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Editorial (with sick photos)

Why I Love and Hate Red Bull Rampage*

Words Cam McRae
Date Nov 8, 2018

*hate is too strong but alternatives made the headline awkward

The first Rampage I attended was the second one, back in 2002. I kept going until 2010 and then decided to watch the huckfest from the comfort of my couch, which is a much better way to see what is actually going on. At the last venue there was only one vantage point where virtually everything was visible, but that spot was reserved for judges and the official event filmers. After NBC got involved it also became increasingly difficult to create original media during the event; non-event filming was prohibited and locations for photography continued to diminish as well. I miss it but it's certainly less nerve wracking viewing from home. 

You've probably heard how bonkers these fragile ridgelines chutes and drops are in person, and I can tell you this isn't hyperbole. In 2002 I felt a little sick to my stomach walking up the mountain for the first time. I couldn't get my mind around anyone riding a bike there and I felt quite certain catastrophe would result. While I got used to it somewhat, and learned how forgiving the soil can be when prepared adequately, the absurdity of the lines being attempted amplified over the years as riders became more skilled and more audacious. 

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Richie Schley riding the original Rampage finals course in 2002. Photo - Christian Pondella/Red Bull Content Pool

It's hard to overstate the importance of Rampage to mountain bikers of a certain stripe. Imagine if there was only one place on earth where you could hold a big mountain ski competition or a big wave surf event? While the riding approaches Rampage in a few rare corners of the globe, only one place where it's practical to hold the competition has been found despite years of searching. 

This singularity comes with pressure and high expectations. For fans of Rampage it is sacred and needs to be treated accordingly. You can't have announcers talking out of their asses and you can't screw up the judging too badly (like one early year when several of the judges were sloshed) or you will hear about it. The same goes for the format, the location, qualified riders, coverage for both TV and internet etc. 

Keeping the fans happy and keeping the standard high is a monumental task and one that, for the most part, Todd Barber and H5 Events with the help of Red Bull, have done an excellent job with. In fact the event has become more polished, the judging has generally improved, most pre-built features have been removed, the digging time has increased and the spectacle continues to be worthy of our attention. Without a large and dedicated audience the value of the Rampage would fatally diminished and it's clear organizers have paid attention to criticism in recent years.

Vanderham

2008 saw the first pre-built stunts. Thomas Vanderham takes advantage. Photo - Ian Hylands/Red Bull Content Pool

It's well known that in the early days there was much less digging. In fact there is far more digging in a single day now than there was for the entire competition in 2002. A kicker might be built and a landing cleared out some, but compared to the colossal landings supported by tonnes of rock and sandbags, it's like building a backyard pump track vs. building A Line and Dirt Merchant combined. And there were riders who simply showed up, poached a line and never touched a tool at all, something that can't happen now. Tricks were few but the audience was more easily impressed and the vibe was amazing. 

Eventually Red Bull swung it in the other direction, constructing huge features that doubled as billboards. The Oakley Sender, The Polaris RZR Booter etc. robbed riders of creativity but they saved time and created moments we wouldn't have seen otherwise. The choice to ditch them this year and let the riders create something their own was a bold stance and the right one for the event. 

Zink Sender

Fans may not have loved the manufactured moves, but who can argue with this? Cam Zink takes the win with this massive spin. Photo - Christian Pondella/Red Bull Content Pool

This year, with a brand new venue, riders were allowed 8.5 days of digging along with two comrades and 75 sandbags. The rain on Monday the 22nd kept riders off the hill for half the day but, according to Todd Barber, some riders felt the wet weather improved digging conditions enough to compensate for the time lost. Despite this there were riders who were either digging right up until the end or who failed to complete their lines. It seemed clear that riders didn't have enough practice time because of the number of falls by the very best riders. Seeing Brandon Semenuk miss a move by a wide margin twice is rare indeed. Jordie Lunn's line was thought by many to be the gnarliest on the hill but he didn't end up riding it. While the line wasn't completed, Jordie told me Brendan Fairclough had given him the okay to ride his line. Unfortunately Jordie was dealing with food poisoning all week and half a run was all he could muster, and he hadn't been able to ride any of the bottom section.

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As is often the case, Brendog's run was popular with the people but overlooked by the judges. Photo - Christian Pondella/Red Bull Content Pool

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Fairclough goes full send. It may not be the biggest canyon gap we've seen at Rampage, but it was uber burly nonetheless.  Photo - Peter Morning/Red Bull Content Pool

Riders were able to practice and dig for four days leading up to the event (Oct. 22nd through 25th) but with so much digging to do this didn't seem to be enough time. Clean runs make for exciting competition, particularly for the second runs. Rampage has occasionally done reverse seeding for the finals, but has usually kept the run order, killing much of the suspense. Thankfully this year the riders were ordered from lowest score to highest for run two and Andreu had the chance to push Brett Rheeder late in the competition. He had a mind-blower of a run going but a crash ended his bid for a second victory.

 It seems to me that ending the dig interval several days before the event, with dig and practice days before that, would ensure riders knew their lines and had ample practice time. This problem isn't new. In 2015 Nico Vink attempted his incredibly nasty line for the first time in the finals, crashing out of the competition. In 2008, when there was a qualifier course and a finals course, Cam McCaul rode a line blind because he'd had to qualify and wasn't able to ride the finals course at all. He crashed hard and when I saw him shortly after he had no memory of his run.

Nico Vink crash
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The year Norbs got engaged rather than robbed - 2016. Photo - Christian Pondella/Red Bull Content Pool

Judging

Rampage has to be one of the hardest events to judge in action sports. There are so many factors involved that isolating a score for the chosen criteria has to be agonizingly difficult. Giving the judges access to monitors so runs could be replayed was a first this year and it's a welcome change. Another change was how the scoring was presented to the riders; they were told to ignore the value placed on each run in favour of the ranking. That makes great sense because there is no telling what is coming next, but it also means you need to nail the early scores and remember that point when you are scoring runs later.

Most of the controversy this year surrounded Brendan Fairclough's burly high speed run that included a decent-sized backflip and a massive canyon gap. For that he was awarded a 67.66 and 10th place. Brendan was clearly upset with the score but he wisely bit his tongue during his post race interview. For me Brendan's run was creative and burly, particularly his canyon and the steep chute and he ripped his line for incredible flow. If a run like that can't score then maybe Rampage needs to have two categories, one for racer types and one for the freeride crew. I for one would miss seeing racer style but with a score like that it's hard to imagine many World Cup riders making the Trek to Virgin in the future. 

Adolph Silva's score was another head scratcher. He went huge with lots of style and tossed in a big flip but ended up 11th. The fans disagreed entirely giving him the people's choice award. I wouldn't say his was the winning run but for me it was a top five. And yet with judged events there  will always be controversy. The key is managing things with transparency and the appearance of fairness. 

Silva Gore

Adolf Silva entering a low earth orbit on his way to... 11th place?  Photo - Paris Gore/Red Bull Content Pool

This year there were 6 American riders out of 18, but four of the five judges  (KC Deane, Bender, Kyle Jameson and Greg Watts) and the head judge (Randy Spangler) are American. Only Nico Vink of Belgium can claim to not be presided over by Trump. It hasn't always been this way but the judging crew is often at least half American. And if you look at the perceived judging tragedies the ones that come to mind are, Norby (Canada), Antoine Bizet (France), Tom Van Steenbergen (Canada), Brendan Fairclough (United Kingdom), Szymon Godziek (Poland) and Adolph Silva (Spain). And to my mind Ethan Nell (USA) hasn't laid down a podium worthy run for either of the last two years. Incredible runs, but not as incredible as some of the others who scored lower from my vantage point. So you have a riders who aren't American who many feel were robbed and you have judging panels stocked with riders from the U.S. 

I'm not suggesting there is anything deliberate here but anyone familiar with even basic psychology will tell you that each of us have unconscious biases and we are generally inclined to favour those a) we know better and b) who are more like us. Our countrymen fit perfectly into those categories, as do our teammates. Could it be time to mix up the judging panel to more accurately reflect the multi national make up of the ridership?* 

*Red Bull deserves credit for not having any of their sponsored athletes on the panel. 

Rampage judges 2018

A google image search for 'Rampage judges 2018' gives you some soldiers on trial in South Sudan and a few random riding shots. Nothing else. 

Another head scratcher is how little was done to let the world know about the judging this year. In previous years the judges names were published by Red Bull along with some bios and photos but this year it took some real digging for me to discover their identities. In 2016, when Mike Berard was producing stories for Red Bull, he put together an entire article on the judges with bios and video.  The names I discovered for this year were eventually verified by Todd Barber along with the judging criteria, but I don't remember ever having to dig before this. A simple google search and I was done. Again, this may not be deliberate,* but if you are trying to prevent controversy it makes sense to ramp up the transparency. 

*I could have done my digging before the event but I didn't anticipate needing to


All judges were provided with the judging criteria prior to this years event. The basics of the judging are below. We also stressed to the athletes to not stress on their individual score and to focus on executing their best run. The goal of the judges is to rank each athlete on the merit of their run and not how high their final score is. It was stressed that the winning run could have been in the 80’s and what is most important is that we get the proper ranking. Who has the number 1 run, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6…..and not who scored the 98 point run. I think a lot of people freaked when Bren-dogs score was in the 60’s, however this gave the judges the ability to go up or down in ranking depending each run. I think his final ranking was correct if you look at the judging criteria below. - Todd Barber H5 Events
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Szymon Godziek turning it for 8th place. Gore Photo - Peter Morning/Red Bull Content Pool

JUDGING FORMAT - Provided by Todd Barber

  • The best overall score from both Run 1 & Run 2 will determine final ranking 
  • In case of tie – the highest cumulative score from both runs will determine final ranking
  • One central start location located at the top of the venue and all athletes must start from start structure
  • Once the athlete leaves the start they will have 3 minutes to complete their run or they will receive a zero score – DNF

JUDGING DETAILS

  • All 5 judges’ scores will be added together and divided by 5 to get the individual average.  
  • High and low judge scores are discarded to get final score.
  • Judges to use automated judging tablets to record score
  • Judges to use a manual “Steno” to record details of each individual run 

JUDGING CATEGORIES

Overall Impression score given from the following criteria - total of 100 possible points

  1. Degree of Difficulty of chosen line 
  2. Tricks and style 
  3. Fluidity and control 
  4. Amplitude / Air 

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Another 11th place move from Adolf Silva. Photo - Peter Morning/Red Bull Content Pool

I asked Todd Barber who sees the scores and he told me this; "Only the judges and scoring company.  We keep this information private so as not to cause additional controversy.  We work extremely hard to find the right judges (all prior Rampage athletes) with the highest level of experience/knowledge and we have to trust the process once it starts."

As the FBI will tell you, if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to worry about. Many high profile events are entirely transparent about judging, revealing the name of the judge and his or her nationality every time a score is revealed. I think this would go a long way toward mitigating criticism, and perhaps this would help judges become more aware of their biases. We all have them and they are nothing to be ashamed of, but sometimes the awareness that our judgments will be made public increases our perception of these predilections. 

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Szymon Godziek playing it safe. Photo - Garth Milan/Red Bull Content Pool

Then I asked Todd about making the scoring public in the future; "Not sure how this would fix anything by trying to single out one person. After the event, the judges commented on how similar their scores were across the board. Also, with the addition of replay in video judging it allowed all the judges to watch replays of runs and compare. All judges felt their scores were correct and valid. Also we do throw out high and low scores to try and minimize any extreme difference from affecting the average."

C'mon Rampage, show us what you've got!

Andreu gore

After Adolf Silva's, the run that dropped my jaw the most was Andreu's second. Photo - Paris Gore/Red Bull Content Pool

Overall this was a really solid Rampage. The lines constructed were incredible, the level of riding was insane, and there were no major injuries to my knowledge. At the same time, any groundbreaking event must adapt and evolve in order to improve. More practice time should produce more completed runs, more transparency and a more international judging crew could reduce perceptions of bias. The only downside is that we'd have less to moan about on the internet.

Long Live Red Bull Rampage!

Comments

Kelownakona
+5 grambo cxfahrer Cam McRae Pete Roggeman Absolut-M
Kelownakona  - Nov. 8, 2018, 1:14 a.m.

You are absolutely spot on with this article.

It’s a joke it’s so guarded. It makes me think it’s even more of a carve-up now. 

Todd Barber either just doesn’t get it and is the wrong guy for this or he is covering stuff up intentionally. It makes a mockery of the contest and is an insult to many riders most notably this year Fairclough.

Even boxing (the most corrupt and fixed pro sport on the planet) even names it’s judges and what scores they gave independently. AND have them from a proper mix of nations so as to not represent one fighter more than the other.

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Kelownakona
+2 Cam McRae Pete Roggeman
Kelownakona  - Nov. 8, 2018, 1:15 a.m.

In my rant I forgot to say great work Cam - I love reading your stuff.

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cam@nsmb.com
0
Cam McRae  - Nov. 8, 2018, 6:49 p.m.

Thanks for saying so!

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Brigham_Rupp
+1 RBWebb
Brigham_Rupp  - Nov. 8, 2018, 8:19 p.m.

I agree but I have to air a couple grievances: First, you never said why you love or hate Rampage. Unless I missed that part. Second, are you really worried about nationality bias or was that tongue-in-cheek? I'm all for a diverse group of judges, but I see little evidence of bias. Of all Rampage podiums, 11 have been from the USA. 28 from elsewhere. Winners? 3 from USA and 10 from elsewhere. If anything there's a Canada bias, with 62% or wins. Or, maybe winners tend to be riders who come from big mountains and have easier access to southern Utah and similar terrain? 

I love a good conspiracy theory, but maybe the reality is, this is just a really hard event to judge. For a few reasons. You have a group of riders from multiple disciplines, who do not compete on the same course, and whose terrain is difficult for the judges (and even harder for the public) to comprehend. I can't think of another event that is this tricky. 

Maybe the judges pretty much have it all right according to their criteria and the public just has different tastes, or even worse, we're just clueless about what's really going on out there? 

Here's my two cents: after all the hype and all the hard work, it kills me to not see any one of those guys not complete their line. The fact that we didn't get to see everything Semenuk was planning ruined it for me. So I would propose more practice time or more runs in the final. Enough that everyone has a legit shot at cleaning their line. 

Second, I'm sick of hearing everyone's opinion except the riders. Why not let the riders pick the winner? They could vote on best overall run, most technical line, best trick... how could we argue with their choice? Not a complete jam session like Fest, but maybe bring in some Fest-type elements? Would that ruin the bottom line for Redbull?

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cam@nsmb.com
0
Cam McRae  - Nov. 8, 2018, 8:52 p.m.

I guess I could have been more clear about the elements I appreciate and those that irk me some. I didn't write it as a list or a spreadsheet but I mentioned several things I love about Rampage and several I wasn't so hot on. Sorry if that wasn't clear. 

What I said was there is the perception of bias, and that bias towards those we know and who are similar to us is unavoidable and well documented scientifically. These are unconscious rather than deliberate or mean spirited. Then I listed the riders that fans and commentators have suggested (rightly or wrongly) received scores lower than their runs deserved - none of whom are American. There are six judges and 5 are American, and this is an international competition. That makes no sense to me and it certainly wasn't tongue in cheek. 

I proposed more practice time and mentioned that it was very unusual to see Semenuk miss a move twice by a wide margin. I talked to Jordie Lunn about practice time and he told me that he was unable to finish his line or get enough practice in. That's one of the things I dislike about Rampage - incomplete runs.

Rider judged events with money involved get tricky. Riders have biases towards those who they know well and with whom they share sponsors. I like the concept but I don't think it's practical. Judged events  will always be controversial unfortunately, and because there are so many variables involved in Rampage (as I mentioned) it's one of the hardest events to judge. 

Thanks for your comments.

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Brigham_Rupp
+1 Cam McRae
Brigham_Rupp  - Nov. 8, 2018, 9:11 p.m.

Good reply. I was mostly teasing about the love/hate part. I see your point about the bias, but I struggle to believe that’s a big factor. I’m fully with you on more practice time and a way to complete runs. Problem is, I assume all the infrastructure costs a ton they want to do it quickly and all at once. For sure it’s just a tough event. Maybe it’s time for the community to get over it and honor the judges choices. Or accept that what we really love about Rampage is debating who won!

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Tuskaloosa
+2 Cam McRae Pete Roggeman
Tuskaloosa  - Nov. 8, 2018, 4:38 a.m.

Well written Cam.

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cam@nsmb.com
0
Cam McRae  - Nov. 8, 2018, 6:50 p.m.

Cheers! I appreciate it.

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Kieran
+2 Endur-Bro Velocipedestrian
Kieran  - Nov. 8, 2018, 9:30 a.m.

This year wasn't the first year that they removed the Red Bull Evel Knievil style woodwork. Last year benefited from it too :)

Personally I'd love to see more of a return back to its roots (the last two years have to some extent).

I think tricks should be scored much lower than line choice and speed / style. Some of the riders lines are basically manicured all the way down the mountain, like a much steeper Crankworx course. While its impressive, there's already well established events that scores for these.

Rampage should be about death defying chutes, hucks and gaps - Finding features on the hill that make impressive stunts (like Brendans rock) and riding terrain that should be impossible to all but the most skilled riders. 

Keeps the tricks to the mega booter events and hopefully this would level the scoring field for the majority of the riders.

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Brigham_Rupp
0
Brigham_Rupp  - Nov. 8, 2018, 8 p.m.

I think it's dangerous to artificially reduce the value of tricks. I think it's bad news any time you try to limit, via the judging, anything these guys can do. Think of it this way. Is there any doubt Brett Rheeder or Andreu could make a smooth run on Fairclough's line? But Fairclough can't do what Brett or Andreu did. Tricks are related to the degree of difficulty. Telling the riders that on any given feature, certain tricks won't score higher than others just kills progress. If they want to limit tricks, they could reduce the amount of time they have to work on the lines. Make it so they can't build features that easily tricked. 

I was surprised by how manicured the mountain ended up, but I still don't think it's fair to compare it to Crankworks. Most strictly-slopestyle guys cannot come out and ride, let alone trick, these lines. They're all "death defying chutes, hucks and gaps - features on the hill that make impressive stunts." There's nothing basic on the hill.

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Kieran
+1 Cam McRae
Kieran  - Nov. 9, 2018, 8:53 a.m.

I agree, limit time on building or whatever is needed to reduce trick scoring.

But I would say there have been plenty of Slopestyle riders that have come and had a go at Rampage.? Even this year there was a good number. I think a good slopestyle rider can easily get their head around riding down the hill as long as it pretty well groomed.

Oh and Brendan finished his line way before anyone else and was riding. Everyone else was still buffing the shit out of the mountain.

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cam@nsmb.com
0
Cam McRae  - Nov. 8, 2018, 10:03 p.m.

Thanks Kieran! I guess they are all blending together for me!

Excellent points as well.

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esteban
-4 ReductiMat Velocipedestrian thaaad Brigham_Rupp
Esteban  - Nov. 8, 2018, 5:39 p.m.

Send. Gnarl. Gnarly. Yeaboi. "Burly", that's a new one. You sound as bad as the surfers with their ridiculous far outs, dudes and rads...

You make what could be a decent article completely unreadable.

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cam@nsmb.com
+4 Morgan Heater ReductiMat thaaad Brigham_Rupp
Cam McRae  - Nov. 8, 2018, 6:49 p.m.

Haha! Thanks for coming out. This is a mountain bike publication. If you were looking for the Wall St. journal you’ve come to the wrong place. 

Others seemed able to read this but I’ll take the blame if that makes you feel better. 

Cheers! 

What’s your problem with burly though? Never heard that word?

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thaaad
+1 Cam McRae
thaaad  - Nov. 8, 2018, 9:27 p.m.

Way to gloss over the intent of the article but focusing on something completely superficial.

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TU
+1 Cam McRae
TU  - Nov. 8, 2018, 7:51 p.m.

Hats off, great insight Cam. My wife and I went to the 2017 Rampage site last December and were blown away by what we saw. God bless the guys who rode those lines...the scope of the place is indescribable. It's pretty awesome looking up from the base area, but a complete, total mind warp to look down from the top. They're the best. Period.

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Ian-Collins
0
Ian-Collins  - Nov. 9, 2018, 11:35 a.m.

While there are some things in here that I agree with such as a more transparent judging process, there are some claims here that are absolutely baseless and ludicrous. 

No one who has scrambled around on those hills will tell you that the best vantage point is from the TV. The athletes, judges, organizers, video guys and photo guys have the best sense of what's going on because they've studied it in person. The viewers on site and at home, do not. The only way to get true scope is to walk up and down the hill and look at every single feature from above and below, which is exactly what all of the judges did and do. I saw them walking around, and eyeing things up all day - every day and that's what they do every year.

On judging - there isn't some American conspiracy (subconscious, or otherwise) at play. That's utterly absurd, even with the armchair psychologist remarks. The majority of the athletes who have competed in Rampage over the broad timeline have been American or Canadian. Outside of the US and Canada, there isn't exactly a long list of people from European countries (and others) who have attended multiple times, are up to speed with the current state of freeride and are even willing to judge the event. The real issue is that no one in their right mind WANTS to judge Rampage. There are a handful of Canadians (Vanderham, Simmons, Shandro come to mind) who are widely respected by athletes across the spectrum, but they have ZERO interest in judging. Trust me, the athletes (yes, even the American ones) would love to see those guys judging. I don't blame them for not wanting to - it's a horrible job.

With your logic, the judging would immediately become fairer if only there was more diversity (the answer to all of the world's problems!)....OK then. That would mean that everything would go off without a hitch if we could just fire Kyle Jameson, Randy Spangler, etc. and replace them with guys like retired 4X racer Michal Maroši, other retired 4X racer Guido Tschugg, Cedric Gracia, Andrew Mills, Greg Minnaar and a slew of others who have never flipped or spun off of a 30 foot cliff or 50 foot jump in their life. But hey, those guys are from The Czech Republic, Germany, France, NZ, and South Africa. Look at all that diversity! Rampage judging issue solved!

I hate to break it to you, but that would solve precisely nothing. The list of relevant, willing judges, is very short, and their nationality has nothing to do with anything whatsoever.

As for "perceived judging tragedies", hardly anyone on the hill thought that Adolf got robbed. (He's also from Spain, not Belgium). On that note though, two people that you left off of the list are Tyler McCaul and Cam Zink - who just happen to be American - and in years past, it was widely agreed upon by athletes and others on the hill that they have been underscored more than once.

Just my 2 cents as someone who's made ~75-100 trips up and down those hills over the last 7 years.

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cam@nsmb.com
0
Cam McRae  - Nov. 9, 2018, 12:18 p.m.

Thanks for chiming in Ian. Interesting comments. 

I too have scrambled up those hills many times and for many of the riders' runs - and it seems most of them this year since even the judges were watching monitors - it's impossible to see them top to bottom standing in one place because of the ridge lines and gullies. Photographers generally try to get one shot for each rider which is still challenging, and  I did not say home was the best place to appreciate the scope of the event or appreciate what the riders are up to (having seen the event many times I would never say that). What I was getting at is that watching every run top to bottom from one spot is nearly impossible and moving around during the event is challenging as well, assuming you could practically move during the event that is, which certainly isn't always the case. 

I stand by my contention that an international competition should have an international judging panel. I'm fine with you disagreeing. Spangler, Bender and Kyle Jameson haven't flipped or spun off fifty foot cliffs to my knowledge either, but they are certainly capable and well-respected judges. And while finding a more diverse judging panel may be challenging I think it would be worth the effort. 

Thanks for the correction for Adolf. Not sure how I did that but I will amend. Having watched his run again and comparing it to others I stand by my contention there as well. His run was amazing.

Cheers! I appreciate you taking the time to comment.

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Kieran
0
Kieran  - Nov. 9, 2018, 12:23 p.m.

If the judges don't want to judge then give the vote to the people. With technology as it is these days you could easily score each run as it happens.

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Kevin26
0
Kevin26  - Nov. 14, 2018, 10 a.m.

Pure fan vote, then we'd end up with a popularity contest.

Also I don't think transparency would help with anything,  would only help the angry internet mobs single out who 'robbed' their favourite rider and make being a judge even less appealing. 

Do you think the judges would change their scores if they knew they were being published? The only change they would make would to be going against their judgement and score a popular rider higher to avoid scrutiny. 

And the judging panel is fair, how can you expect the most experienced (and willing) judges for an American event to not be mostly American.  Lots of American riders get 'robbed' but fairclough gets the label of most robbed this year because his run was unique (hard to compare against the others) and he's a very popular rider so lots of out cry from fans. 

I think it works pretty well considering its a near impossible event to judge.

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