Dozens of whitewater athletes to watch as GoPro Mountain Games gets under way in Vail

 River levels are rising and adrenaline is already pumping as whitewater athletes converge on Vail for the GoPro Mountain Games beginning this Thursday, June 4. Events begin with the Coors Light Steep Creek Championships at Homestake Creek Thursday, followed by three rip-roaring days of action in whitewater kayak, SUP and rafting competitions in the heart of the Vail Village June 4-7. Whitewater competitions conclude with the highly-anticipated crowning of the Ultimate Riverman and Ultimate Riverwoman on the final day of competition June 7.

Top athletes from the around the world descend once again on Vail for the event, perhaps none more electrifying than Eric and Dane Jackson. The father-son duo have become kayaking’s ‘royal family’ behind the leadership of father, Eric, an world-champion freestyle and slalom kayaker who founded the Jackson Kayak company in 2003.Jackson’s son Dane took up the sport at age 15, and quickly gained dominance, taking three gold medals at the 2011 Freestyle World Championships. Dane’s sister, Emily, was the 2012 World Cup Champion, in 2009 she was named the Women’s World Freestyle Champion, and she was a silver medalist in 2011. She also has victories at the past seven GoPro Mountain Games, but will have to cede her title to someone else this year as she takes a maternity leave from kayaking.

It’s no surprise that Emily is married to one of the top names in kayaking, Nick Troutman. It’s a return visit to the GoPro Mountain Games for Troutman as well. He’s been a World Freestyle Kayak Champion, completed many first descents including the Rio Alseseca in Vera Cruz Mexico and can be found on numerous video produced by his own Nick Troutman Media company.

Paddler Henry Hyde has been kayaking since he was three years old. Now 15, Hyde is one of the youngest, most accomplished up and comers in the sport. His goal - to compete in the Olympic trials in 2016. When Outside magazine asked him about competing with such an experienced group of kayakers, Hyde responded, “I think it helps, because I don’t ignore them. I take their advice when they give it to me, I just kind of put myself in a different group from them and take their advice. It doesn’t intimidate me, they’re not mean or anything.”

Other paddlers to watch include Rafa Ortiz from Mexico City, who ran the second tallest waterfall ever paddled – the 128.6-foot Big Banana Falls. New Zealander Ben Brown is known for big water kayak expeditions. Freestyle kayaker Rush Sturges also returns to the GoPro Mountain Games this summer.

Women to watch on the water include Claire O’Hara who is one of the most successful female freestyle paddlers of all time, winning a combined seven World Championships. Another world championships competitor, Adrienne Levknecht, also returns to compete in the GoPro Mountain Games. While competitor Elaine Campbell has been getting ready for the Games by testing the runoff back East this spring preparing for her time in Colorado.

Stand up paddle boarding (SUP) has grown in popularity since it debuted as one of the first whitewater competitions at the Mountain Games a few years ago. Chuck Patterson will make an appearance at this year’s Mountain Games. Patterson is recognized for continually redefining extreme sports. He most recently is known for surf-skiing Jaws, the big wave off of the north shore of Maui. Former US National Kayak Team downriver racing competitor, Mike Harvey also has made the transition to SUP and is among those defining the new, growing sport on whitewater.

Charlie McArthur and Ken Hoeve both are Colorado-based SUP competitors. McArthur is based out of Aspen and is an instructor in the Roaring Fork Valley. Hoeve, a local legend with a long history in professional paddle sports, was an early adopter of whitewater SUP and rides the waves on his board in the Colorado River year round.

There are a number of ladies with skin in the game on a SUP this year as well, including Izzi Gomez, Jennifer McArthur and Brittany Parker. The later, Parker, is featured in her film “Can I Surf That,” which will be shown at Outdoor Reels this year. There are three new whitewater events at the 2015 GoPro Mountain Games: Coors Light S2 Stand Up Paddle (SUP) Cross, Coors Light Down River R2 Raft Sprint and The Tudor Ultimate River Challenge. Similar to the existing and popular SUP cross event, S2 SUP Cross will add a tandem component. Teams of two will battle it out head-to-head on C4 Waterman Raptor boards in this every-man/woman-for-themselves-format. The first team of two that survives the sprint through Vail Village and Vail's Whitewater Park will take the top spot on the podium. Teams must cross the finish line together, and on their boards.

Identical in format to the Down River Kayak and SUP Sprints, the R2 Raft Sprint is a four mile raft race (two person rafts) on the Class II/III whitewater of Gore Creek from East Vail to the Covered Bridge in Vail Village. With a rally race format, rafters drop at timed intervals and teams will be racing against the clock.

To complement the new water events, this year for the first time GoPro Mountain Games organizers will name an Ultimate Riverman and Ultimate Riverwoman. To be crowned victor of the Ultimate River Challenge, competitors must compete, back-to-back-to-back, in the Down River Kayak Sprint, Down River SUP Sprint and Down River R2 Raft Sprint on Gore Creek. The Ultimate Riverman & Ultimate Riverwoman will be crowned based on the lowest combined time in all three events.

To be crowned victor of the Ultimate River Challenge, competitors must compete, back-to-back-to-back, in the Down River Kayak Sprint, Down River SUP Sprint and Down River R2 Raft Sprint on Gore Creek. The Ultimate Riverman & Ultimate Riverwoman will be crowned based on the lowest combined time in all three events.

Whitewater events kick off on Thursday, June 4 with the Coors Light Steep Creek Championships at 10 a.m. on Homestake Creek and the Kayak Freestyle qualifier on Gore Creek in Vail Village at 3:30 p.m. Freestyle kayak semi-finals are Friday, June 5 at 12:30 p.m. followed by Raft Cross qualifiers and finals. Saturday, June 6 kicks off with the Downriver Kayak Sprint at 8 a.m., Ultimate River Challenge R2 Sprint at 11 a.m., the S2 SUP Cross qualifier at 12:30 p.m. followed by the semi-finals and finals later that afternoon. Kayak Freestyle finals also are Saturday afternoon at 4 p.m., semis and finals. The last day of the GoPro Mountain Games, Sunday, June 7, starts with the 8 Ball Kayak Sprint qualifier at 10:15 a.m. followed by the finals at 4 p.m.

Registration, lodging and a complete calendar of events for the 2015 GoPro Mountain Games are available at Participants are encouraged to register early to save on costs. Spectating at the GoPro Mountain Games and all concerts and films are free and open to the public.

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About the GoPro Mountain Games/Vail Valley Foundation

The GoPro Mountain Games is a project of the Vail Valley Foundation. The Vail Valley Foundation is a Colorado 501 (c) (3) nonprofit organization, dedicated to enriching the Vail Valley and sustaining its unique spirit through the delivery of unparalleled arts, world class athletics and inspiring education programs throughout the community. For additional information on the GoPro Mountain Games, please visit For the Vail Valley Foundation, please visit

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