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The climbing wall at the first Winter Teva Mountain Games will be the site of a mixed climbing -- ascending rock and thin ice with ice tools -- competition this weekend. Climbers Sam Elias and Emily Harrington will be among the Boulder contingent at the games.
Teva Mountain Games/Vail Valley Foundation
The climbing wall at the first Winter Teva Mountain Games will be the site of a mixed climbing — ascending rock and thin ice with ice tools — competition this weekend. Climbers Sam Elias and Emily Harrington will be among the Boulder contingent at the games.
The Winter Teva Mountain Games start Friday in Vail. The weekend schedule and a complete list of events — from sports like big-air telemark to canine competitions (avy dogs) to arts and music — are at tevamountaingames.com/winter.

This weekend, skier and mountain bike and cyclocross racer (and Boulder resident) Mitch Hoke will race in a couple of events that are new to him — snow biking and ski mountaineering — at the first Winter Teva Mountain Games, in Vail.

This will be his second time racing a snow bike. The first was a few weeks ago at Copper Mountain’s snow bike race — it’s a burgeoning sport in Colorado.

“It’s kind of taken off, which is kind of bizarre,” Hoke said. “It doesn’t look like that much fun to me, but then you do it, and it’s a pretty good time.”

The snow bike events are a part of a coterie of competitions at the winter games that are a little out of the ordinary but hard to pass up for participants, many of whom have been attending and participating in the popular Teva Mountain Games, an early-summer event that includes kayaking, rock climbing and cycling.

Organizers have always wanted to expand the games into a winter event, said spokesman Ian Anderson.

“The event started off partially as a tourism promotion to drive summer business to Vail, and now it’s grown way beyond that,” he said. Now, they hope to recreate the summer vibe — athletes from many sports coming together “to celebrate competition and the outdoors,” he said — in the winter.

Hoke, one of several athletes from Boulder competing in the winter games, said the mix of sports is one of the things that was appealing about going to the summer Teva games, and he’s looking forward to the winter mix.

“I think that’s the cool thing about the Teva games,” Hoke said. “In the summer, they have mountain biking, which I’m good at, but I can check out kayaking or climbing.”

(By the way, if you’re wondering how one ends up with a snow bike, or what they are: Hoke’s friend from Alaska talked him into that first race, and Hoke ended up obtaining a snow bike through that friend’s bike shop up north, which manufactures 9 Zero 7 Snow Bikes. The frames and forks on these bikes allow generous space for the extra-fat, 4-inch tires, which float on moderately-compacted snow.)

Runner Sara Tarkington has been doing snowshoeing races elsewhere this winter, like Eldora’s Nighthawks series, but she’s looking forward to the Winter Teva Mountain Games partly for the other sports, and partly for the prize purse.

“It’s so many different sports, all in one place, and of course they always have good prize money too, which is unique,” she said. “There’s not always that opportunity for winter sports to have a big prize purse.”

This weekend, Tarkington will compete in a 10K snowshoe race. She competed in the Ultimate Mountain Challenge at the summer Teva games; competitors in this category run, ride bikes and kayak.

She said she’s skipping the winter version — which includes Nordic freestyle, ski mountaineering and the Vail Uphill (a hill climb) — because she’s saving it for the upcoming Mount Taylor Quadrathlon, which she won last year.

Sam Elias, a Boulder-based ice climber, said for him, it’s exciting to have another mixed climbing (climbing thin ice and rock with ice tools) competition not just in his home state, but in North America.

“It’s such a small, niche sport,” he said. “There’s only a really small handful of competitions.”

The mixed climbing competition this weekend will be unusual, Elias said, because the format is to have two climbers start side by side and race to the top, rather than competing for a high point on the wall based on difficulty.

“It’s super unique,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s ever been done. It’s geared toward the spectators — racing is more easily understood by the people watching.”

Elias said he’s glad to have so much potential exposure for his sport and all the others.

“That’s what is the most exciting thing for me — knowing how many people go to the summer games, and knowing that the population of Vail is however many times greater in the winter?” Elias said. 

“It’s going to be great for all of the sports that are there.”

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