Red Bull Formation 2021: Shaping Lines in Dirt & Building the Future of Freeride

May 26, 2021
by Alicia Leggett  

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.

Nicolas Piraud Kaia Jensen Chelsea Kimball discuss the course at Redbull Formation in Virgin Utah USA on 24 May 2021
The Utah landscape is full of possibilities. Red Bull / Re Wikstrom

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.

Katie Holden poses for a portrait at Red Bull Formation in Virgin Utah USA on 24 May 2021.
Katie at the new Formation site, 2021. Red Bull / Catherine Aeppel

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.

bigquotesIt was crazy. I had all my notes from that day. I started building my proposal that same day.Katie Holden

Katie Holden speaks at the athlete meeting for Redbull Formation in Virgin Utah USA on 24 May 2021
Katie at the first rider meeting of Formation 2021. Riders spend time in the shade whenever they can to escape the Utah heat. Red Bull / Re Wikstrom


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.

Ryan Rodriguez and Chelsea Kimball walk the course at Redbull Formation in Virgin Utah USA on 24 May 2021
The terrain is no joke, even for riders like Chelsea who have spent plenty of time riding big lines in the desert. Red Bull / Re Wikstrom

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.

bigquotesI had no doubt in my mind that if you made the conditions right and brought out the best women that you could, that they would be able to perform to that caliber and just ride with so much power and style and speed.Katie Holden

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.

Athletes and diggers scope the course at Red Bull Formation in Virgin Utah USA on 24 May 2021.
Riders scout lines together on the first day. Red Bull / Catherine Aeppel

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.

Photo by Paris Gore Red Bull
Ride day, 2019. Red Bull / Paris Gore

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.

bigquotesIt’s totally wild. On one side of that coin, I can’t believe it. It’s a constant "pinch me" moment. I’ve tried and all these other girls have tried for so long to make things happen, to have a space and platform like this, and it’s just so cool. On the other side of that, duh. Of course they can ride it. I do not have any doubt in my mind that they can all ride it.Katie Holden

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.

Photo by Paris Gore Red Bull
Hannah Bergemann back this year after a very successful Formation 2019. Red Bull / Paris Gore

Author Info:
alicialeggett avatar

Member since Jun 19, 2015
728 articles

  • 141 7
 Its crazy that the 95% of mtb/ freeride content is male based... Glad to see this becoming a annual event . Its been a long time coming. Props to all involved.
  • 23 19
 What percentage of Freeriders are women?
  • 19 0
 @DaveGFC: Traditionally, not very many, but hopefully more women and girls will want to get involved with the sport after seeing competitions like this.
  • 14 0
 I'm glad this exists. It's only the beginning of something that will be really beneficial to our sport.
  • 8 0
 @DaveGFC: What percentage could it be? Give the riders room to grow it the way they want to and and see how fast it explodes.
  • 3 0
 @DaveGFC: things like this is how those numbers start to change, representation is important.
  • 32 0
 Hell yes! I was worried this event would have been one of the casualties after this last year.
  • 9 29
flag pistol2ne (May 25, 2021 at 22:03) (Below Threshold)
 Why would you think that? Mountain biking is booming.
  • 13 1
 @pistol2ne: Did you forget last year?
  • 16 9
 @pistol2ne: think it is e-mountain biking that is booming.. feels lonely to pedal up a hill without assistance
  • 8 0
 @saladdodger: I get real lonely being the only one pushing up the hill any more....
  • 8 43
flag pistol2ne (May 26, 2021 at 8:05) (Below Threshold)
 @mtb-jon: about what?

The mountain bike industry is flush with cash and literally can't keep bikes on the shelves. You then go on to tell me just because a few terrified leftists stayed inside for a few months you were worried mtb events are gone forever?

Seems ridiculous.
  • 1 8
flag DoubleCrownAddict (May 26, 2021 at 11:31) (Below Threshold)
 Seems like this will be replacing Rampage and no YT bikes allowed.
  • 5 18
flag pistol2ne (May 26, 2021 at 11:38) (Below Threshold)
 @saladdodger: Both probably.

Nobody can buy any trail or enduro bike. To me that means the mountain bike industry is booming, which means more events.

Idk why I'm getting downvoted. Sorry I don't want to join the covidian cult ya'll are in.
  • 15 1
"I don't know why I'm getting downvoted"

"You're all in a cult."

*Lifts up the hood, taps a wrench on the engine block* yeah well see, here's your problem.
  • 2 9
flag pistol2ne (May 26, 2021 at 15:45) (Below Threshold)
 @protwurst: I got down voted originally for saying why are you surprised, the mtb industry is booming. It's pessimistic to think events won't be increasing, let alone canceled.
  • 10 1
 @pistol2ne: careful guys, this one is probably a Qanon guy
  • 1 6
flag pistol2ne (May 26, 2021 at 21:17) (Below Threshold)
 @sdiz: Careful guys, this one is probably a ccp or Russian bot.

See I too can blabber stuff on like you.

Sorry I see bike industry booming (as a good thing) and I'm not a doomer. My ride was great today btw, thanks for asking.
  • 9 0
 @pistol2ne: Dude calm your pants down, no-one is out to get you. You're only getting downvoted for your lack of reading comprehension and nothing else.

Literally no-one is saying the industry isn't doing well or *all* events will disappear. People are just noticing that in the real world (not in your head) a lot of events DID get cancelled last year, including Formation and Rampage.

While Rampage is established enough to just restart like nothing happened, it was only the first "pilot" run of Formation so people were worried if RB deemed if worthy of continuing or just focus on something else. Especially that last year many sponsors realised they are getting way more (and more measurable) ROI from online content creators than competition/events.

No conspiracy here, no "fear-mongering", no-one even mentioned covid except for you. Chill out, seriously.
  • 4 0
 @pistol2ne: hahaha I get it, you're calling me a communist. That's original. Glad you had a good ride yesterday. Makes me feel happy for you.
  • 3 0
 @pistol2ne: I think it's time to pack it in on this one. It's pretty embarrassing for you, this whole rant you're going on about.
  • 23 0
 This is great. More of this please
  • 17 5
 Didn't expect so many hate comments under this post, pinkbike commenters please remove the stick from your ass thank you
  • 6 1
 Haven’t read any hate?
  • 11 36
flag Greener43 (May 26, 2021 at 8:31) (Below Threshold)
 @DaveGFC: Liberals are very sensitive so any words on a page can become hateful.
  • 2 0
 @DaveGFC: look below threshold and some have been deleted
  • 11 1
 @Greener43: I found the dumb American
  • 11 1
 @Greener43: seems conservatives are quite sensitive nowadays... Ask them to explain how the election was stolen and they get all butt hurt. Mostly because they can't, and their logic is stupid. Thanks for making something about a women's freeride event political
  • 1 0
 @Greener43:Be careful with the words that are written
  • 7 1
 No Micayla and no Tahnee - kind of a bummer to not see those two. Buuuut stoked to see where this year's Formation takes these ladies!
  • 6 0
 really keen to see this, does anyone know if RedBull are filming it or is it just for consumption through Insta and the like?
  • 11 0
 Red Bull has plenty of media people for filming and photos. We'll start seeing more of that through the week and especially on the ride days!
  • 4 0
 To all those who ask where the freeride ladies are, they are actually all over Utah. I've been out there twice in the past year and both times saw a bunch of women out there. Some of them were new faces, but others I had been following on IG for sometime. They are out there and doing it.
  • 5 0
 Excited to learn more about some of the names I just learned, or dont recognize. I'm always pumped to see young riders catch a break. everything about this event is RAD!
  • 7 0
 No Micayla?
  • 5 0
 I’m so excited to see what goes down!
  • 6 0
 Get it ladies!
  • 4 0
 wow its already been 20 months since the last one??? I thought it was a year ago tops...
  • 14 0
 2020 was a black hole.
  • 5 0
 So is this being shown red bull tv?
  • 3 0
 I would also like to know. If it streams for free similarly to Rampage I'll definitely tune in.
  • 4 0
 cant wait see more photos and vids of the lines
  • 2 0
 well done Katie, Shows again stick to a dream work for it and it become reality. So proud of you. I wish all the ladies out there an amazing time and stay safe.
  • 5 6
 Curious why the ladies have to dig in 90 degree May heat when the guys get Oct 75 avg temps. Why was this moved away from Rampage. Are the Rampage organizers making 2 trips or are the ladies getting sub optimal support there too? Lets not give Red Bull too much credit for equity if they are not offering equity and giving the guys a leg-up with better support and conditions. I mean we know that women are the tougher gender but why must they always prove it?
  • 3 0
 Hells yeah!!! Congratulations to Katie for bringing this vision to life!
  • 1 2
 Free riding means up or down. What ever is in front of the front tire. Not riding groomed trails. eg Red Bull Rampage. eg Darkfest.Or for that matter all terrain parks. If you want to ride steep rocky slopes do it without digging. eg
  • 4 1
 No Tahnee ?
  • 8 0
 I was thinking the same. I guess with the DH World Cup in a fortnight and also Corona restrictions on travel it wouldn't really be possible.
  • 2 0
 I saw her post something on IG a while back saying she was invited but declined due to rehab/training for the race season.
  • 2 0
 Awesome, this is great! Nice work Katie and crew
  • 2 0
 Stoked for whats to come this week!

Bike checks?
  • 2 0
 Who is on the rider list for this year?
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