The new Red Bull Rampage site is visually deceiving. The depth and complexity of the terrain make the start gate appear lower than at past sites - however, it is actually higher and staff and athletes both can attest to the extra effort required to access it this year.
"We've been searching always for new locations," says Rampage Founder and owner of H5 Events, Todd Barber. "We've been coming out here for years and we're always looking and searching." In 2007 he came to this canyon along with Darren Berrecloth scouting for a new location for an event called Red Bull Rage. The project didn't happen, but in the process, a build crew, including Big Red Ted (Tempany), came down to check out the location. "We were standing on top of the mountain and we looked over and saw that hill over there," Todd gestures to the right of us. "We went over and checked it out and we started talking about 'Hey, this could be a good Rampage site.'"
That site they were looking at became the 2008 Red Bull Rampage location. "We did four years there and that was a really good site. After that, we came over on the backside and then did the far one over there. But after last year's site, we were kind of getting low on the next places to go. This spot was always kind of in our sights, so we came here again with Aggy and T-Mac and hiked the site again and everybody felt like this was the time to do it - 11 years later we came back."
Coming into a brand-new site will always have positives and negatives. One of the positives is that it levels the playing field for athletes, while a challenge is the massive amount of work required to make it ridable. This year the riders were given a half day to walk to the site and plan before commencing work - "so they could not feel the stress of putting a shovel in the dirt and with that, collaborate and figure out how they are going to build it," says Todd. "At the Athlete Meeting, I told the guys that they have to come in here with a game plan. They're going to have to manage how many days they have to build and how many days they have to practice and how many hits they want to have so that they make sure by the time Thursday comes they have a top to bottom run that they feel comfortable riding."
With changes over the years including no qualifying athletes and fewer diggers per rider, tackling a brand-new canyon is a massive job. "I think a lot of them came here with a good approach to collaborate - I've seen Strait and Zink building and other guys building part of their line up there together. The riders are kind of spread out in groups, which I've never seen them do before. It was kind of like 'you guys do that, and we'll do this and then we will share it together,' it's been a really cool thing to see."
The consensus among riders seems to favor a new location over returning to a past one. "Everybody is on a level playing field, I think that's the biggest thing. The tough thing with a second-year site is that you've got guys who were there before and then you have guys who weren't there for whatever reason - maybe they got injured or they're rookies - and there's nowhere to go for them. And the guys who were here that year before maybe they're just thinking about it all year, what they want to do, and they tend to build bigger and maybe scarier. Where this is, this year, they are just building to get to the finish line. It tends to be way more relaxed on a first-year venue."
After getting rained out in the morning, athletes and builders were working constantly yesterday afternoon to repair any damage from the storm and continue to move their lines further up and down the canyon. The tapping of shovels echoed while shouts of excitement and frustration punctuated the occasional trundle. Looking up at this point it is hard to fathom how most of the impressive landings will be fed, especially as the measurements being read off seem unreasonable - but in only four days' time, the best freeriders in the world will make the descent of this monster canyon look unnervingly effortless.