You cannot be serious: you know a course is gnarly when riders like Gee Atherton and Robbie Bourdon think twice about dropping in
In many ways and to many people, the original Red Bull Rampage series was to freeriding what the World Championships is to downhill racing. Since 2004, when it was stylishly shut down before interest had peaked, there’s been a sense of a real hole in the yearly schedule to a good old big mountain freeride event. Sure, you’ve got the likes of the Crankworx Slopestyle event, but the manicured dirt jumps and man-made obstacles really didn’t have the same impact as a gnarly chute line down a cliff face or big drop in the desert backcountry.
Fortuitous it is then, that Red Bull decided to revive the series from the dead after a three year absence. Literally just down the road from the original event in Virgin, Utah, the fresh location was chosen to provide today’s new-school riders the opportunity to show they can still kick it with the likes of previous winners Wade Simmons and Tyler Klassen.
Due to a few scheduling conflicts I arrived late on the first of two days of practice, so my first view of the course was early Friday morning. Most riders had already partially completed their chosen lines with a variety of speed-trailbuilding techniques, knowing full well the judges awarded points based on the originality and technical difficulty of each route down the mountain. Not that the judges would have an easy time of it – with so many options available to each competitor and no perfect viewpoint from which to keep constant watch, the influx of new riders meant those in charge of the scores had a new angle of confusion – would a tailwhip over a smaller feature beat a wheels-on-the-ground burn down a vertical cliff? Vice versa?
Lips sculpted and trannies packed, the 28 riders turned their attention to trying out their new creations for the first time; after all, no-one wants to hit a jump in competition without a certain amount of forewarning. All of a sudden the ridge side was transformed into a large-scale playground, as riders scattered to their respective start points and began the onerous task of riding their chosen line with the required flow and fluidity, required attributes for tomorrow’s qualifying round.
The warm sun and blue skies of the desert belied an environmental consideration for those throwing themselves off improbably high ground: the wind was definitely picking up, and gusting strongly across the face of the runsm whipping up the powder-dry dust into sand-blasting whirlwinds that threatened to blind eyes and blow landings way off course. Riders huddled in little groups, speculating amongst themselves as to the best time to catch a calm-air window and giving the nod to the next in line.
Seemingly as quickly as the day had begun, the allotted practice time was over and the course closed for the day, prompting a last-minute flurry of ‘just one last time’ runs that, in contrast to the result of mere mortal riders uttering those fateful words, didn’t result in a rushed trip to the hospital.
Can the same be said for qualifying? Tune in tomorrow to find out…