Photos by Aaron Black-Schmidt
The biggest event of the year for whitewater paddlers just wrapped up at the 2018 GoPro Mountain Games.
The picturesque mountain town of Vail, Colorado once again played host to thousands of outdoor enthusiasts from every spectrum and sport. From mountain bikers and trail runners, to slacklining and fan-favorite canine contests, there’s a little something for everyone.
While we enjoy any sport that allows us to get outdoors, we focused our attention on Gore Creek, the site of the SUP Sprint on Saturday and YETI SUP Cross on Sunday. Both events were popular among competitors and spectators alike, with crowds of people huddled along the shores for a glimpse at the wild whitewater action.
With the local area receiving below-average snowfall this past winter, the creek was running at historically low levels. With small eddies and shallow water, choosing the right line was more important than ever and led to a much more technical race.
The action began on Saturday with a 2.7 mile sprint down the trickling Gore Creek. In the Men’s division, 2016 race winner Mike Tavares returned to the top of the podium after a runner-up finish last year. The Team Badfish paddler posted the top time of 22:28.91 to get the better of his teammate Spencer Lacy who placed second in 22:33.59. While no one was surprised to see those two finish 1-2, the same cannot be said for third-place finisher Rob Prechtl of Breckenridge, who claimed the surprise podium finish in only in his second year of paddling SUP.
As for the ladies, Yuka Sato of Japan continued her breakout year by winning the women's SUP Sprint with a time of 23:02.78. That blistering time was nearly a minute faster than second-place finisher Brittany Parker, who finished at 24:00.62, seven seconds quicker than third place, Ashley Bean.
The action only got more intense on Sunday with a massive field of some 50 competitors duking it out in the YETI SUP Cross. In the Men’s finals, Bradley Hilton was joined by Team Badfish teammates Tavares and Lacy in a hard-charging battle. Tavares led the charge into the first gate, but Hilton snuck past on the inside and found a clean line to the top of the podium. Behind him, Tavares and Lacy tangled on the final gate before Tavares broke free for the silver medal and Lacy was bumped to bronze.
"It feels really good, especially just being in there with my buddies, Mike and Spencer. They're both pioneers of the sport and I respect them a lot. I'm always looking to them for different things to incorporate into my technique," Hilton said after winning his first gold medal in six years. "My number one rule this weekend with all the excitement that the Mountain Games bring is just to keep my mind calm, especially during the race. That's what did the trick."
Also keeping her mind calm was 17-year-old freestyle kayaking specialist Sage Donnelly, who pulled off the upset in the Women’s SUP Cross event. In the race for second, Parker and Sato collided on the final gate but it was Parker who managed to fight her way around the gate to take her second silver in as many days, with the SUP Sprint winner settling for third.
"I thought I wasn't going to make, for sure," said Parker. "The low water can make things a little crazy because the eddies are so small, but I managed to hang on."
That wraps up the action from this year’s GoPro Mountain Games. Congratulations to all the winners and check out the action for yourself with our full photo gallery above.