It’s billed as the “best all-around mountain event experience anywhere in the world,” which sounds like hype—unless you’ve been to the Vail Valley Foundation’s GoPro Mountain Games. Complete with three nights of free concerts, 30+ competitive events in 12+ disciplines, and 150 brands and sponsors (including, full disclosure, Outside), the Mountain Games draw around 80,000 fun hogs to this good-time jamboree of “athletes, arts, music, and mountains.” There’s also mud and beer. And dogs jumping into giant pools. For all these reasons and more, it’s a favorite event of Outside editors and writers past and present. Here’s how to do the GoPro Mountain Games right.
Run, Bike, Paddle, Fish—Compete
Typically, when you head to a mountain bike or trail running race as a family, half the squad turns into bored spectators. The Mountain Games competitions, though, have range. While mom or dad is crushing it on the singletrack, the fam can eat ice cream and watch the magical mystery known as competitive highlining. This year, junior shredders can turn the tables and enter one of the new 18 categories for the GMC Down River Kayak and YETI Down River SUP Sprint.
Or get the whole family out for a disc golf smackdown, some yoga, or the all-new Kids' Cast and Fish. Our tip: shop for an event that suits you. A staggering 3,000+ athletes of all skills and abilities enter events each summer. And you don’t have to be an elite athlete to have a good time participating. “If you only try one event,” says Mountain Games’ Tom Boyd, “leash up the dog and enter the Rocky Dog Trail Run 5K. It has a great vibe to it. You get serious dog runners with trained Malamutes pulling them along the trail next to people jogging with weiner dogs.”
Chill with the DockDogs
Let’s face it, unless you’re in an RV full of Belgians with Belgian beer in the Alps, watching a bike race in person is an acquired taste. Same with distance running. The overwhelming all-ages crowd pleaser at the Mountain Games? DockDogs. We’ve yet to meet anyone who doesn't enjoy watching professional and local pooches flying through the air—or tipping over and flopping in. Kids can go right up to the edge of the pool and get doused, mom and dad can kick back with a cold beer. The events include Big Air, which involves a 40-foot run in from the dock followed by, well, big air. (The current outdoor record is 31 feet.) Extreme Vertical gives the bowzers a 20-foot run in and starts with a four-foot-six-inch mark. That record stands at eight-feet-ten inches.
Think your pup has what it takes to make a splash? We have good news: New this year is Try DockDogs, a just-for-fun event that—you guessed it—lets you and your dog give this high-flying sport a try. You can find careening canines each day of the event in the Go RVing Dog Town, located in Vail's Lionshead base area.
Walk L.L.Bean Gear Town
With more than 140 brands on site and a walkable gear strip running the entire venue, Gear Town is like a cross between an open-air gear store and outdoor sports-themed amusement park. As you stroll, kids can soar across the Gore Creek on TIAA Bank’s zip line or enter to win some swag in daily gear giveaways, and then everyone can refuel at the Pacifico food and beer garden.
Check out the Best Adventure Rigs
Another must for all of those dreaming of van, trailer, and motorhome road trips? Stop by Winnebago to see their latest tricked out Sprinter vans before checking out Go RVing’s four locations to climb around in everything from an ultralight two-person trailer and a small, motorized dream rig to a full-size family motorhome, all decked out with the latest L.L. Bean gear. “Towables now account for 75 percent of the RV market,” says Karen Redfern, Go RVing’s VP of brand marketing. “But even with the smaller units, getting into RVing can be overwhelming. Once people check them out in person it doesn't seem as daunting.”
Catch a Free Concert or Adventure Film
From up-and-coming bands on the verge of hitting it big to recognizable and well-loved headliners, there's music for everyone's ears at the free GoPro Mountain of Music concerts Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. Kicking things off are headliners Melvin Seals & JGB followed by Langhorn Slim and the Law opening for Joan Osborne Friday night. On Saturday night, Mountain Games music culminates when Citizen Cope takes to the stage. The D.C.-based singer-songwriter, best known for tracks like "Let the Drummer Kick" and "Sideways," doesn't fit neatly into one genre or another. "Cope melds hip-hop with folk, soul, and blues ... and 'feels' this combination deeply," Rolling Stone wrote of Cope's hard-to-pin-down sound. Check out the full lineup here.
Added this year to the stacked entertainment line-up is No Man's Land Film Festival, a new breed of film festival featuring adventure flicks made by women about women. "We are honored to be a part of an event that prizes giving people the opportunity to witness not only sheer athleticism, but also the magic that comes with that," says No Man's Land Founder Aisa Weinhold. The special 90-minute program features films like Follow Through, which documents skier Caroline Gleich's journey to climb and ski 88 of Utah's most notorious lines—proving nay-sayers wrong along the way.
Get Seriously Muddy
The first time Jess “The Mud Stud” Manning entered the Nature Valley Mountain Mud Run presented by LifeProof, he was underwhelmed with his fellow participants’ zeal for the mucky stuff. This was in 2015, and Manning was looking for a break from staffing a booth. “‘The Mud Run looks short and sweet,’ I thought,” he recounts. “But when I hit the first mud bog the other ‘athletes’ were pulling up their pant legs and tiptoeing. ‘This is not right,’ I thought. So I dove in head first and came out looking like a cross between Encino Man and a Yeti. Somebody took a shot of me smiling but that wasn't right either so they asked me to growl. That was the birth of 'The Mud Stud.'" Ever since, Manning has been applying streamside mud and helping Mountain Games promote the event. Well, actually, the Mud Stud has evolved since then: “I bought a five gallon bucket and some organic top soil from the hardware store. It’s safer that way.” Thanks in part to the Mud Stud’s enthusiasm, people are getting more down and dirty. Look for him at the start of the kids Mud Run and again at that first mud bog where he awaits to make sure there’s no tiptoeing.
The GoPro Mountain Games is the country's largest celebration of adventure sports, art, and music and it all returns to Vail, CO June 6–9, 2019.