In an age where brand definition is a key component for most players in the action sport arena, Mike Hopkins and Casey Brown are two riders who have continued to flourish despite their broad strokes. Happy riding Rampage and World Cup DH, you are just as likely to find these two athletes camping beneath the stars - Though good luck venturing into the wilderness where Mike and Casey seek to explore.
Indeed, It’s often debated weather nature or nurture shapes individual personalities but it could be considered that nature formed part of the nurture that both Mike and Casey received in their formative years. Rossland and Revelstoke, BC certainly carry weight if we’re going to discuss backcountry environments. For Mike, the transition from Ski pro to MTB pro has been fluid and transnational in the way he has brought his own unique vision to the sport. If you’re brought up in Rossland, adventure is ingrained in your psyche and often what seems beyond the bounds of sanity to most is a thing of habit to you.
The same applies to Casey, though she has the structure of WC DH behind her, it’s fair to say that she is arguably the best proponent of jumping skills of any female in the sport. Revelstoke is a different town in feel to Rossland, but still conveys an attitude that to get where you want to go, self determination is going to be a key factor in anyone's life. One attribute they definitely share is snowy winters. Inevitably, each year Mike and Casey hit the road to find some lingering light away from the powder deep confines of pine clad mountains. Of course riders have been doing this for as long as the sport has been a viable profession.
For a while the DH set sought out Huntington Beach, a few hit Australia, others the Southern French mountains. Now we have a whole myriad who come to Queenstown, with its life accessed riding, a well structured club and trails thanks to the QMTBC and of course as it’s off season, a party atmosphere that, let's say can refresh the brain for the next 6 months on the road. Except the reality is that Mike and Casey have found a sense of place in Queenstown. Both have become well integrated within the local community and if you were to visit Atlas beer café on a Friday evening, you’d think they were staple parts of a vibrant scene that seems to grow each year.
This two way process is what keeps Queenstown kicking. The mountain bike club have been the driving force in turning this lakeside town into a globally iconic destination. Their liaison with government bodies, local businesses and a long term strategic aim have brought more riders to the town and allowed the local community to justify building trails that have put a big red dot on most mountain biker's globes. The non-biking community has engaged with an articulate, dynamic and positive mountain bike scene and club.
The trails aside, these two Canadians could be considered almost locals for more reasons than bikes. Casey’s Mum lives a few hours outside of Queenstown and she lived on the South Island as a youngster. Often barefooted, with an infectious smile, you could be forgiven for taking Casey as a modern day, free-spirited hippy. Yet underneath lies a grit and determination that could perhaps be tenuously attributed to her time spent here as a child.
Indeed, the NZ government website gives a somewhat stimulating insight to New Zealand, “New Zealand is roughly midway between Antarctica and the tropics, lying between 34° and 47° latitude south. This spans the 'roaring forties', which can bring high winds and stormy seas to much of the country. The northern outlying islands are subtropical, while those in the south are sub-antartic.
Why a deeper connection to this bustling town and sparsely populated country has been formed is quite clear, yet the spark that brought these two here is still more than relevant. The riding is simply world class and when coupled with an abundance of space, the platform Otago and the rest of NZ provides is a palpable smorgasbord of creative options in a sport where finding a niche is becoming harder. All while the desire for difference is becoming greater.
Both riders are known for seeking out unexplored terrain, yet sometimes there is a reason that trails become traffic-heavy and you keep going back. Simply put - they’re great. Mike in particular has a creative mind away from just riding - a lot of these images bear his influence in how he sees the sport, and what he likes. Having previously ridden with Mike but never worked with him, it was refreshing to see his dedication to excellence in action.
For many travellers, New Zealand is a country of bright blue skies in summer, living up to its long white cloud name. For Mike and myself, the few days we spent shooting were golden light with a clarity rarely seen elsewhere. Golden hour isn’t a new thing, but it’s a unique thing this far south. They talk about perfection and 41º South isn't a bad place to start.
The trails we shot on are now World famous but a sign of Mike's difference is that the night we shot Rude Rock and the newer Pack and Sack track on Coronet Peak, I passed Mike halfway through the gruelling climb to the base of Rude Rock. I asked him if he’d like a lift up - his reply was polite but definite, “No thanks
”. He continued the climb before he was expected to ride like he stole it in front of the lens.
For Casey, adventures are a part of her career, but she must balance this with a certain structure that you need when racing at WC level. It wasn't unusual for me to spot Casey out on the roads in Gibbston Valley with regularity. Here is a rider that is using this environment for all the right reasons. The evening Callum and Casey went to shoot the now famous Coronet Hip, there were a few male WC racers sessioning the jump. This jump isn’t small and before Casey had even put her goggles on we had to witness a fairly respectable racer ring his bell hard. Undeterred, Casey saddled up and went as high as we’ve seen anyone go. No fuss, no drama. Just stoked on life and bikes.
This to me was a perfect situation to sum up the correlation between what New Zealand and these two riders have to offer. No matter how popular they become, they will still always be what they always were. Tough, uncompromising yet ingrained with a certain charm that keeps everyone looking.
Thanks to QMTBC for building such a great selection of trails and of course thanks to Jimmy Carling, Paul Angus and others who joined us for fun and evening steaks at Atlas Beer Cafe.