Red Bull Formation is both an exciting beginning and the culmination of something years in the making. Women in freeride mountain biking have been chipping away creating a women’s freeride scene for years, and now, the movement has gathered enough momentum to hit a tipping point.
For Katie Holden, Formation is the product of pursuing a dream, falling short, and trying again. Katie spent the first decade of the 2000s as a racer because, at the time, that was the clearest path to having a riding career. The next decade brought change, first as she pursued freeride goals, then as she broadened her focus from her own riding to something much bigger than any one person.
She first encountered freeride in 2010. It was foreign and fascinating to her. Over the next few years, she became progressively more transfixed by the discipline. She signed with Liv in as an ambassador and media rider, rather than a racer, at a time when very few riders – especially women – pursued that path. As a four-time Rampage digger, she learned everything she could alongside the veterans and tried to soak it all in. She fully immersed herself in freeriding, relentlessly chasing her big mountain goals, and while she didn’t proclaim her intentions to the world, she wanted to be the woman to break into Rampage. Instead, an injury derailed her hopes. That was when, she said, her dreams came crashing down.
While the story could have ended there, it didn’t. She mulled over the idea of women entering the freeride scene. Her contemporaries – Casey Brown, Vero Sandler, and so many more – have put women’s freeride on the map, have broken boundaries, have made history – but women have remained largely on the fringes of the sport as notable mentions or exceptions. There have been events over the years, and some have been wildly successful, but women’s freeride has remained underdeveloped. It just hasn’t had as much time to establish itself as the men’s side of the sport has. After spending the better part of a decade absorbed in Rampage and the big mountain freeride world, Katie knew she wanted women to have something similar of their own.
In 2019, it was time for action, but Katie didn’t feel she had the expertise and resources it would take to put on a freeride event, so it would take some major help. Still, she dreamed. One day, she said, she pulled over while driving four or five times to write down ideas about what it would take to create a successful women’s freeride event. That same day, out of the blue, a mentor from Red Bull contacted her to talk about creating something eerily like what she had envisioned. It was already summer. The idea snowballed into action, and by the fall, it was reality. The first-ever Red Bull Formation took place October 2019.Formation
What does Formation look like? It’s three days of digging, then a rest day, then three days of riding. (In 2019, there were just two dig days and two ride days.) This year, it’s at the 2008 through 2013 Rampage site, where the hillside is still scattered with relics of old drops and jumps; some overgrown, some sun-cracked, all evoking the ghosts of past Rampage runs. Today, we stood at the edge of the dirt where the old Oakley Sender sat. Some people there today were there back then, too. I wasn’t, but I sure as hell have watched the videos. Other spots, too, were steeped in history. “This was Kyle Strait’s entrance,” we overheard from a group digging nearby as we stood at the top.
The terrain is unforgiving and exposed. To make the event happen, Katie said, it was essential to bring the best possible women. She wanted the event to be the best that it could, and the riders, of course, were the central piece. The women she chose for the first Formation came from both freeride and racing backgrounds. All of them, she said, were used to riding big jumps and drops under pressure. Most importantly, she trusted their judgment. They were calculated, they knew their own riding, and she knew they could do what they came to do.
This time, there are eight riders, rather than six, selected with the same criteria: they’re all fast, they all send, and they all have good heads on their shoulders.A rising tide lifts all boats
Formation is not a competition, and it’s not just “Women’s Rampage.” It’s a progression session, a jam fest – whatever you want to call it, it is very much its own thing. Rather than individual achievement, it’s about pushing women’s freeride forward as a whole. While it would be easy to reduce it to something like ‘media event’ or make it simply a competition, any of that would cheapen what is actually happening and would ignore the heart of the event. It’s about progression and collaboration, Katie emphasized.
During Katie’s campaign as a pro freerider, she mainly tried to accomplish her goals independently. She wanted to do it herself, for herself. When things didn’t play out the way she had hoped, the experience taught her that no one person can go at it alone. The riders are stronger together, working to learn from each other and share their expertise. Since each rider brings something different to the table, collaboration progresses the sport much more than any one rider could on their own. In a non-competitive environment, one person’s success is not another’s loss. They can all help each other grow, and in turn, that’s a win for women’s freeriding.
No rider is building a line just for themselves, and no digger is helping just one rider. They just wouldn’t accomplish as much.Second time around
It’s been 20 months since the first Formation. This time around, the atmosphere is even more collaborative. And, since the girls who are returning have had those 20 months to reflect on their last Formation, they’ve returned with loftier goals, more experience to draw from, and extra fire.
Everything’s just a bit bigger this year. More riders, more diggers, and more time mean that they can plan more ambitious lines and have the resources to make them happen. They’ll also have more time on the features.
Katie says it’s surreal.
No matter what happens this week, these ladies are shaping the future of freeride. Just being here in the desert, they’re already doing it, one shovel of dirt at a time.