Most kayakers float their boats on liquid water that flows over rocks and rumbles through canyons. Last weekend, however, several Colorado College kayakers ventured out onto a different phase of water: crystalline. Monarch Mountain hosted its Sixth Annual ‘Kayaks on Snow’ Boatercross event, drawing a crowd of kayakers and spectators from around the state and beyond.
The event is organized much like a downhill ski race, featuring a set course. The run-out at the end of the slope was a pond that boaters were supposed to skip or paddle across. Kayakers were sent down in groups of five at a time, with the fastest three advancing to the next round. Prizes included a Monarch season pass, a kayak, ski goggles, and other schwag.
Sophomore Kang-Min Kim is a chemistry major who has been whitewater kayaking for five years. A few weeks ago, he took advantage of the leftover snow from Rail Jam and spent an afternoon flying in a small boat down the hill behind the Preserve. He spent this time practicing jumps and boof strokes—the specific strokes used to power off of a waterfall or other feature—in order to practice for Boatercross.
Monarch Mountain describes the event as “extremely entertaining” family fun that is visible from the base of the slope. Although Kim was cut in the first round, he said that the event was tons of fun with a great atmosphere of spectators and racers alike. He jokingly described Boatercross as “sledding down a ski slope in a very expensive sled.”
Junior John Nestler added that the event was full-contact, with kayaks flying all over and bloody noses all around. His approach to pre-competition preparation differed slightly from Kim’s approach; Nestler said he “did lots of cold weather training, intense visualization, and snow kayak yoga.”
Several other CC kayakers competed and senior Mike Curran advanced to the final round, finishing in a respectable fourth. Sophomore Noah Greene advanced to the second round. CC’s only female competitor, sophomore Courtney Blackmer, made it to the third round, along with senior Ben Varick and junior John Nestler. Class of 2012 graduate David Spiegel advanced to the fourth round.
As the day warmed up, the runs got faster. Senior Ben Varick, co-chair of the Kayaking Club along with Curran, gathered enough speed during the third round that when he hit the edge of the pond, he skipped not across the pond, but into the crowd. He bowled over two young spectators, luckily not injuring either of them.
Boatercross is an event that allows whitewater kayakers to show off their skills in a fun, structured environment that is much easier to watch than a river. Despite the acrobatic and athletic feats of whitewater boaters, kayaking is not a spectator sport because oftentimes the rivers that are most conducive to impressive boating are difficult to access or found in deep canyons.
Although the kayaking equivalent of terrain parks does exist, the average kayaker’s best hope at showing off his or her skills is a GoPro video that goes viral. Whitewater kayaking is therefore often a closed community akin to ice climbing; fun events such as Boatercross allow it a spot in the public eye as an exciting sport to watch.
Kim, who frequently spends his study breaks watching kayaking videos, says, “It was really great to participate in an event that people could watch live. The atmosphere was informal, but really fun. I definitely want to go back next year. I hope that the ORC will allow us to make a it into a trip.”