For two decades windsurfers have come to Oregon's Columbia River
Gorge to take advantage of the Pacific winds that blow between
its 2,000-foot basalt bluffs. Other outdoor enthusiasts have
followed, so that now the Cascade Mountains--the domain of
skiers and snowboarders in winter--also has a year-round
community of climbers, kayakers and mountain bikers. Joining
them about a decade ago were kiteboarders, who ride the same
gusts as their windsurfing brethren. ¬∂ So rich is the area in
outdoor activities that in 1996 the town of Hood River began
hosting the Gorge Games, which by 2002 had become one of the
world's premier adventure sports festivals. That year the games,
broadcast on NBC, attracted 1,500 competitors from 30 countries
to vie for $200,000 in purses. The event drew 40,000 spectators
and more than 250 credentialed media, and earned more than $3
million for the Hood River community.
An ownership dispute forced the cancellation of last year's
competition, but last week the Gorge Games made a triumphant
return, albeit on a smaller scale--and without cash prizes. The
only thing at stake for 1,000 or so competitors this time was
reputation. That kept several top athletes away, but some still
showed up for the nine-day blowout, including kayaking
world-record holder Tao Berman, who placed first in the extreme
competition. Other stars included 2002 Gorge kiteboarding
champion Renee Hanks, who won the women's overall title, and '02
national windsurfing champ Dale Cook, who took the men's overall
crown. While the climbing events were cut to save on costs, most
traditional competitions were back, along with a new event:
If you missed the Gorge Games, there's still time to get yourself
to Hood River before the wind dies down. You might try some
events for yourself, perhaps all in a single day. Just don't
forget to bring your wetsuit, trail-running shoes and mountain
bike--as well as your Bactine and Band-Aids.
PLANNING AHEAD Windsurfing and kiteboarding in the gorge are best
in July and August. Many put-in sites are free, but some property
owners might charge a nominal fee (about $5). The Swiss Swell
rents equipment and offers lessons (541-386-4913,
swiss-swell.com). Kayakers can get whitewater and sea kayak
instruction at the Columbia Gorge Kayak School (541-308-0282,
gorgekayaker.com). And you can rent a vacation house starting at
$800 a week from Hood River Hideaways (541-380-2844,
hoodriverhideaways.com). To reach Hood River, fly into Portland
International Airport, 55 miles to the west.
OTHER ACTIVITIES The Columbia River and its tributaries offer
excellent salmon fishing, and winds in the gorge make it ideal
for sailing. Roadways in the area, including those in Mount Hood
National Forest, are fine for cycling (503-668-1700,
TWO COLOR PHOTOS: COREY RICH (2) PEAK EXPERIENCE Mitch Gingrich was flat-out flying in thewindsurfing event at the Gorge Games, played out on thespectacular waters below 11,239-foot Mount Hood.
COLOR MAP COLUMBIA RIVER GORGE Mount Hood, Ore.
COLOR PHOTO: COREY RICH (LEFT) TICKETS TO RIDE Women's kiter-cross champ Bri Chmel (above) rodethe wind, while others took to water and trails.
TWO COLOR PHOTOS: RICHARD HALLMAN (2) [See caption above]
COLOR PHOTO: PATTY SEGOVIA (TOP) SNOW DAZE When the weather gets too cold for splashing, MountHooders turn to shredding.