Posted by: Katie Coakley
Mountain Games set to debut brand new highline competitions
By Shauna Farnell
The slackline events have grown to rank among the most popular spectacles at the GoPro Mountain Games; this year, the competition is quite literally ramping it up a notch. Specifically, to a highline about 50 feet above Solaris in Vail Village.
“At the Mountain Games, slackline just took off and blossomed. It grew into some amazing world-class tricklining. This year it’s going to be a lot different. The crowd is going to love this event,” says Mickey Wilson, one of the individuals who originally brought slacklining to the Mountain Games many years ago.
However, most people know Wilson for what may be the most famous – and certainly the most heroic – slacklining endeavor in history. While skiing with friends at Arapahoe Basin in 2017, a man in a chairlift ahead of Wilson caught his backpack getting off the lift and ended up dangling by it off of the chair. Wilson crawled across the lift cable – more than 30 feet off of the ground – onto the chair and freed the man, dropping him to safety.
Wilson has been recognized for this valiant act the last two years at the Mountain Games, exhibiting his skills on a highline strung over Gerald Ford Amphitheater during the live music events. This year, he is spearheading the efforts to transform the slackline competitions, serving as a judge for a freestyle event and organizing top local athletes to compete on the highline, which might strike unversed spectators as the most harrowing, dangerous sport they’ve ever witnessed.
“It seems extreme. It seems crazy, especially to the uninitiated. But highlining is the safest extreme sport in the world,” Wilson says. “Your highline system has a main line and a backup line. Your leash has a main line and backup line. Highlining can be pretty low impact. For the most part, highlining is friendlier on the body than other slackline disciplines.”
Unlike slacklining on a low line where the ground is the cause (when certain tricks go awry) of significant injury, the worse thing that can happen to athletes that fall off of a highline is a “whip”: the jerking motion of the body when the leash catches them.
Wilson notes a trip across a 125-foot long line, 3,000 feet above the ground at Yosemite Falls among his most impressive highline journeys. Even though it took a couple of takes to pluck up his nerve, he does not describe this endeavor as “scary.” But, let’s take into consideration we’re talking about someone who was fearlessly scaling tall structures before most kids learned to ride a bike.
“My mom and dad always tell a funny story about how when my dad was a producer at events with bleachers that were 40 feet high, everyone would hear a scream and someone would say, ‘there’s a little boy crawling up there!’” Wilson says. “I was a little monkey kid, for sure.”
That doesn’t mean that Wilson – or any other athletes who were monkey kids and who gravitated to balancing on a line at dizzying heights – is fearless when stepping onto a highline – particularly where there’s an audience below.
“There is a little intrinsic, internal voice in your head that’s making you scared on whatever highline you step on,” Wilson says. “After many attempts, you learn to quiet that voice. Also with all the eyes looking at you, there’s more fear. There is fear in your heart when you’re up there. Then your brain says, I have an anchor, I have a leash.”
Highline competitions will take place throughout the 2019 GoPro Mountain Games with lots of new events. Highline Freestyle Best Trick gives competitors four attempts to stick their hardest single trick, which is defined as starting at the top of a bounce and ending when the line has gone down and back to the starting position, while Highline Freestyle Best Run gives athletes two minutes to showcase all their best tricks and skills on the highline. Highline Speed Walk features a racing across the wobbly, 1-inch wide highline and the Highline Rumble pits competitors head-to-head to see who’s left standing.
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