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 eight free concerts, 30+ competitive events in 13 disciplines, and 140 sponsors (including, full disclosure, Outside), the Mountain Games draw 70,000 fun hogs to this good-time jamboree of “athletes, arts, music, and mountains.” There’s also mud and beer. And dogs jumping into pools. For all these reasons and more, it’s the 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
Head to a one-off mountain bike or trail running race as a family, and half the squad turns into bored spectators. The Mountain Games, though, have range. While mom or dad is crushing it on the singletrack, the fam can eat ice cream and watch the magical mystery tour known as competitive slacklining. This year, junior shredders can turn the tables and enter one of the brand new BMX events as the parents cheer. Or get the whole family out for a disc golf smackdown. Got fly-fishing skills? The Mountain Games adds a fly tying competition this season. Our tip: shop for an event that suits you. A staggering 3,300 athletes of all skills and abilities enter events each summer. And you don’t have to be a pro 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 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 at dock end 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. All dogs, though, live in the shadow of Tango, a pitbull with 27,000 followers on Instagram. The event is so popular that organizers moved Go RVing Dog Town to a new location (Lionshead, for those of you familiar with Vail’s base area) for a larger, better viewing experience.
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 EverBank’s zip line or participate in GMC’s scavenger hunt, 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—the marketing arm of the RV business—three locations (one in each village) 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
With seven bands on tap over three days, it’s easy. Mountain Games has built a reputation for booking acts just before they get big. Last year it was Moon Taxi, which broke onto the national scene with “Two High.” One of this year’s big scores is The Playing for Change Band, an up-and-coming outfit that scouts and recruits undiscovered musicians from around the world (Cuba, Cairo, and the Congo just to cover the Cs). On this tour, they’ll be putting all that unifying talent on stage at one time. “We traveled to over 50 countries to find these musicians,” says band founder Mark Johnson. “In the Congo they would play off of trees. When they opened for Robert Plant, half the band had never heard of Led Zeppelin. It’s a great event at a festival because it’s such a celebration of culture.” Other highlights former Black Crowe’s frontman Chris Robinson’s band, the Chris Robinson Brotherhood, pushing their latest release “Barefoot in the Head.” You can check out the full lineup here.
Get Seriously Muddy
The first time Jess “The Mud Stud” Manning entered the Mountain Mud Run, he was underwhelmed with his fellow participants’ zeal. This was in 2015, and Manning was looking for a break from manning the TriggerPoint booth in Gear Town. “‘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 7–10, 2018.