Kids Adventure Games returns to Vail, bringing a hallmark event back to the village

Kids cross the finish line of the Kids Adventure Games Sunday in Vail.
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily

The Kids Adventure Games returned to Vail after three years away, creating an outdoor playground in the village which was hard to miss during the busy weekend.

The games started on Friday and continued through Sunday, and the hundreds of kids who participated now know the Vail Valley intimately after fording the waters of the creek that shaped it.

Organizers Helene and Billy Mattison said they were excited to bring their mountain obstacle course back to Vail Village, a good sign for the Kids Adventure Games event tour as it begins a return back to nationwide status. The Kids Adventure Games offered a pared-down circuit last summer after canceling altogether during the 2020 pandemic.

The event began in Vail in 2009, co-founded by the Mattisons and produced in conjunction with the Vail Recreation District. A decade later, the Mattisons were putting on the event in nine locations throughout the country, where they found welcome venues in other ski towns like Big Bear Lake and Mammoth Lakes in California or Park City in Utah. Near its home location in Vail, the Kids Adventure Games also hosted a Copper Mountain event, once upon a time.

Kids make their way down Gore Creek with a tube during the Kids Adventure Games Sunday in Vail.
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily

After canceling in 2020, however, last year the games had only two events total, one in Fruita and one in Minturn, a variation of the home event in Vail.

Helene Mattison said it was nice to know that Maloit Park in Minturn is capable of hosting a good Kids Adventure Games event, but she was also happy to be back in Vail Village this year.

“It went really well,” she said. “We had 94 teams on Sunday, 126 on Saturday and 116 on Friday.”

Those teams of two kids rode bikes on mountain biking trails, used a Tyrolean crossing to cross the water, jumped off a mock cliff, slacklined over a mud pit, rode tubes and swam and ran through Gore Creek, ascended a climbing wall on Bridge Street in front of cheering crowds, ran up a singletrack trail on Vail Mountain and slid down a steep water feature called the slope-n-slide, the Kids Adventure Games hallmark feature taking place near the bottom of the iconic run Pepi’s Face on Vail Mountain.

Kids use ropes to cross a creek during the Kids Adventure Games Sunday in Vail.
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily

The event took a lot of cooperation with Vail Mountain, which was helpful in obliging, Mattison said. The event also requires collaboration from the U.S. Forest Service and the town of Vail, as well.

Beth Pappas with the Vail Recreation District works the event every year and recruits her mother to volunteer, as well. Pappas’ job is to coordinate and schedule the workers; she said they try to reach 100 volunteers per day, and while they didn’t quite get there this year, they were still able to pull off the event.

“The town is a lot busier in the summer than it used to be when we started this event, so there’s a lot of rerouting to stay out of the main corridors, it needs a lot more volunteers and marshals,” Pappas said.

At Maloit Park in Minturn last year, they were able to put on the event using less volunteers, “but there really is something special about being in Vail Village, and the energy that comes with it,” Pappas said.

Teamwork helps two kids get over the wall at the beginning of the Kids Adventure Games Sunday in Vail. The races took place throughout the weekend in the village.
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily

Pappas put out the call to as many people as she could think of for help, including the competitors themselves. On Sunday, after finishing the course with the fastest time on the day, Red Hill Elementary School students Aberle Hyatt and Brynley Velez, both 9, high-tailed it over the climbing wall area to carry tubes back to the Gore Creek entrance.

The girls were on a team called the Electric Dragons; they posted a smoking fast time of 49 minutes, which was faster than many of the older boys and girls teams, said organizer Billy Mattison.

After learning from Brynley’s mother, Megan Velez (who learned from Pappas) that the event was a little short on volunteers, the Electric Dragons crossed the finish line and then got right to work helping out.

“And they worked the whole time,” Megan Velez said.

Brynley said they were happy to do it.

“We like cheering all the kids on,” Brynley said.

“For the last people, we ran with them for the rest of the course,” Aberle said.

From left is Eagle locals Will Nager, Jimmy Winn, Cutler Merlihan and Ollie Higbie. The boys competed in the 12-14 age division at the Kids Adventure Games before volunteering to help out on course.
John LaConte/Vail Daily

Eagle locals Will Nager, Jimmy Winn, Cutler Merlihan and Ollie Higbie all volunteered after competing in the 12-14 age division, as well. But after the event concluded, the good workers did end up getting paid for their services, they said, so it wasn’t true volunteerism.

The volunteers who have participated in the Kids Adventure Games the longest are the Mattisons’ children, twins Liam and Scout, who are now 19 years old. The Adventure Games idea actually began with a birthday party for Liam and Scout in the Mattisons’ backyard, which contained adventure racing features.

Scout said she has participated in every Kids Adventure Games competition, including every event across the country, first as a racer and then as a volunteer. Along with her partner Emma Reeder, they were known as the Cheetah Girls.

Kids sprint through the mud during the Kids Adventure Games Sunday in Vail. The competition featured multiple obstacle courses on the mountain and in Vail Village.
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily

Having been to all the venues, “Vail is one of my favorites, because it’s so big and it’s so fun,” she said.

Ordinarily, amid their Kids Adventure Games tours across the U.S., the Mattisons would be working through Labor Day, but this year, with only three events on the calendar, they’re happy to finish early.

Scout said she plans to take the fall semester away from the University of Oregon, where she is a sophomore, to visit Asia and Europe with her father.

A former adventure racer himself, Billy Mattison has visited many mountain ranges around the globe and is excited to share some of that travel experience now with Scout, he said.

“We’re planning on going to the Golden Eagle Festival in Mongolia,” he said.

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