The 2017 GoPro Mountain Games, home to this one-of-a-kind whitewater event, the YETI SUP Surf Cross. Photo: Vail Valley Foundation/Logan Robertson

If you planned your vacation in the quaint mountain resort town of Vail, Colorado this week, we hope you planned for an all-out invasion.

Throughout the week, a who's-who of outdoor athletes and aficionados filed into town to construct a sprawling village beneath the resorts. Branded Easy-Ups erect by the dozen to showcase the market's latest gear. Footpaths threading between swank hotels at the base of Vail Mountain Resort turn into super-highways for thousands of adventure sports fanatics. It's like REI came to town and spewed its guts all over Vail Valley. Disney Land for the outdoorsmen and women.

Welcome to the 2017 GoPro Mountain Games.

All comers welcome, but not all comers win. The women’s SUP Cross event at GoPro Mountain Games is a spectacle worth stopping to watch. Photo: Vail Valley Foundation/Zach Mahone

On screen and in magazines, the Games look like a series of snapshots suited for one of those "People Are Awesome" YouTube videos. Standing amongst the scene is a thousand times more awesome.

For whitewater standup paddlers and other athletes in more than a dozen adventure sport disciplines, this is the ultimate competition of the year.

Virtually every demographic of mountain competitor is represented in peak form, their specialties intermingled for a pinnacle showcase.

Over the course of the weekend, we'll see champions crowned in each subdivision. We'll see a battle at the frontier of progressive whitewater standup paddling. We'll see trial and triumph. Chaos and carnage.

Two-time Mountain Games champion Mike Tavares threads the marker under the eyes of the crowd. Photo: Vail Valley Foundation/Zach Mahone

Call it dramatic. That's what the GoPro Mountain Games is.

To accommodate such a scene, the Vail Valley Foundation—host of the GoPro Mountain Games—puts together a maze of courses spanning the town for athletes to test their mettle in a world-class competitive forum.

Climbing walls are built beneath the gondolas. Slacklines are strung across the village's central square. Dogs—here to compete in the event’s seven different dog-owner team competitions—are everywhere. And for the river paddling community, the Class-III rapids of Gore Creek run smack-dab through the middle of the mayhem, providing an ideal arena for the world's top whitewater standup paddlers and kayakers to perform before a mob of eager onlookers and media.

What you might not catch in photos of the Mountain Games is the sense of camaraderie shared by enthusiasts from all these different backgrounds.

Between practice runs and performances, yogis mingle with trail runners mingle with mountain bikers mingle with standup paddlers. You can bump into the CEO of your favorite brand at one turn and slap fives with your most idolized adventure athlete at the next. Sightings of near-impossible athletic feats become commonplace amid the commotion and happy-hour beers shared by all walks of life cheers to talk of a new thresholds in sport achieved.

Everyone—professionals, amateurs, fans and friends—bonds in the grip of the truly phenomenal setting that is the GoPro Mountain Games.

Now, let's talk standup paddling. One challenging creek, two intense events, peak flow rates and dozens of stout contenders. Saturday we'll see the YETI SUP Surf Cross, where heats of four paddlers will race rail-to-rail through the rapids and around checkpoints in a brutal clash of top-tier talent. Sunday sees the YETI Downriver SUP Sprint, a time-trial slalom along a three-mile course of bucking rapids and wave trains. There are no bumper-rails or training wheels at such an elevated level of competition. Bruises and blood will surface between start and finish. In the end only those who want it most, who are best prepared and who dedicate their lives to the progression of the sport will leave Vail victorious.

Champion SUP racer Annabel Anderson gives an interview before yesterday’s Rocky Dog Trail Run, the first of 11 events she’ll be competing in this weekend. Photo: Mike Misselwitz

Names? Shoot, the GoPro Mountain Games runs the gamut. Female world champion SUP racer Annabel Anderson—not typically a river paddler—is here doing a full spread of sports, 11 events in total. Spectacular indeed, but that's its own story (we'll fill you in soon). The highest echelon of whitewater paddlers will provide her competition in the SUP events, including the likes of river mavens Natali Zollinger and GoPro athlete Izzi Gomez. On the men's side, last year's event champion Spencer Lacy will take on two-time Mountain Games champ Mike Tavares, along with GoPro athlete Chuck Patterson, father-son duo Mike and Miles Harvey, Dan Gavere and a laundry list of other whitewater paddlers. These women and men are the elite of the elite on the river.

To showcase the action, SUP magazine digital editor Mike Misselwitz is riverside in Vail documenting the 2017 GoPro Mountain Games and will be bringing you real-time updates on social media @SUPthemag and exclusive photos, event recaps and results here on the site. So even if you’re not here in Vail, you can still enjoy it like you were. —MM

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