By Scott Willoughby and Shauna Farnell
UPDATED AT 12:35 p.m. | June 9, 2017
The resounding orchestra for Day No. 1 of the 2017 GoPro Mountain Games was the cacophony of canine calls around Golden Peak … even though most of the action was up the road near Red Cliff watching gutsy boaters pitch their plastic down the creek. Here’s the day’s highlights:
Kayakers have a lot of nicknames for the Coors Light Steep Creek Championships that kick off the GoPro Mountain Games every June on the rocky, plummeting the firehose known as Homestake Creek: “Gnar,” “mank,” “hair”… and some other choice words.
After winning her third race in three attempts at Homestake Creek on Thursday, Nouria Newman of Tignes, France, has her own pet name for it: Payday.
“I’ve come three times and won three times, so I’m pretty stoked,” said Newman, 25. “I’m stoked, because I’m broke. I lost my job recently and have been living off my savings, so I’m like, 2,000 bucks! Sweet!”
Newman found the money line early in the 16th annual Mountain Games, posting the three fastest times in the women’s division to qualify first and cap off the win with a final lap time of 1:50.10 down the whitewater course that drops an abrupt 480 feet per mile. Adrienne Levknecht of Greenville, SC, was second in 1:52.50, followed by 16-year-old Sage Donnelly of Carson City, NV, in 1:58.31.
It was a far cry from the year before, when Newman tumbled her way down the course on her first lap before eventually dialing in her stroke.
“My first run last year I think I did seven rolls. It definitely keeps you humble about the course for the next year,” Newman said. “This year I came back and was like, ‘Ooh, I’m scared.’ It’s not that it’s really, really hard, but it’s super consequential. There are a lot of hidden rocks that can push you off line and as soon as you flip, you’re going to get hurt most likely.”
As one of the world’s top kayakers and competitors, however, Newman managed to use the fear to her advantage.
“I think I’m always scared of hard, consequential rivers, and this is definitely consequential,” she said. “But I’m glad I’m scared because it’s keeping me humble and it’s keeping me on my game. A little bit scared is good, I think.”
Make no mistake: Homestake Creek is a beast. But it’s a fickle beast, with fluctuating water levels that determine it’s mood. In 2016, racers faced historic high flows that tested the courage of many kayakers. On Thursday, optimal flows at the race’s start receded throughout the day, turning the creek into a technical slalom course of rocks and water. But for the first time in race history, no kayakers came out of their boats. Or drew blood.
“I actually really enjoyed this (water) level,” said men’s champion Dane Jackson of Walling, TN. “Last year was a lot of fun because it was high, but the thing was, you could miss a lot more rocks. That’s what’s so great about Homestake Creek at these flows: there are a lot of rocks to avoid that can totally ruin your run.”
Jackson, 23, rallied from the second-fastest qualifying time to leapfrog over second-place finisher Gerd Serrasolses of Spain with times of 1:44.36 and 1:45.03, respectively. Jackson was also joined on the podium by his brother-in-law, Nick Troutman (1:46.23), turning the finals into a family affair as they raced against their father, legendary kayaker Eric “EJ” Jackson, 53, who settled for 13th place as the oldest competitor in the history of the Coors Light Steep Creek Championship.
Coors Light Kayak Freestyle qualifier
The race day quickly shifted gears for the Jacksons (and others), as the multi-discipline paddlers had to high-tail it from Homestake Creek to the Vail Whitewater Park for afternoon qualifying rounds in the Coors Light Kayak Freestyle competition. There they met up with Emily Jackson — daughter of EJ, sister of Dane and wife of Troutman — who crushed the qualifying round with a score of 996.66 to lead the eight women moving on to Friday’s semifinals.
Courtney Kerin of New Zealand qualified second at 543.34, while defending champion Levknecht sits in fourth position with a score of 466.67.
On the men’s side Dane Jackson came out of qualifiers ranked third with a score of 1423.33. Ahead of him was Mathieu Dumoulin with 1676.67 in second and Hunter Katich qualifying first at 1960 even.
Not all the action was on the river at Day One of the GoPro Mountain Games, though. Fido got his splash on in the opening waves of the Blue Buffalo DockDogs Outdoor Big Air and Dueling Dogs competition qualifiers at Golden Peak in Vail. As usual, fur was flying and tails were wagging as the ever-popular canine competitors wowed the crowd with their unique four-legged acrobatics in the pooch pool.
The good vibes were circulating in more ways than one on Thursday as local instructors Joe Joe Melone and Ivonne Schwartz kicked off 2017’s stacked lineup of yoga classes, Schwarz moving to the cool beats of DJ Kirby K and Melone producing his own harmonies by way of “OM.” The Zen Zone venue of grassy lawn outside of Betty Ford Alpine Gardens glowed under the sun as dozens of yogis of all ability levels struck poses in unison.
There were lots of fast moving legs as huskies, blue heelers, mutts, malamutes – every breed known to God’s green earth (yes, even wiener dogs with little legs sprinting at a blur) turned out for the Rocky Dog Trail Run presented by Camping with Dogs. Some racers were banking on using their leashes as towropes as their furry friends schlepped them up the challenging 5K course. Without the help of Fido, a vast crew of runners take to the same steep Vail Mountain course on Friday for the Aprés 5K.
No bike events to speak of for Day 1, but an impressive variety of riders turned out for the official meeting preceding Friday’s GoPro MTN Enduro race in Eagle. There looked to be lots of local faces sharing secrets about the undercover course as well as a record number of women and kids. New to the Mountain Games last season, the Enduro delivers a grueling five-hour day of up-and-down pedaling whittled down to a few minutes of timed descent.
Several climbers could be found powdering their hands and trying out the wall on Mountain Plaza in preparation for the IFSC Climbing World Cup’s only stop in the United States. It kicks off at 9 a.m. Friday with Men’s Qualification at 9 a.m. followed by Women’s Qualification at 3 p.m..
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