GoPro Mountain Games: The Country’s Largest Celebration of Mountain Sports, Arts and Music

Tayte Pollmann’s articles are supported by American Trail Running Association corporate member Nike Trail Running. You can follow Tayte’s adventures on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Photos by Tayte Pollmann and Peter Maksimow.

As I wrote about in an article posted earlier this week, the 18th annual GoPro Mountain Games were held in Vail, Colorado organized by the Vail Valley Foundation June 6-9, 2019. That article recapped results from the trail running events at the Games.

This article shares the story behind what makes the GoPro Mountain Games one of the most significant celebrations of mountain sports, arts and music in the country, as well as tips for how to make the most out of your experience at the Games.

History Rooted in Mountain Sports

In 2002, Joel Heath created the Teva Mountain Games, a product of the Jeep Whitewater kayak race that took place in Eagle River in the mid 1990s. Over the years, the Games grew beyond its kayaking roots to include a variety of mountain sports such as trail running, rock climbing, mountain biking, and all 12 sport disciplines that make up the current Games. For a few years there was even a Winter Mountain Games. Check out the video above from the 2012 Winter Mountain Games. In 2013, the multi billion dollar company, GoPro, became the event’s title sponsor and it has since been known as the GoPro Mountain Games.

The Ideal Location for Trail Racing

Colorado’s Vail Valley has a long history of mountain sports, especially trail running. Some of the longest running trail and snowshoe races in the valley still taking place include the 44th annual Vail Hill Climb, 41st annual Meadow Gold 5K and 11K Trail Run, 41st annual 10 at 10,000 Feet Trail Run, 24th annual Pazzo’s Holiday 5 and 10K, 22nd annual Vail Boneyard Boogie, 22nd annual Summer Solstice Trail Run, 22nd annual Berry Picker Trail Run, 22nd annual Beaver Creek Snowshoe race #1, 12th annual VAC Vail Mountain Winter Uphill, and the 8th annual Krueger Family Shamrock’s Shuffle. How’s that for a long trail running history?

Start of the Spring Run-off.

The valley includes a wide variety of single-track and dirt road trails in major ski resorts including Beaver Creek and Vail, as well as in the surrounding national forest and Wilderness lands. Vail is also home to many elite runners seeking high altitude training grounds. The Town of Vail is situated at 8,022 feet and is in close proximity to several 14,000 foot peaks including the Mountain of the Holy Cross.

More than Just Running

The Games is not only a part of the long history of mountain sports in the valley, but holds true to its original tagline: “athletes, art, music, mountains.” The Games attract thousands of athletes from various sports disciplines, professional photographers/videographers, musicians and over 140 of the world’s top outdoor brands including Outside, Nature Valley, L.L. Bean, and Yeti.

The Games are the country’s largest representation of mountain sports intermixed with artistic and musical themes. The 2019 attendance was estimated at over 80,000, which makes it the largest single event in the Vail Valley for the year. Even a powder day in the middle of Vail’s ski season does not attract the same crowds one sees at the GoPro Mountain Games.

Ellen Miller, first woman to ascend Everest from both the Tibetan and Nepalese sides, and long-time participant in the Games shares her thoughts on what makes the GoPro Mountain Games unique,

“The GoPro Mountain Games in Vail is a special event, years in the making, known internationally for bringing amateur and pro athletes together. Not only is it a celebration of sport, but art and music and family activities are included too!”

Ready for Next Year’s Games? Read Five Tips to get you ready for the GoPro Mountain Games 10K and How to Prep for the GoPro Mountain Games.

Meet Professional Athletes

One of the most unique parts about the Games is the way amateur and professional athletes interact and race together. Even in events as relaxed and fun as the Rocky Dog Trail Run, you might find yourself toeing the line with one of the world’s greatest adventure racers, Mike Kloser, or Xterra World Champion Josiah Middaugh. The Games give you the chance to not only watch some of the greatest mountain athletes compete, but to race and interact with them.

Joseph Gray, 2016 World Mountain Running Champion and 16 time USATF National Champion, has been the GoPro Mountain Games Spring Runoff 10K Champion for the past 6 years and you can expect to see him back next year. This year, he again hosted a group fun-run Friday morning to get runners ready for the weekend races. The Games lists athletes to watch each year, the link can be found here.

Be on the lookout for the GoPro Mountain Games official Mascot, the “Mud Stud.” He will be competing in events all weekend long and will be covered in mud!

Enjoy the Art and Music

Although it’s easy to spend most of your time watching or participating in the sporting events at the Games, I encourage you to enjoy the more artistic and musical events too. Attend the free concerts in the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater Thursday-Saturday evening. Be on the lookout for the many street performers playing songs across the Vail Village.

Amateur and professional photographers will enjoy the Games photo contest. Submit your best photos from the Games for a chance to win $750 in the amateur division or $2,500 in the professional division. See the 2018 photo winners and more details here.

Take Part in the GMC Ultimate Mountain Challenge

The GMC Ultimate Mountain Challenge encourages participants to compete in a wide variety of sports to earn the most points and win the challenge. “UMC athletes compete all weekend long, racking up points based on how many events they can finish, difficulty level, and how well they place, with prize money going to the top four males and females of the weekend.” The total prize purse for the men’s and women’s GMC Ultimate Mountain Challenge is $11,500. First place male and female will receive a Trek Mountain or Road Bike (up to $2,500), Jackson Kayak, $500 gift card to L.L. Bean, Yeti Tundra 65, Osprey Rolling Transporter 90 and a GoPro Hero 7 Camera. Have fun trying new sports and competing against some of the best all-around mountain athletes.

Expect to Spend All Day Outside

As an athlete or spectator, there is constantly something to do or see outside at the Games. I find it quite easy to spend several hours watching slackliners perform tricks. Thursday through Sunday, I’d expect to spend at least 10 hours a day outside watching the various sporting events, attending concerts, and checking out the vendor booths across Vail Village. Expect to get lots of sun! Bring sunglasses, sunscreen and plenty of water.

USATF Mountain Running Champion Allie MacLaughlin with her favorite canine friend.

Bring a Recyclable Bag for Your Swag

I’ve never received so many free samples and products at one event. With over 140 vendor booths set up by outdoor brands such as Nature’s Valley, Kodiak Cakes, Nuun, Isopure, Pacifico, Pit Viper Sunglasses, Red Bull, L.L. Bean, Smartwool, expect to receive free samples of bars, protein powders, stickers, drink bottles, accessories and much more. Participate in the daily raffles and giveaways for more valuable items at sponsor booths across the Vail Village. One of the most significant giveaways is the daily GoPro Giveaway that happens each afternoon. Make sure to bring a backpack or large recyclable bag to carry home all of your swag.

Go With Family and Friends

The event is a perfect way to spend time with friends and family. Vail is an ideal location for a beautiful weekend get-away and there are many free events for the whole family. Kids will enjoy the Nature Valley Mountain Mud Run and mudslides on Saturday. Adults will enjoy many great food options in the village, as well as free evening drinks at athletes’ lounge. Athletes should also make sure to take advantage of the free massages and recovery tools in the athletes’ lounge too. If your friends or family are participating in any events, make sure to be there and support them!

Stay Eco-Conscious

Inevitably with large events, waste is an issue. Paper cups, cans, bar wrappers are several examples of trash generated at the Games. However, the event does a great job of encouraging vendors to use recyclable material at their booths, setting out compost and recycling bins throughout the venue and using art to encourage people to be eco-conscious. Take advantage of the easy access to recycling and composting bins and bring your own reusable cups and utensils. Limit your consumption of free samples if there appears to be excess waste, such as plastic utensils and unnecessary packaging.

Consider using Terracycle to recycle your sports nutrition wrappers, such as those from GUs, energy bars, electrolyte drinks and energy chews. Terracycle has approximately 2,000 locations across the U.S that process these wrappers and recycle them. Save your wrappers, find a Terracycle location near you, and ship the wrappers so they can be properly recycled.

Peter Maksimow getting his plog on.

Also, make sure to keep up your plogging. Plogging is a Swedish term that describes the act of picking up trash while running. ATRA’s Peter Maksimow, director of Pikes Peak Ploggers, did a fantastic job plogging at the Games. Make plogging a habit to help reduce the environmental impact of large events and keep the trails clean.

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