into water as far, fast and high as their little legs could send them.
After a few rounds (when Mocha lost her standing), we migrated our party to Mountain Plaza, where the IFSC Climbing World Cup Semi-finals were taking place. Rock and Ice Magazine, Kush crash pads, Runners World Magazine, Evolv sports and all the big climbing name companies were present. We sampled Epic energy bar jerky and watched teams from around the world flash unfathomable routes and solve these vertical puzzles. After the semi-finals, the black curtain was drawn across the wall so new surprise routes could be set set. The break gave us a chance to go find food.
From the Mountain Plaza, it’s a winding road to the “L.L Bean Gear Town,” where we lost ourselves to incredible smells, new and flashy backcountry gear and free samples. Smells of asian cuisine, Hawaiian inspired food, southern and not-so-southern style BBQ, crepes, sandwiches, pizza and all other delicacies assaulted my olfactory senses. Fear of my habitual hangry-ness habits prompted Taylor to feed me. He ordered an elk bratwurst for himself and I had a dry-aged, short rib hot dog from Colorado Meat Co. Honestly, I’d go into battle for another one of those.
After lunch, we stopped by the Coors sponsored biergarten (but not for Coors, because there are better beers…sorry). They had just tapped an apricot sour from Blue Moon and our fascination with weird stuff turned out to be a win. Sour Apricot became our go-to beer for the rest of the day.
We just bounced between different spectating venues after that and chatted with booth representatives. My background in backcountry activity originates with NOLS, so I spent time bonding with the Marketing Rep over at their booth. The rep also owns a “POW – Protect our Winters” trucker’s hat, so he didn’t try to steal mine. He informed us that famous climber/mountaineer/retired NOLS instructor Jimmy Chin just walked through. I resisted the urge to chase him like a groupie.
We caught the end of the semi-finals of the slackline competition (I have no idea what is going on here) and the finals of the fly fishing competition, which brought back fond memories of how many flies I’ve lost to the trees behind the Animas river in Durango.
Once the fly fishing competition ended, it was time for the event I’d waited for all day – the kayak freestyle finals. Taylor and I sat in the sun for two hours, getting sunburned and watching this intense sport. I don’t know if his jaw was on the ground but mine was. Freestyle kayaking is like a mix between gymnastics, water aerobics, and skillfully not drowning. Athletes get points for various tricks, maneuvers and move combinations. I’ll spare you every detail, but please ooh and ahh over these photos:
The competition ran later than expected, so after the winners were called, I crinkled my nose and assessed the degree of my face sunburn. Taylor snagged a few Bull Frog sunscreen samples earlier but I ignored him and now must live with the consequences of my bad choices.
We meandered over to Mountain Plaza one last time to catch the end of the climbing finals before walking the half mile over to the Gerald R. Ford amphitheater for the evening concerts. (I told you this place was huge!)
At the concert hall, we rolled out our rumpl blanket on the grass, ordered food and got situated to be serenaded. I was honestly just expecting some popcorn and hot dogs from the concessions but that’s peasant food here at to GoPro games. Can I ever attend a concert without gourmet duck empanadas, bahn mi sandwiches and street tacos? I dunno.
Reggae/folk artist Trevor Hall opened up for Nahko and Medicine for the People. With the games over, everyone was now in the mood to celebrate and Trevor’s sanskrit chants set a perfect, vibing tone. Alpenglow painted the surrounding peaks in true Rocky’s fashion, so we cracked some Coors (because we had to at least once) and made a toast.
To Colorado. This is home.
Our night ended with a speech by barefooted Mickey Wilson. Maybe you remember Mickey from ski season 2017. If you’re not from Durango, you’re excused and I’ll tell you the story. Mickey is a professional slackliner from Durango who used his tightroping skills to rescue a man off of a chair lift at the Arapahoe Basin. He free-climbed 10 feet up in the air and shimmied/slacklined for 30 feet to the chair, where the man’s backpack was tangled and slowly strangling him. Mickey cut him down and saved his life.
Here at the GoPro Games, Mickey climbed ten feet up in the air to a suspended slackline, faced the audience (an incredibly hard thing to do while slacklining) and told his story.
His message? Do what you love, even if it seems as pointless as slacking in a park. You never know why that activity was put into your life.
It’s a deep message that is well received by the celebratory crowd. In the thoughtful silence following his speech, an audience member demanded Mickey do a flip. Obviously, he obliged and the crowd erupted.
Well done, GoPro.