Controversy has followed Rampage judging since its inception and has long been the most talked about aspect of the event.
Most notable was in 2012, also known as the year that ‘Norbs Got Robbed.’ Outraged viewers and fans took to the internet to vent about the injustices they witnessed – including Greg Minnaar, who tweeted, ‘WOW @redbull Rampage judges have no clue...2 great runs by @TylerMcCaul @CamMcCaul and they sit in 5th and 6th. Have the judges ever ridden??’ In fact only one of them, Josh Bender, had ever ridden a Rampage course.
| Gully's been judging some events this year so he's got some good basis behind it, Bender's been a judge at this event quite a few times so he understands it, and then those guys have ridden it. We've also gone through a viewing of last year, we've talked a lot about stuff, and we've been walking through the lines - I think it's going to come out great! - Randy Spangler|
The judges’ panel in 2012 – and most years – was a mix of judges from other sports and long time mountain bikers, but not Rampage competitors. And while this may have caused a furious amount of angry typing from those at home, it was the riders who suffered the most. Whether the scores were accurate or not, they were risking their lives without the confidence of being scored accurately by people who truly understood what they were accomplishing.
As recently as last year controversy followed the judging when Cam Zink chose not to take a second run after being disappointed by the judges’ scoring of his first. “I didn't do my second run because it wasn't worth it. We are risking our lives out here. Paul [Bas] got carted off and couldn't feel his legs when they Care Flighted him out. My run was as it was. I mean I could have cleaned it up a hair, I could have done a little bit better but not a lot. It would have been a tiny bit better, maybe fifth, maybe fourth, but they weren't liking what I was doing today, so it wasn't worth risking my life. That heavy of a run, the scariest, gnarliest run I've ever done in my life - to do it again to maybe gain a place or two? It's just not worth it,” said Cam immediately following the 2015 competition.
|The past Rampage riders are the only ones who truly know how gnarly, intense and risky riding rampage is. You need that humbling experience to understand what your peers are going through in their runs. I don't know how exactly it will be different. I do know there will be a lot of eyes on us and it will be the toughest job on the hill, 100%. - Geoff Gulevich|
In an effort to rectify these issues, and give more confidence to the athletes, a panel of judges who are all past competitors has been appointed for this year. Randy Spangler (Head Judge), Josh Bender, Kyle Jameson, Mike Kinrade, Geoff Gulevich, and Nico Vink will be the ones scoring this year’s event. “Not that [the past judges] didn’t do a great job, but from a rider’s perspective, unless you’ve been in that start gate and on that hill, you really can’t put it into a judging criteria, so I think it helps the riders to have that confidence in knowing that we’ve all been there,” says Head Judge, Randy Spangler. “I think it’s great and a lot of it was based around what the riders were hoping for and wanting. Not only am I excited that it’s gone that way, but also that those guys are behind having rider based judges.”
While Randy and Bender have past experience judging Rampage, Geoff, Kyle, Nico, and Mike are all new to it this year. But Randy’s confident that they are ready, “there’s a lot of education for these guys coming into it. It’s not like we’re just throwing them on the stand to give an award to their best friend. Basically – and I hate to say it – on that day [the riders] are all a number. I mean, they’re all great people and they’re all our friends, but we want to reward the guy that puts his stuff on the line that day and give him the prize for it.”
After his experience last year, Cam Zink is completely behind this new direction, “I think it’s the perfect direction. It’s all opinions at the end of the day no matter what way you slice it. It’s six judges, so six opinions, and they’re going to differ with people and there’s going to be conflict and controversy, but the only way to really limit that and reduce it is by having former riders – people who have lived and breathed it. And apparently all the judges have competed at Rampage, which is insane. Some are fairly current riders still so they not only have ridden, but that also means they are living the same sport; they pay attention to progression, they watch the little things that really matter and that we take pride in. Judges be judges, but it’s better to have people who have ridden it than people who are just snowboarders or something.”
“As a professional judge you might have an inkling of what it takes, but if you’ve already ridden it and you’re an ex-competitor you know what it’s going to take,” says veteran Rampage Judge, Josh Bender. “I mean these guys know what it’s going to take so it’s going to be a tough cookie to crack - so to speak, because these guys are going to be like ‘that wasn’t a winning like because of this, and this, and this,’ and you’re like, ‘oh, maybe they’re right.’
| I think it's important to have a rider judged panel that has competed in this particular event because it's its own beast . You need to know what it takes to build a line in that amount of time in this heat as well as test it and ride when the pressures on. - Kyle Jameson|
Kyle Jameson who’s judging here for the first time says it wasn’t an easy decision for him to make, “but when I thought about it, I had all the right ingredients to make a good judge for this event and I want to see my friends get judged fairly while putting their lives on the line.”
Without a doubt, opinions about the judging and who got robbed will flood the internet again this year – but the difference in this new approach is the confidence that the riders have going into some of the biggest lines and tricks of their lives.