I first met Jarno Hoogland towards the end of 2012. I was recovering from a shoulder injury and chomping at the bit to get out on my bike again in the big mountains. I had heard about his 'The Blast' events and there was one coming up in Switzerland. I had previously spent some time riding in the country, my mind already blown with the quality of its endless singletrack, with an added bonus of multiple lifts and bike-friendly buses in the area.
I fired over an email to the crazy Dutch guy and got booked on. I knew he was going to be a good chap when I received and email signed 'Sent from my bread toaster.' I had a great weekend at The Blast in Valais, even though I'm a more 'serious' racer at heart, which is not what these events are about. What they are about is epic rides, great company, comfortable accommodation, and food laid on so you can just get on the best trails with the least effort.
Jarno has recently quit his old job and fully committed his life to running these events and more. This means more events for you guys, new locations, and better trails too. I was inspired by the ride with Jarno and impressed by his commitment to running his own company, so I got back in touch and spoke to him about bikes, exploring, and running events.
Bike Magic: Ok Jarno, we'll start with the basics. Age and nationality?
Jarno Hoogland: 34, Dutch.
BM: Growing up in the Netherlands mustn’t have been ideal for the budding downhill racer in you. Did you get much of a chance to get into the big mountains of Europe much as a kid? Was that the start of where you have got to know?
JH: I have been on bikes all my life really. I started with racing BMX when I was 5. After 10 years of racing BMX, I got a bit bored. At that time DH mountain biking was on the rise with ex-BMX racers like Mike King, Gerwin Peters and Bas de Bever taking part in this new sport. After hearing some cool stories from them I thought to give DH racing a go.
The highest hill in our local woods was 55 metres high, so practice 'runs' were a bit short but I started racing in Belgium and Germany, where there were some decent courses. When I started getting on some podiums, I was lucky enough to have a crazy dad to drive me around Europe to compete in the bigger races. The sensation of descending for 10 minutes to reach the start of a seven-minute race run in Switzerland definitely fuelled my love for mountains!
After racing DH for a couple of years, I took on a real job but the love of riding never left and I kept riding as much as I could. Over time the bike parks lost my interest and I started to do bigger missions involving hike-a-bikes and multi-day rides.
With modern technology the 160mm travel bikes you take up the gondola are really capable to handle two hours of pedalling too, making remote trails really accessible and fun to ride too.
BM: I heard some pretty epic stories when I rode at The Blast in Switzerland a few years ago. You said you were on the Netherlands national downhill squad with [World Cup winner] Bas de Bever?!
JH: Yeah! But after doing really well in the first races I entered I got added to the Dutch National Juniors team. We got some support to be able to attend the bigger races in Germany and Switzerland and to do the European Champs. It was a great experience as a teenager hanging around pro riders. Learned a lot and had great fun.
BM: You moved to the Alps a few years ago, working for Kona Europe in Geneva. Was it the job you wanted, or just the location?!
JH: Well, when I got the Kona job offer I was already living in Austria for a few years. Back in Holland I had a great job working for the Cube Bikes distributor, but anything I liked doing involved mountains. It only made sense to move before getting tied down with a house, wife, kids and a dog.
Life in Austria was great, but getting an interesting job as a foreigner was hard and wages were low. When the Kona guys asked me, I was motivated from the get-go. It's one of the coolest bike companies out there, and the Geneva region is close to Europe's most famous biking destinations. An offer I couldn't refuse!
BM: Now you’re living in Chamongnarr (Chamonix)? I love that place, how does living there compare to its reputation?
JH: Yeah it's absolutely awesome. I had a long think about where I would like to base myself when starting my own company, and Cham was definitely the best choice. About an hour from Geneva airport, you can go almost anywhere in Europe for cheap, and Europe's best riding locations like the Swiss Valais and Italian Aosta Valley are around the corner. Finale Ligure is 3.5 hours drive if you are getting sick of the snow and in summer Chamonix riding is pretty mental too. Definitely not for beginners with high exposure goat trails and plenty of full-day barely rideable missions!
The best thing though is the town and the people. There is always something going on, and there are nutters everywhere. On the gondola there are always people with pick axes, ropes, and crampons going up for some sick steep ski mission. At the local bar you are having a beer with some guys that are in the Freeride World Tour and that girl you danced with in the club just did five wingsuit jumps from the Brevent [one of Chamonix’s famous peaks] that day. What other town do you have all that?!
BM: Lets talk about The Blast Epic Enduro Weekends. I did one of your first events a few years ago. They lived up to your marketing hype! Beautiful, untouched singletracks, loads of riding over three days, great accommodation (clinging to the side of a mountain), company, food, and a few timed runs thrown in to boot. How did the early events work out for you? Any teething problems?
JH: Well there is always room for improvement no matter what you do, but it went pretty smooth to be honest. We improved the marking on the special stages after the first few events, as we had some people missing corners and ending up on the wrong trail. After the first year we added one uplift a day, to have more balance between pedalling up and riding down, but the basic format of a long weekend with a small group riding and racing epic trails is still the same. We have no ambition to get more riders or have a 'pro class'. That would make things way to serious and take the soul out of the event.
For 2014 we did made a few tweaks to improve the event even more. We have limited it to 20 riders to be able to get quality accommodation and ride the most epic trails in the area. Also included this year are all meals, including the lunches on Friday and Saturday. We will set up a buffet lunch spot along the trail, so no more squashed bananas or mushy sandwiches! To top it off, we have one uplift on every riding day. Last year we only did Friday and Saturday but by adding a shuttle to the Sunday the tired legs get a bit of rest, and you get in even more riding.
BM: What has been your favourite event you have organised?
JH: That's a hard one... I think The Blast in the Aosta Valley in 2013. Organisation-wise it went really smooth, the trails were absolutely world class and we had a really nice international crew with French, Dutch, Germans, Swiss, Slovenians, British, and even a guy from Chile. We also were really lucky with the weather. When marking the trail, we were still ploughing through 20cm of fresh snow only a few days before the weekend but on the Saturday we could get the short sleeves out!
Gallery: The Blast event in Switzerland's riding paradise of Valais.
BM: How many Blast weekends are you running this year?
JH: We are doing five weekends this year, registration opens about four months before the event, exact dates when you can register are spammed through Facebook and the newsletters:
#1 22-24 May Black Forest, Germany
#2 12-15 June Grand Massif, France
#3 7-10 August Koroska, Slovenia
#4 25-28 September, Aosta Valley Italy
#5 16-19 October, Liguria Italy
BM: You’re a forward-thinking individual with some positive views and ideas including the new 'Trailgate' races. Might not be ideal for particularly aggressive riders though, could cause people to get a bit too loose haha. Can you tell us more about it and where the idea came from?
JH: The Trailgate event is my idea of the perfect weekend. Friday is course practice, Saturday enduro racing in teams of two riders followed by a good after party, Sunday optional uplift runs for some chilled riding with your friends. The idea came to mind after a day of riding with some friends. When chasing each other down the trail, I figured this would make an awesome event format.
Who doesn't like ripping it up with a friend, racing several stages and finishing off with a BBQ party with concerts and DJs?
Next to this event concept, I have some ideas coming up for some epic trips like a special kind of road trip, and a week long of riding combined with 'classes' where you learn all about photography, first aid, orienteering, bike skills etc. Stay tuned for that!
BM: You also organise riding holidays. Some epic venues are listed including Madeira, Slovenia, and Morocco. You offer to show riders the best trails, the kind of stuff that the locals ride (hence the website name 'Ride With The Locals'). How do you offer this?
JH: The holidays I organise are unique in several ways. For starters I only use local guides to show the guests around. This can be a rider that grew up in the region, or someone who has lived there for an extensive period and knows every trail in the region. They are the ones who can show you trails that are not on the map, are on private land, organise a night in a remote mountain hut etc. Also because of their knowledge, they can tailor the riding to the level and wishes of the group. Even halfway through a ride they can change the plan if needed.
In the guiding business there are a lot of differences. To make sure the customers get what they ask for, I have tested all the guides I work with personally, and we have strict protocols on how we run the trips. I also never mix riders that don't know each other. In my opinion, this only creates frustrations because of the difference in riding level. Mountain biking can be done in so many different ways, and there is nothing worse then having to wait for that rider whose level doesn't match the rest of the group, or being the rider that holds up the group.
BM: In the modern day and age of GPS tracks, who needs a guide?
JH: Guiding is widely underestimated in my opinion. Most people think it is about showing some trails to people, but it's so much more than that. GPS tracks can be useful, but they can't tell you anything about the area or the history, they can't tell you which cafe serves the best lunch, or what the quickest way down is in case of a thunderstorm.
Guides are able to bring a certain vibe to a ride with their attitude, and with their knowledge they can prevent an adventure to turn into a misadventure. They know at exactly what point on the route they have no reach on their cell phones, they know where they are the furthest away from civilisation and can read the skies to see a thunderstorm moving in.
With all the bike parks and trail centres around, most people forget that we do a mountain sport that comes with some serious risks when you go off the beaten path. Besides, who wants to stare at a screen all the time, paranoid to take the wrong fork in the road?! I think we stare at screen far too much already these days.
BM: I hear you’re looking to add Wales to your destinations? What are you looking for? Maybe some Bike Magic fans could help?
JH: I am always looking for new destinations to add. Important is to have many trail style options in the area; from Lycra XC-style leg burning loops, to challenging enduro trails full of singletracks. The guides I work with have to have a guiding certificate and be fit and skilled riders. I prefer people with a DH riding background, as fitness is easier to train than bike handling skills, but I find personality the most important thing of all. No one likes a show off!
If there are any Bike Magic readers out there who can think of a certain guide when they read this, get in touch with me through email@example.com.
BM: How can people find more info about you and your events?