2021 Red Bull Rampage Finals - Photo Story
The 20th anniversary edition of Red Bull Rampage is done and dusted, and I mean that quite literally. My camera bag and clothing have acquired a rich patina of red Utah dirt that’s going to linger longer than I’d like. This anniversary version of the fabled freeride event featured a cast of familiar names along with some new and emerging stars and was held on the same grounds as the 2016 & 2017 Rampage contests.
As the athletes and their dig crews descended upon the site 2 weeks ago, early reports from the desert of big builds, dirt jumps and sculpted landings had the #freerideisdead crowd bemoaning how Rampage has devolved into just another slopestyle contest. Keyboard warriors at their finest you could say. After some reflection on that discussion ,while scouring every inch of the terrain this week in search of the photos you’ll find herein, some thoughts come to mind.
There is no denying the progression that Rampage has driven in the sport of mountain biking over the 20 years of the event’s life. For a quick primer on what’s transpired in that time, I’d suggest this short documentary recently compiled by Red Bull Media House:
20 years later and the game of Rampage has changed: the riders know it, and the pioneering legends who rode the event in the early years do too.
It would seem that the early era of Rampage that saw riders navigate raw terrain on bikes that are little more than wall art today has acquired a fond, faded afterglow. A small but loud group see modern day Rampage as akin to a Joyride contest. I suspect few of these voices have actually had the opportunity to attend Rampage in real life, so part of my goal in the photos below is to assuage their fears that freeride is dead. Freeride lives, but it has evolved. Everything about Rampage is bigger. A lot bigger. This is not to take anything away from those early years and the legendary performances that have shaped the lore and legend of Rampage.
The story goes that there was a completely new event site planned for this year that wasn’t able to get worked out in time. Based on rider input the contest ended up back at the 2016/2017 location. And yet, this year saw more riders than ever pushing themselves across the tipping point and suffering serious injuries on so-called slopestyle features. Features that they spent a week digging on to make them remotely possible to ride. Carson Storch, Brage Vestavik, and Andreu Lacondeguy all crashed in practice while guinea pigging huge drops in their lines. Tom van Steenbergen and Vincent Tupin both went too big in Finals and in Tom’s case suffered serious injury.
15 riders came to Rampage, 10 finished, 5 went to the hospital.
Maybe the continued evolution of Rampage is more nuanced, with new faces like Brage Vestavik bringing a creative mix of raw riding with calculated building to attempt super-sized features.
That would never be possible in a rake and ride version of Rampage because there is no way to ride features of this magnitude without engineered mitigation of the physics involved. Modern Rampage includes mitigating risks, playing within the rules of building, and doing as much as possible in an impossibly small window of time to get some semblance of a rideable line together.
So what’s my point? I’m still working that out, but I sense that the future of freeride lies in something deeper than the familiar “Rampage is rad and pushing the boundaries of the sport” trope. 15 riders came to Rampage, 10 finished, 5 went to the hospital.
Perhaps the boundaries of freeride, magnitude and amplitude aren’t designed for continued quantum change. Maybe the continued evolution of Rampage is more nuanced, with new faces like Brage Vestavik bringing a creative mix of raw riding with calculated building to attempt super-sized features. Or Jaxson Riddle bringing huge airs and moto-inspired style to his runs. Or Semenuk running a single crown fork on a Session (note: didn’t look like a Session) to unleash whip tricks and break the internet.
This is what I do know: I’m not going to second guess the athletes who are driving the evolution of Rampage and in turn the definition of freeride and I’d suggest you give it a hard pass too.
To quote Jake Burton Carpenter, “Listen to the riders”