Gore Canyon Whitewater Race makes rapid return | SkyHiNews.com

Gore Canyon Whitewater Race makes rapid return

Marissa Lorenz
Special to the Sky-Hi News

Marissa Lorenz / Special to the Sky-Hi News

Heralded by many as the most challenging whitewater event in Colorado, the Gore Canyon Whitewater Race is one of only 14 annual events sanctioned by the U.S. Rafting Association. However, 2015 was nearly the year the world-class competition wasn't.

Since its founding more than 25 years ago by members of the U.S. Men's Rafting Team, the race has taken place nearly every summer just south of Kremmling on the demanding Class IV-V waters (Class V being considered the most challenging) of Gore Canyon on the Upper Colorado River. Though often unheard of outside of the whitewater community — primarily due to its remote location and relative inaccessibility to spectators — it is highly anticipated by the best of whitewater rafters and kayakers.

But last year's event, under the direction of some first-time organizers, ran into some snags, in spite of a good competitor turn-out and over 70 entrants participating in the various divisions, including raft, R2 (a two-man raft), long-boat kayaks, short-boat kayaks and a brand new stand-up paddle-board event.

Timing issues plagued the race. In the end, it was impossible for organizers to guarantee accurate times and no winners were recognized.

Having left some competitors disappointed, it also left the event without organizers. Until last week, that is, when some paddling enthusiasts and previous Gore Canyon Race competitors stepped forward to host and organize the event, now less than a month away.

Widespread support

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Hattie Johnson is a longtime whitewater enthusiast and landscape architect with RiverRestorations.org, the company that designed Grand County's new $1.7 million Gore Canyon Whitewater Park at Pumphouse Recreation Area, a popular whitewater put-in on the Upper Colorado.

It was just weeks ago that she was made aware of the race's possible demise from members of the U.S Men's Rafting Team, while organizing an unofficial competition on Aspen's Slaughterhouse Rapid. Interest piqued, she discussed the topic again at the Whitewater Park's official dedication on July 13, when she found herself face-to-face with major race supporters such as BLM river managers and Nathan Fey of AmericanWhitewater.org.

"Paddlers really look forward to the race," Johnson explained. "It is fun to race and fun to attend, and really helps bring the paddling community together at the end of the season."

With the encouragement of all involved, she just needed to find an outfitter with the necessary knowledge and equipment to help make up a coordinating event team. That's when she thought of Justin Scheible, co-owner of Kremmling's Adventures in Whitewater whom she first met as they threw together a racing team the morning of the 2012 Gore Canyon Rac — -a contest in which their makeshift team, Team Downstream, took sixth.

And while some may need persuading to help take on the responsibility for a national competitive event such as the Gore Race, such is not the case for Scheible, who is used to both jumping into things and bringing major competitions together.

Last year, he purchased Adventures in Whitewater with partner Duff Nicola, bringing on a third partner this year in Bill Copeland. In just its second year, they are ready to launch their own commercial trips on the Gore stretch of river, having recently been granted highly sought-after permits for both rafting and shuttling to and from the restricted Gore Canyon put-in at the Confluence Recreation Area above the canyon and State Bridge downstream.

Local focus

"This is like a hallucination," he says of the opportunity to not just organize the contest, but to make Kremmling and Grand County the epicenter of the event, which has previously been organized out of Eagle County.

"We are Kremmling's only locally owned outfitter," he says proudly, "and our employees live in Grand County year-round. We are a small boutique operation, focusing on safety and quality in all we do. And we are going to bring that same sense of ownership and responsibility to this race."

But Scheible brings more than just his unfettered enthusiasm to the event. In the river's off-season, he works as the Winter Event Coordinator at the Winter Park Competition Center and is a US Ski and Snowboard Association Chief of Timing and Calculation.

"Races and events are what I do," he says simply, and along with Johnson and fellow-enthusiast Jessica Marson of Rapid Image Photography, they already have plans well under way to move the competition from a remote down-river race to a comprehensive whitewater event.

The trio plan to capitalize on the new Gore Canyon Whitewater play-park and observation area to bring the greater community into this year's event. While the down-river race itself is unreachable, except to those willing to do a two-mile hike (scramble!) from a trailhead at Pumphouse to view the last two rapids of the course, the rec area and the waterpark are easily accessible.

Full weekend

This year's event will take advantage of the upgraded venue, kicking the competition weekend off with a free showing of DamNation at Pumphouse on Friday, Aug. 22. The award-winning film will give attendees a look into the challenges faced by rivers as consumer water needs come into increasingly greater conflict with environmental health.

The main down-river rafting and kayaking races will take place on Saturday, when the best of whitewater competitors will paddle through two miles of unnamed Class IV rapids and face four Class IV+ and three Class V rapids with such daunting names as Scissors, Toilet Bowl, Tunnel, and Kirschbaum.

Other boaters can enjoy a family-fun float trip on Saturday, when free shuttles will be provided from Radium to Pumphouse by Adventures in Whitewater.

A stand-up paddleboard race, known as a SUP race by enthusiasts, will be held Saturday afternoon from Pumphouse to Radium.

And on Sunday, organizers plan to maximize use of the Gore Canyon Whitewater Park with its first official competition. New this year, the Gore Canyon Whitewater Rodeo will invite entrants to participate in a freestyle kayak event and an obstacle-strewn, up-river SUP race.

"The park bridges a gap in the recreational use of the Upper Colorado and the event," Johnson says passionately. "We want this event to really demonstrate what the excitement is about. This home-grown whitewater race can now be an all-inclusive weekend with fun for everyone."

Event organization is ongoing and, as Johnson points out, is a lot of work with the major reward being simply the enjoyment of whitewater competitors and spectators. But the three are excited about how everyone is coming together to make it a success.

They are partnering with the BLM, Grand County, nonprofit river organizations such as the US Rafting Association and AmericanWhitewater.org, and the race's permit holder, the Adventure Company.

"We are so excited for this event," raves Scheible. "Whenever you have the opportunity to be around people who are the best at something you love, you grow as a person. And to make it a safe, fun, efficient race, that's what we're here for."

Whitewater fans and friends are invited to discover the fun of whitewater sports in Grand County, participating in these other events or relaxing on the viewing platform or beach, cheering on the contestants.

Event registration

Early registration for the Gore Canyon Whitewater Race is encouraged and can be done online at AdventuresinWhitewater.com/GoreFest2015.

Sponsors, volunteers

Event organizers are looking for additional event sponsors and volunteers. For more information on sponsorship and/or volunteer opportunities and how you can be a part of this exhilarating event, contact Adventures in Whitewater at 970-724-1122 or at Rafting@AdventuresinWhitewater.com.

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