2017 GoPro Mountain Games gets off to a raucous good start
Below the bright blue skies of Vail, Colorado – the 2017 GoPro Mountain Games are lighting the summer off with 4 days of the nation’s best in outdoor sports and adventure racing… not to mention swimming dogs, disc golf, yoga, climbing, bike races, 5k’s and more.
Day 1 of the Go Pro Mountain Games was punctuated by some intense competition just around the bend from downtown Vail in the town of Red Cliff where gutsy boaters pitched their kayaks down the rushing whitewater of Homestake Creek.
Kayakers have a lot of nicknames for the Coors Light Steep Creek Championships that kick off the Games every June: “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 crowds with their unique four-legged acrobatics in the pooch pool.