Adventure Racing for Kids

From mud pits and ziplines to mountain biking and rappelling down a cliff face, this year’s kids’ adventure race at Vail boosted self esteem and suppressed the usual bellyaching.

Here’s something I love about kids adventure racing: Kids bike, run, and climb—and I mean hard—for nearly two hours and they don’t whine at all. Not once!!! Not a single grumble. This is truly unprecedented.

One half of the Sasquatch Dude team on the Tyrolean crossing.

One half of the Sasquatch Dude team on the Tyrolean crossing.

Granted all the biking and trekking that takes place over the course of a kids’ adventure race is punctuated with some pretty riveting challenges. Our three kids just competed at the Keen Vail Kids Adventure Race and here’s a sampling of the course’s stations: Ziplining, Tyrolean river crossing, slack-lining over a mud pit, crawling up and over a cargo net hidden in the woods, Tarzan rope swinging, rock climbing, rappelling down a cliff, tubing on a river, and scrambling through a dark culvert filled with rushing water. Kids are so distracted by all the challenges, they don’t remember to complain.

Exempla Gratis

Now, my kids are relatively hard core. The hike, they ski. Sometimes they hike to ski. But when they are recreating in the outdoors with my husband and me, we invariably endure a fair amount of kvetching.

Floating on a tube can be easy. Dragging it through Vail village, not so much.

Floating on a tube can be easy. Dragging it through Vail village, not so much.

A few weeks ago, Jeff and I took the kids on a mountain-bike ride. We made a series of serious tactical errors: We hit the trail at, oh, high noon…not having fed the kids lunch. Temps were peaking at an eyeball-drying 95 degrees. And the route was straight uphill and super rocky.

Given the fact that we’d set ourselves up for utter failure, it’s no surprise that path became a trail of tears. Anya cried, moaned, and stomped her feet the whole way up, pushing her bike through the wall of heat.

Zombies and Wildebeests

So, you might think given the rigors of adventure racing, the bellyaching might be intense. Not so. Anya teamed up with her ski-racing buddy Torrey (the Lightning Cheetahs); Brothers Quinn and Aidan teamed up as the Sasquatch Dudes. Also on the starting roster were the Chicken Slayers, Flaming Cheesepuffs, and, get this: Team Bacon

I’ve never seen my daughter so determined. She and Torrey mountain-biked up a trail, had to hoist their bikes over giant mats in a dark tunnel, then they ran through a water-filled underground pipe. Which brought them to the Tyrolean river crossing. They clicked onto the wire—throughout the race, competitors wear climbing harnesses, which makes them look tough beyond their years—leaned back and pulled themselves, hand-over-hand, across the river. That was just the first leg. All without complaint.

Kids get so much speed on the slip-n-slide, they pond skim on their butts.

Kids get so much speed on the slip-n-slide, they pond skim on their butts.

The course: double top secret

Course details were shrouded in secrecy until just prior to the start, when the kids were issued a map that they’d have to follow, get stamped at checkpoints, and keep dry. For the Sasquatch Dudes, map storage was the epic fail of the race.

The Dudes, off to a great start and before they got sweaty, bloody, and muddy.

The Dudes, off to a great start and before they got sweaty, bloody, and muddy.

The Lightning Cheetahs did a short course with 13 checkpoints. The older kids (the Dudes) competed on a longer course the next day. The highlight for most kids was a steroidal slip-n-slide down the steep slopes of Vail.

This is no backyard slip-and-slide from Target. We’re talking a giant sheet of plastic on the side of a black-diamond ski run with a big pool of water and crash pads at the bottom.

A volunteer with a hose keeps things slick. No friction here. The kids fly down it at warp speed and explode at the bottom.

They. Loved. It.

At this year's race the water was high enough that kids could actually float in the tubes.

At this year’s race the water was high enough that kids could actually float in the tubes.

Independence, fostered

The adventure race was a huge self-esteem builder to master each obstacle. In fact, the independence fostered by the race started the day prior.

Anya was rooting around in the cabinets at my folks place in Frisco. She got herself a baggie and some BandAids and gauze. I asked her what she was doing. “It’s my medical kit for tomorrow.” The race organizers had told the kids they should all carry a basic first-aid kit in their packs during the race.

Two years running, Aidan used his first-aid baggie on bloody knees. Both times, he administered his first aid in the field without nurse mom. Pretty cool.

Notice the paper map clutched in Aidan's hand and the worry on his face.

Notice the paper map clutched in Aidan’s hand and the worry on his face.


The night before, Quinn and Aidan had constructed a system with a one-gallon Zip-loc bag, duct tape, and a carabiner. The idea was to avoid having to take the bag/map in and out of their packs at every stop. Their initiative was impressive, however the protective plastic baggie sustained and enormous tear at the Zipline, rendering it useless–just as the boys started the river tubing challenge. Still, A for effort.


Before the race, Team Lightning Cheetah, ready to go.

Before the race, Team Lightning Cheetahs, ready to go. Matching bike shirts? Check. Flowery plastic bike basket? Check!

Adventure spectating

Jeff, Torrey’s dad, and I ran around the course cheering the kids on—from a distance. If we got too close, they might whine at us. We stayed just out of range. I have to tell you, those kids are moving so fast, it’s hard to catch all the action. I power hiked up Vail Mountain and just missed the Dudes rappelling down a cliff in the woods. The kids weren’t the only ones exhausted at the end of the competition.

We did manage to catch a considerable amount of the race and snap pictures along the way. Here’s more pics from the Keen Vail Kids Adventure Race, 2013.

Checkpoint #5, Short Course: Underground River Challenge

Kids need to be brave to climb into a big underground culvert filled with rushing water. No problem for the Lightning Cheetahs. The rope helped and it was wise to wear bike gloves.


Checkpoint #5, Long Course: Catwalk Chicanes

On the longer course, the boys had to hoist there bikes over the wooden obstacles. Now I can add “chicane” to my vocab list. Comes from the French for quibble, and it’s an artificial feature in a road that creates extra turns. Who knew?


Checkpoint #7: Slip-n-Slide on Steroids

The kids faces went from sheer terror on the way down to sheer exuberance afterwards. They loved this “challenge.”


Training Day

The day prior to the adventure race, the kids took optional skills clinics, where they practiced, among, other things, rock climbing. They also worked on team building skills and mountain biking. The time on the rock wall really helped with that challenge, although the younger kids ended up doing the climbing wall in their bulky PDF’s from the river challenge, which meant they couldn’t see their feet if they looked down. Made rock climbing a tougher challenge.



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