High summer certainly is a beautiful thing and nowhere more so than in the gravity Mecca of Châtel, in the French Alps. Deep blue skies above monstrous berms and gaps provided a strong foundation for shooting the launch the Propain Spindrift. Add to that two big names from the DH and freeride scene and there's surprisingly little to get wrong. Kiwi George Brannigan, of World Cup and shreddit fame, and Austrian Clemens Kaudela, of Dark Fest and Nine Knights reknown, were the pilots to be brought together to give this long-travel bike a memorable beginning.
Our photo shoot would prelude some intense days looking to capture the four elements; earth, fire, water and air on video, the result of which
you might remember from last September. Vink Line, Air Voltage, the Reboul Jam jumps and some lesser known zones off the beaten trail were exploited for the greater good. We also dusted off the infamous shark fin from the Châtel Mountain Style course and certainly did not regret it. Looking back now from the dead of winter/lockdown, hopefully it inspires you for an epic summer to come, rather than crushing your soul. Well, you choose the outcome.
George kicked off proceedings alone after the airlines lost Clemens' luggage in classic fashion. This gave us a chance to explore the latest developments in the bike park and give the ever-rampant Mr Brannigan an idea of the bike's capabilities. After a lot of rain earlier in the summer, roots and rocks were super slick and there were deep ruts being reworked on the main lines.
With Clemens finally reunited with his gear we were keen to see he and George start to turn up the heat and start dodging some cows. The heat and harsh light of the midday sun is never the photographer's favourite, but we had a lot of air miles to get underway and now a little less time to fly it in. Getting into the action, some dubious light did little to detract from the spectacle.
The freshly re-worked Vink Line was running a treat and George and Clemens weren't taking any prisoners on the huge sun-baked hits. The odd first-time case was always corrected immediately on the second hit with some complimentary steeze thrown in. Cows were a genuine hazard, but we all secretly hoped for a shot of the guys flying high over the top of a mid-track beast. We weren't so lucky this time.
Later in the afternoon we turned our attention to 'The Face'; aka the old 'Mountain Style' slopestyle course of years gone by. Untouched for several seasons, some truly enormous and imaginatively-shaped hits lie buried under thigh-high grass. It was actually quite sad to see this jaw-dropping site that gets the evening sun so neglected, but we gather the risk of injury for your average summer visitor is just that bit too high for the resort to bear. Understandable if you've ever stood at the top of the old Scott step-down that welcomes riders to the site.
Luckily enough, our feature of choice was one that required the least amount of work to get back in shape; the shark fin step-down. Maybe one of these summers we'll see the whole area returned to action, but for now we were happy enough to see George and Clemens bring their own brands of finesse to this burly feature.
With George absolutely spent from his unrelentingly commitment to the shovel and some big air under our belts, we resorted to seeking some local knowledge about town for somewhere more off-grid and au-natural. Shuttling up to another part of the valley, we discovered an amazing forest descent that ticked all the boxes. A natural singletrack, carving through ferns and pine needles we couldn't believe it's apparent lack of traffic. Descending and shooting until the sun dipped and the light failed us, the French loam treated us well.
Back in the bike park and we went to check out the Air Voltage trail and some surrounding lines. George and Clemens were happy to have their wheels off the ground again over a few North Shore features and send the black dirt flying in between. Most of the features needed a good scope before dropping as you never quite know the magnitude of what you're getting into on this part of the hill. We found a great little river-crossing to shoot a couple of key shots for the elements campaign.
If you've ever visited Châtel, you should be familiar with the jump line created by French freerider, Louis Reboul, a couple of seasons back for his jump jam. You actually can't miss them as they run right next to the car park. It's a great place to sit back and watch the pros and more experienced (read unhinged) riders take on the big stuff after a long day running the lifts.
Bienvenido Aguado had already amassed a good size crowd and George and Clemens joined in with a good blend of amplitude and style. Clemens had the last word of the evening and our shoot showing us the kind of moves he's so easily capable of with some huge supermans and flip-nacs.
Really the work was just beginning for the guys with 5 days video shooting still ahead of them. Still the photos and ground work finding the best spots was done. The models had certainly done us proud. Take a look back at the edit here
in case you missed it.