Pouncing Pooches Take Center Stage At GoPro Mountain Games

Nestled in Vail's corner of the Rockies, once a year, dogs miraculously take off and fly. 

...sort of. 

Pooches rule the pool at the 2018 GoPro Mountain Games, highlighting the four-day event with three unique subsections for man's best friends. The DockDogs Outdoor Big Air, Dueling Dogs, and Extreme Vertical all draw huge crowds every year. 

"I love this event because it's super dog friendly everywhere," dog owner Cassie Swift says. "We don't have to put the dogs in kennels, or hotels. We can go out everywhere with them."

The two unique jumping pools are surrounded with people each day of action. Crowds eagerly "ooh" and "ahh" as the professional jumpers clear 24+ feet from the dock to the splashdown. 

The excitement and inspiration behind the sport stemmed from a day at the dock. That idea expanded through the occasional televised event and word of mouth. 

"We just tried it once, and we were hooked," participant Brian Chapman said. "Then we had to buy a pool, then we had to buy a bigger pool. Now I think we're topped out!" 

Each event varies differently, but the concept is the same for all three games: the owner points out a toy either hovering feet off the dock (Extreme Vertical), at the far end of the pool (Dueling Dogs), or thrown by the handlers as the dog sprints for maximum distance (Big Air). Two dogs race each other in the Duel for the best time. 

And for the very best owners, experience (and finding the right pet) matters. 

"It's my 18th year. My first event was down in Little Rock, Arkansas and I've been hooked ever since," 5-time world champion Tom Dropik says. 

Dropik is a folk hero among the dog-jumping community. Raising his dogs Tucker, Remi, and Little Rascal to compete, Dropik quickly found his niche in the community. Through his nearly two decades of competition, he slowly rose to the top. 

"I have a German Shepherd Labrador rescue that I rescued [named Remi]. He blew through five homes. Long story short, I worked with him, and he ended up winning the world cup fight straight years."

Energetic rescue dogs are nothing new to the competition. Their tale of redemption, often, peaks with them finishing on the podium.

"A lot of these are rescue dogs," Chapman says. "Over half. And they're the best ones."

Although the games attract the professionals, there are just as many newcomers. You see a number of owners slowly egging on their pet, splashing the water at the end of the dock hoping to find that spark that drives so many of their new friends.

"Some dogs just wont do it....It's up to them," Swift says.

When asked what the secret to his success was, Dropik told the cameras he has one focus.

"In the dog's mind, it one thing. It's all about the toy. They don't know they're being timed, they don't know they're going for distance, they're going for the toy. So i focus on the toy. All the distractions, I train those away."

For the less trophy-oriented owners the weekend in Vail acts a reunion, and a reminder of the years of happy, tail-wagging swims behind them. 

"I look back on everything we did, and it's things we'll never forget," Swift says. "It's just about the memories you get to make along the way."

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