Cheeringand Loathing in "V-Town"
I was nervous. While Grand Junction swelled with heat and the Junior College “JUCO” baseball finals, I headed for the uber-sophisticated city of Vail to witness some of the greatest outdoor athletes from around the world. I was in for a combination of outdoor business, sports I’ve never seen before, and cheering on athletes I knew or wanted to meet.
I often hear about Vail’s real estate rather than outdoor activities and fantastic scenery. As many times as I’ve been to Vail, it is still a mysterious and sometimes intimidating place, perhaps deserving of its own monologue…but before I get too opinionated, let me tell you how my mental-tide was turned. I had a terrific time!
My friend and Loki coworker Che Wentz brought our outerwear promotional kit and set up to demonstrate with our Alpine Quest friends from Edwards. We soon eased into the fun event. Folks were aglow with smiles, showing their products, making the best of their workday. Event goers were extremely friendly making way past myriad tents and exciting displays of outdoor athletes on the most expensive toys that one with free time can buy.
You consider them worthy after seeing the style and skill that can be laid down on mountain, road, and freestyle bikes, rafts, freestyle and downriver kayaks, trail running shoes, pre-fab boulders and even fly reels. Slight cynicism, aside I was truly impressed.
The freestyle kayak events went down each day in the intimate amphitheatre formed by the International Bridge on a cold wave. This was the first time I’ve witnessed people twisting and contorting their bodies and boats with controlled flare while remaining in a seated position, sometimes even under water.
The big team story of the games was the domination of the independent powerhouse, the Jackson Kayak Factory Team. The company’s Olympic medallist founder Eric Jackson won Gold in the free style event; Stephen Wright took Silver, followed by Eric’s son Dane Jackson. Daughter Emily Jackson won the women's freestyle event. Eric also won the down water sprint, and a well deserved Everest Award for whitewater athlete of the year.
The games also recognized athletes in each field attending the games with Everest Awards. Two great ski mountaineering expeditions feats were lauded. Kit Deslauriers became the first female (and human for that matter) to have skied from the top of the seven highest continental summits. Having stood on one of these high points, I have an appreciation for the magnitude of this fearsome achievement. It’s really huge. I am especially proud and find it noteworthy that a woman accomplished this first.
Closer to home, Chris Davenport skied all fifty-four of Colorado 14,000 foot summits in one years time. Some descents were done via very difficult new routes. Michael Tobin also took honors for Adventure Race athletes. This sport held a huge five hundred mile multi-sport race near Moab comprising of five days of nearly sleepless, no-smiles body-pounding torture.
I also made time to crane my neck watching the gravity-defying gymnastic skills of pro-climbers Alex Puccio who won the women’s bouldering competition with true grit. Daniel Wood smoothed by the clingy men’s bouldering competition with ease after earning the climber of the year Everest Award.
My selfish highpoint of the Teva Games was a short mountain biking adventure on the slopes of Vail Mountain with my Cousin Ross Schnell who is a factory rider on Team Trek/Volkswagen. Che and I sweated and panted far behind him up the hill. We then watch Ross fly down tightly turning single-track while we walked down the steep dropping sections, in our Teva sandals of course.
Hours later I got to watch Ross race. The loud speaker announced the leader of the pack…it was Ross cooking the course! Thirty seconds passed before even the second position rider zinged by. Alas, Ross’ huge lead slipped to a close second behind local favorite Jay Henry who won on a flat tire in the final lap. Though Ross didn’t win, he made his cowboy mark on the first two laps. He also smoked Floyd Landis on his return to the mountain biking world, and all the other talented pros at the event. Can you feel my beaming smile! Now I know what nepotism means...
Despite my small-town nerves and sensibilities, I slipped right into being mesmerized alongside thousands of spectators at the games. Bringing outdoor sports to the masses isn’t easy, but Vail’s Teva Mountain Games pulled it off with an almost non-conformist fashion.
I recommend you drop your guard and see what the Teva games have in store next year; maybe for just a day trip. There is a lot of fresh air, aerial-maneuvers, corporate swag, and you can wear your sandals, Tevas if you want to be courteous. Bring your rain shell just in case; the rainbows that crescendo Vail’s temperate days can come with a weighty price.
Find more details at www.tevamountaingames.com.
Seth Anderson is an outdoor correspondent for the Free Press. If you want to help Grand Junction be more like V-town (ok, maybe not) or have ideas for trips and stories, please e-mail him at [email protected]