Racers compete in Kids Adventure Games at Park City Mountain
June 20, 2018
It's not easy to hold the Kids Adventure Games, an adventure race for kids between the ages of 6 and 14.
On Saturday morning, Hélène Mattison, co-founder and race director, sat in front of the event's equipment trailer near the finish line at Park City Mountain Resort.
"The first hour of every race, especially the very first race of the season, you're running a little ragged," she said. "We have a lot of people that should be doing what they are doing but they are still standing around."
She said little bit of independent problem solving goes a long way when running a three-day event for more than 1,000 kids.
At around 10 a.m., the first wave of kids were coming into the finish line looking soaked, dirty and tired.
Jax and Aiden Jameson were among them. Aiden, 14, said he first tried the Kids Adventure Games after he received a pamphlet for the event at school three years ago. He liked the race, and he and his brother Jax, 11, have been doing it ever since.
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"It was hard on the biking, but doing the obstacles, they were all pretty easy," Jax said.
Aiden wasn't on the same page.
"They were easy for you, but they are hard for me," he said to his brother. "I'm getting older, man."
By reaching the finish line they had completed a 3.5-mile course over 15 obstacles, including a climb up Jenny's Trail on a mountain bike, plus climbing a rock wall and going down a giant slip-and-slide that ran along one of the few remaining snow piles above First Time lift.
"We knew they were here," Mattison said of the snow piles. "We scout."
Over summer, the 14 people that help run the event travel nearly nonstop, only occasionally returning to the race's hometown of Vail, Colorado, to restock supplies before driving to another ski town – and they are all ski towns, because of the available infrastructure — for the next race.
Mattison said with the popularity of the races, existing infrastructure is looking like less of a restriction.
"We are ready to expand to maybe a little bit more urban, maybe beaches," Mattison said. "But (ski resorts) have everything here for us – they have ski patrol, and the terrain is always perfect for an adventure race."
Now in its fifth year, the Kids Adventure Games started as a birthday party for Mattison's kids. She and her husband, Bobby, were both involved with the Eco-Challenge, the first large-scale adventure race in America, which became a reality TV show, and miniaturized a couple of obstacles for the twins' first birthday party.
"We set up a rope between two aspen trees in our front yard and we just pushed kids down the line, then they crawled over some tree stumps and stuff – (we had) Bloody Marys, a campfire," Mattison said.
The Mattisons continued the tradition of an obstacle birthday party, expanding it to a ten-obstacle course at a campground, including a zip line, Tyrolian traverse (a tightened rope that mountaineers hang underneath) and a double rope walk. Eventually, the party grew so large that they decided to pitch it to the local recreation district and made it a commercial event.
The first year they had 50 racers and sold out, the next year they sold out with 75, Mattison said, and the year after that they sold out with 100 racers. They started adding different days for different age groups before finally deciding to take the show on the road in 2014.
Mattison said part of the Adventure Games' appeal is that it's one-of-a-kind.
"There is no kids adventure racing in this country," she said. "There's Tough Mudder, and all that, but those are obstacle races; they aren't really based on a team; they don't have to bring any gear; it's a different idea."
And one does not simply walk into the Kids Adventure Games — pre-registration is required, and the process informs parents that their kids must bring a helmet, bike gloves, a backpack with water, a wind jacket, a snack and a small first aid kit.
Mostly, Mattison said, the gear serves to build the habit of properly preparing for outdoor adventures.
"But it's the cutest thing when one of them falls and they pull their first aid kits out and help each other," she said. "They also help other teams. You see that all the time. If a team they are running with falls and somebody is crying, then they will take care of the other team too."
Below the climbing wall on Saturday, Jane Carlson-Smith stood with her son, Nico, as they watched Nico's brother Océon and his teammate, Lia Block, climb.
Jane said she was a fan of the event, mainly because it allowed the kids to work together over a broad range of activities.
Nico, who would compete the next day, said his favorite part was probably the slip-and-slide, because of how fast participants go down it.
"It's awesome," he said. "I also think the mud pit is really fun, too, because you get dirty. It's fun to get dirty."
He said last year, when he tried the race for the first time with a classmate, he was worried that the race would be really hard, but he said it ended up being fun.
"We just had such a blast; it was so fun," he said. "We both enjoyed it. It didn't matter what place we got, we just enjoyed it and had fun."
Mattison said the sport of adventure racing goes on around the country every weekend, but it's still not a household name. She hopes that an upcoming reboot of the Eco-Challenge, which will feature celebrity outdoorsman Bear Grylls, will bring the sport closer to the mainstream.
Either way, the Kids Adventure Games are expanding. Mattison said the race is planning a championship, which will likely bring the top five or six competitors in each age group and from each stop together for a showdown.
"It's already in the works," she said. "We already have the site and the funding. It's going to be Vail; they've claimed it. The first one anyway."