Vail Games Kick Off on Dowd Chute, Spain’s Gerd Serrasolses Takes Home Gold

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Photo by Townsend Bessent

The 17th annual GoPro Mountain Games are out of the gate and charging hard into what is already shaping up to be an excellent weekend. It all started with the “new” event – created to take place of the Homestake Creek Steep Creek Championship, which was moved to Dowd Chute due to low water. In the world of kayaking, everything that was old is new again — yet necessity remains the mother of invention, say Mountain Games organizers.

The world’s best kayakers discovered that on Day One of the 2018 GoPro Mountain Games, where waning water levels at the standard Steep Creek Championship venue upstream on Homestake Creek forced race organizers to get inventive. Their ingenuity resulted in repurposing an old race venue with a new race format, making for a lot of happy kayakers.

Photo courtesy of Robbie Prectl.

Like the recent return of long boats and downriver play kayak designs that dominated the scene some 15-20 years ago, the Oh Chute Kayak Challenge that replaced this year’s Steep Creek Championship race was an instant, if slightly surprising, success. The race down Class IV Down Chute of the Eagle River was a throwback to precursor events to the GoPro Mountain Games, including the former Jeep Whitewater Festival and early iterations of the Mountain Games.

Just as those old school races served as some of the original pro boater-cross events, the new school Kayak Challenge broke new ground on Thursday with a unique format combining downriver racing with a sort of slalom obstacle course. Racers were forced to peel off from the fastest current in nine different places in order to catch eddies and tap “gates” on the riverbank, or else face a 1-minute time penalty for each one missed. Adding an “enduro” element to the race, competitors had to carry their kayaks uphill to the starting line between runs.

Photo courtesy of GoPro Mountain Games / Townsend Bessent

“It’s just really different,” said Eric “EJ” Jackson, 54, who finished 8th in the Oh Chute Challenge more than a decade after winning all but one of the historic Dowd Chute boater cross races. “For me, the Chute race was a highlight because it’s a great section of water and it’s super fun, so we were bummed to see it go. So even though Homestake was cancelled, people are really excited about racing something different. I haven’t heard one complaint.”

The expectations were certainly met when it came to race results, as three-time defending women’s Steep Creek champion Nouria Newman of Tignes, France, once again posted the fastest women’s time in the Oh Chute Kayak Challenge. Gerd Serrasolses of Spain, last year’s Downriver Kayak Sprint winner and runner-up in the Steep Creek race, laid down the fastest line of the day on his first of three attempts, winning in 2 minutes, 12.01 seconds.

Image courtesy of Robbie Prectl.

“I just tried to do my best,” Serrasolses said of his winning run. “My goal is to be really tired at the end of the run, and here in Colorado that’s super easy. I always get to the bottom and I just can’t go any longer. It’s hard to breathe and my arms are burning because of the altitude, so it’s always a really good challenge and a hard event. It’s different than Homestake, but it’s still a good run and a challenging course.”

Meanwhile, the course played to Newman’s strengths. She grew up in a mountain town, learning to race kayak slalom at an elevation above 6,000 feet since age 5. Now 26, she credits her background as a World Cup slalom paddler for the first-run time of 2:24.84, nearly 4 seconds faster than 17-year-old Sage Donnelly of Carson City, NV (2:32.75). Adriene Levknecht of Greenville, SC, was third in 2:38.05.

Serrasolses also has some slalom racing background, although he didn’t take up the discipline until age 18. Just the same, his understanding of how to glide effectively into the eddies and keep his kayak moving at all times likely accounted for the .69-second differential over second place finisher Matias Lopez of San Rafael, Argentina (2:12.70). Isaac Levinson, another former World Cup slalom competitor from White Salmon, WA, finished third in 2:13.05.

“Gerd started late, but he is good at slalom,” Levinson said. “He’s probably better than I am at this point. And he’s definitely fast downriver.”

The GMC Ultimate Mountain Challenge

There are quite a few athletes competing in five or more events – which means our competition for the GMC Ultimate Challenge is going to be intense as the event enters its second year under the new format in this most-diverse of Mountain Games competitions.

At this point, the kayakers are taking the lead. Athletes like Nick Troutman just has entered into pretty much everything he can, and wants to go for the title, but is aware that getting from the river events to the other events is not easy. On the women’s side it would appear that Courtney Kerin and Andrien Levknecht are the lead contenders, having entered multiple events and already rocking in the Oh Chute Kayak Challenge. The door is open for someone entered in fewer than 5 events – but places high in all those – could have a chance.

Rocky Dog Trail Run

Never have you seen so many tongues hanging out in a running race. The competition was stiff at the 2018 Rocky Dog Trail Run, although Carbondale’s Robert Steffens and four-legged companion Moose notched a decisive victory, finishing in less than 19 minutes. The 80-degree bright evening sun beat down on 200-plus competitors as they hauled straight up and down the 3-mile Vail Mountain course of dirt roads and steep, rocky singletrack. Branden Rakita with sidekick Senna and 16-year-old Luke Morrissey with Daisy May rounded out the podium of top overall finishers with a side-by-side sprint for the last 50 yards (Morrissey edged ahead by a split second). Sarah Kassing wasn’t far behind them, finishing first of the women and top five overall with sleek pooch Lyra providing some pulling help.

“She definitely helped me on the uphill,” said Kassing of Prescott, Ariz., who caught an early flight to make it to Vail after staying up all night working as an emergency veterinarian. “I think Lyra wants to do it again. I’m probably going to have a beer and crash out.”

Dock Dogs Outdoor Big Air

Dock Dogs made a splash on their first day of competition with a range of entries from first timers to last year’s Mountain Games Big Air champion dog/handler duo returning to defend their title. The winning jump today was 25 feet, 8 inches, made by a black lab named Olie, whose owner Cera Reusser is the founder of Chase Away K9 Cancer. Reusser & Olie will be making rounds in the crowd throughout the weekend. The Big Air competition continues Friday, followed by Extreme Vertical on Saturday and Speed Retrieve on Sunday.

–Lead image by Townsend Bessent.