20 incredible years of Mountain Games
Photo: Joe Blair

20 incredible years of Mountain Games

Posted by: Tom Boyd

What makes the GoPro Mountain Games amazing? It’s that incredible feeling of unity, friendship, and good vibes that comes from all of us getting together to do the things we love each June in the mountains.

It all started 20 years ago. Actually, scratch that. It all started in the ’70s and ’80s as kayaking grew as a sport in the Rocky Mountains.

The Vail area has been on the spring whitewater kayaking migration route since … well, ever since kayaking whitewater has been a thing. In 2002, our community evolved a longstanding Memorial Day weekend whitewater festival by adding mountain biking, kayaking, rafting, trail running, music, parties, art, and culture, to create the first-ever Mountain Games in 2002.


The original Mountain Games poster from 2002.

Longstanding Vail Memorial Day weekend whitewater festival becomes the Mountain Games. Teva is the title sponsor. Eric Southwick wins the first Freestyle Kayak Rodeo on the newly built Vail Whitewater Park in Vail Village. Fox Sports Regional is the television partner, 250 competitors take part, and 6,000 spectators attend.


First annual Mountain Ball party grows to become one of Vail’s biggest. First photography competition. First XC Mountain Bike race. First year of the Steep Creek Championships on Homestake Creek, which drops 480/feet per mile.


Jurassic 5 plays a roof-raising show, in the snow, at Mountain Games at the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater, setting the stage for a long legacy of great concerts. NBC provides television coverage along with Fusion TV, Rush TV, and VH1.


First annual Mountain Mud Run.

Brad Ludden
Kayaker Brad Ludden was a star of the Mountain Games in its early years.


Team Nike wins and completes the “three-peat” of the 12-hour Adventure Race. The Mountain Games doubles as host to the USA 10K National Trail Running Championships: Matt Carpenter wins.


Josiah Middaugh and Keri Nelson Springs win the inaugural four-event Ultimate Mountain Challenge competition (kayaking, mountain biking, trail running, cycling), which replaces the Adventure Race at the Mountain Games. Middaugh goes on to win the UMC every year through 2016.


The Mountain Games host the first IFSC World Cup Bouldering event on U.S. soil in 20 years.


DockDogs joins the Mountain Games lineup. The local, nonprofit, Vail Valley Foundation produces its first Mountain Games after purchasing the event from Vail-based Untraditional Marketing in 2008.

The first year of the Steep Creek Championships at Homestake Creek was in 2003. Photo by Zach Mahone.


First annual Stand Up Paddling events are held – the 3-mile Surf Sprint down the icy waters of Gore Creek. Sixteen-year-old Noa Ginella beat out favorites Charlie MacArthur and Dan Gavere in a stunning upset


Mike Montgomery goes big to win the Mountain Games’ mountain bike slopestyle.


Slackline Industries and the Vail Valley Foundation introduce the Slackline Industries Invitational to the lineup. It soon becomes one of the most popular spectator events at the event.


GoPro becomes title sponsor of the Mountain Games. Total prize money tops $100,000 for the first time.


Isaac Levinson wins the Homestake Creek Steep Creekin’ Championships AND the Kayak Downriver Sprint.


Henry the mountain dog enjoys his last mountain games in style. Lindsey Vonn makes an appearance at the Fly Fishing competition.


The Mountain Games celebrate 15 years and adds an Après 5K trail run, an all-new yoga lineup, and expands into Lionshead. The event also experiments with an Enduro event in nearby Eagle, Colorado. Concerts return to the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater with a memorable performance from headliner Stephen Marley and openers Bonfire dub.

Pepi's Face Off
Pepi’s Face Off hill climb was added in 2003. Photo by Logan Robertson.


OutsideTV becomes new television partner. New event, the Pepi’s Face Off hill climb, is launched. The event is named after local legend Pepi Gramshammer. Mountain Masters Disc Golf is added to the event lineup and quickly sells out. A new, mobile-friendly website is launched. A new “choose your own adventure” format is introduced for the multi-event Ultimate Mountain Challenge competition. More DockDogs events are added.


A highly-popular silent disco is added to the entertainment lineup. In climbing, Alex Puccio (USA) and Rei Sugimoto (JPN) win the IFSC Bouldering Competitions. Chloe Woodruff (USA) wins a near photo-finish in the women’s XC Mountain Bike. Chris Robinson Brotherhood, St. Paul and the Broken Bones, and the Wood Brothers headline concerts at the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater. The Playing for Change Band joins the marquee for the Friday and Saturday night concerts.


The event reaches extraordinary heights with 80,000+ spectators over four days, 3,100+ individual athletes, more than 350 volunteers, and a $6.2m economic impact to the Town of Vail. Highline slackline replaces the international slackline competition. A new Catch Wars fly fishing event is added.

Concerts returned to The Amp with one concert in 2016 and a full three-night lineup in 2017. Photo by Jon Resnick.


After taking a year off due to the global pandemic, the GoPro Mountain Games return with a slightly pared-down version of the event. The new Gore IV Kayak Challenge is added to the competition lineup. Joseph Gray wins the adidas Terrex 10K Spring Runoff, his seventh victory in a row. Three nights of concerts at The Amp are among the first major concerts in the nation to return to full capacity: Yonder Mountain String Band June 10, and Bob Weir & Wolf Bros June 11 and 12.


The Go Mountain Games celebrate 20 years. Event expands to six days for the first time (June 7-12) including a new GoPro Dual Slalom event at the bike park in Minturn and the adidas Terrex 20K Anniversary Run. Climbing returns with the North America Cup Vail USA Climbing competition plus citizen and youth climbing. “Take a Hike For YouthPower365” hike and fundraiser is added to the lineup.

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