Photo Epic: The Slate Line - Behind The Scenes With Gee Atherton

Apr 3, 2021
by Dan Griffiths  


Following hot on the heels of the spectacularly exposed “The Ridgeline” Gee tackles a brand new line at a disused slate quarry in Wales.

Watch the film, here:


In his constant quest to progress the sport, Gee sets out to conquer a moving mountain with one of the biggest gaps he’s ever jumped and a super-sharp surface where any mistake will not be forgiven.

These images by Dan Griffiths capture the mental and physical processes involved in producing and riding such a line and some next-level bike handling in a uniquely brutal setting.

Words by Gill Harris.

Scoping: Gee says he’s driven past this mountain hundreds of times but dismissed it as impossible. Then one day in January, Gee and Jamie Robertson - Gee’s right-hand man on the dig crew - got out of the truck and hiked up…

The next stage was to go up there with the full dig crew. “You have to wait for the line to show itself..."
"Possibilities slowly crawl out of the mountain, segment by segment. The crew I work with are all great riders and creative builders, I rely on them a lot to keep me in check with honest feedback.”

"Projects like this escalate. The initial plan was to go up, scratch some kind of line and blast down the mountain... in the end, we dug for 6 weeks."

"When I know that I'm going to have to bring my A-Game it weighs heavy in the weeks leading up to that first ride. I wake up at night thinking about it, it's the first thought on my mind when I wake up in the morning..."

"But there was a moment at the start of testing when I looked up and I saw the whole mountain above me and I knew it was possible."

It was a completely unknown quantity, compounded by the fact that rocks would constantly move, dislodged by the rain, footsteps or by work at a different level. Gee said “There were times when we’d work for hours or even a couple of days then someone would say "It's going to be too dangerous..." abandoning the work we’d put in during the bleakest conditions was brutal.”

It’s a pretty eerie place with a lot of history. It was more than just the physical danger (though Gee said he spent the first week “genuinely scared” of tumbling off an edge into a 400-foot mine shaft.

At the bottom of the run there are three small, stone buildings. It turns out that one of these is the mortuary.
Over 200 men have died here in the cause of their work. Gee said "I was so glad that nobody told me about this before we'd finished filming."

There has been quarrying here for hundreds of years, the mountain is literally hollowed out by caverns. It's believed that the first slate was mined here as early as the 14th century. Thanks to Andy and Janice Taylor for loaning the map.

“After a few weeks you definitely acclimatize to the environment – we noticed it most when anyone new came up.”

“Of course it's easy enough to say you're not scared when you're on foot... as soon as you swing your leg over bike it's a different story."

"As soon as you drop in the whole surface of the mountain starts to flow downwards, dragging you with it... super sharp fragments battering the bike as you go."

The hike up was brutal.
Going down was tough but getting back up was no picnic either.

"When you're in the quarry it's pretty quiet, there's an occasional crow and the faint noise of the open workings across the valley but it's the shattering of slate underneath your wheels that really breaks the silence."

"The entire line is steep, rough, sharp, and totally gnarly, dropping 310 metres in about 360 metres of track. That averages out at about 40 degrees, though in parts it's much steeper."

On this type of terrain you don't have the option to session the track over and over so it was important to get the capture every angle that we could.

The entry to this drop was a really awkward traverse before a heavy fall to flat.

There was no opportunity to slow down through this corner, Gee said "I'm just going to close my eyes and send her through the gap."

We spotted a gap through the old freight workings...

...but the landing sent Gee through a ridiculously small gap...

...off-camber and flat out, just inches from a wall that could slice his fingers off.

81 feet is one of the biggest gaps Gee has ever hit. “The first time I hit it I went so deep I came down on the second half of the landing. It felt like I was in the air for a very long time!”

Job Done.

For more about Atherton Bikes: www.athertonbikes.com.


43 Comments

  • 67 1
 Absolutely Brilliant building, riding and video editing.
And extra kudos for not going metal with spinning drone shots :-)
  • 58 0
 Man with all that freeriding Gee's gotta watch out to not get brought over from Fox to Marzocchi. Course looks super gnarly, crazy how good he can ride.
  • 1 0
 @upduro I see what you did there.
  • 20 0
 Amazing rider and great filming can't get enough of gee riding he should build lines everywhere.
  • 17 1
 Further examples of Gee’s mastery of the “stand tall and look into the distance” pose.
  • 9 0
 I think you find that’s blue steel
  • 15 1
 Mountain biking , completed it mate - Gee Atherton 2021 .
  • 9 0
 Amazing photos, love them and really tell the story behind the 4min film.
  • 8 0
 The mines of Moria...
  • 2 1
 Yes, Brujo. I wonder if this place, or one like it, is where Tolkien got his ideas for the land of Mordor.
  • 2 0
 @RayDolor:
Check out this article.... You're not too far off!

www.geocities.ws/lotrfans03/shropmag.htm
  • 5 0
 Next up - The Mine Line ?
  • 5 2
 Wales seems to be a really great spot to find lines like these. Awesome place. I just wonder if the weather is shitty as elsewhere on the island
  • 25 1
 No, Wales has it's own micro climate, especially the north. 300+ days of sunshine guaranteed every year.
  • 3 0
 yes
  • 1 0
 @commental: But don't forget your cagool
  • 4 0
 You say "shitty", but as soon as your wheels start turning the weather disappears. Wet, muddy slippy conditions are the norm here and probably go someway to explaining why a country of just 3 million people has produced so many top world cup DH riders.
  • 2 0
 @MumblesBarn: Word! I admire all you Brits for the sick all weather riding you do, not giving a shit about the conditions.
  • 1 0
 @Rainozeros: truth is, is us Brits only rode our bikes in good weather, we’d only ride for 4 or 5 months each year
  • 2 0
 @markyp1965: if that!
It’s April and yesterday it was glorious sunshine in the morning and mid afternoon yet it snowed on the evening, go figure!
  • 1 0
 @commental: it's called canary wales!!
  • 5 0
 What kind of tires are you using Gee? "solid rubber"
  • 5 0
 I have a hunch they're not EXO.
  • 3 0
 No soft fluffy stuff to land on, like rampage?
Wonder how many sets of tyres Gee went through?
  • 1 0
 One pair.
  • 1 0
 Incredible riding by one of the best there has ever been. From his Tignes crash, being the only rider to hit the big wall ride at Rampage, Hardline, This... Think he won a WC or 2 too!
  • 4 0
 Absolutely savage.
  • 4 1
 Awesome, love Gee's creativity and hard work!
  • 1 2
 So this is fantastic technical rad riding, a magnificent vision and a great film project but guys you're bad ass enough without shoving it down everyone's throat with over the top text of how gnarly this is. Every caption reads...'look how totally crazy and dangerous this is but we're really bad ass'. Take a humble pill and your foot off the red bull pedal a bit.
  • 1 0
 Wow. A lot harder surfaces than out here in Utah but, final drop aside, I’d love to take a crack at this line.
  • 2 0
 that step down was one for the ages! wild!
  • 1 0
 Big props to the photographer these shot are amazing
  • 2 0
 WTF! Gee is a madman!
  • 1 0
 Gee has been raising the bar of the sport since I can remember. Legend.
  • 1 0
 Another top video from Gee. Love the photography in this article.
  • 1 0
 Gee narly
  • 1 0
 Nuts !
  • 1 0
 Oh sweet, Plattekill...
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