Photo Epic: The Tougher Side of Fort William

Jun 3, 2020 at 16:28
by Dave Trumpore  




It's pretty safe to say most seasoned World Cup racers, mechanics, team managers, photographers, and officials have a love hate relationship with Fort William, Scotland. There is no debating that it is an iconic venue, a staple on the circuit, and a venue that has played host to some of truly historical moments. If you are a race fan you can't help but get goosebumps when you think of the roaring crowd as Steve Peat crossed the line for the win in 2005, or the tributes paid to the late Steve Smith in 2016. The raw emotion seen on race day in Fort William combined with the tens of thousands of fans year in and year out make it an event that is truly hard to beat. Behind all this however is one of the roughest and toughest venues ion the circuit.

It's not just the unrelenting rocks that challenge racers here, everything about the venue itself posses a challenge. It rains... A LOT. It is often cold and windy. If the sun does show itself, with it come the unrelenting midges. The entire hillside is essentially a peat bog as well so spectators, team managers and coaches often find themselves ankles deep in mud for hours a day as they try to work. There is no cover when weather rolls in on the open slopes there and everyone is at the mercy of Mother Nature when things go sideways. In 2015 a day of practice was cancelled. In 2016 all riders were sent to the top for qualifying at 10am so the gondolas could be shut down the rest of the day for wind (fine if you had a top 30 plate, but those in the 100's waited up in the cold for hours). The track absolutely trashes equipment and mechanics work harder at Fort William than any other venue. It is a mental battle through and through for all involved, and for that reason, it is still considered THE race to win. It is the crown jewel every rider is chasing, and while a select few have succeeded it forever remains a thorn in the side for many others. In the chance for championship points, Fort William is the round many racers point to as the place they look less at winning, and more with hopes to manage the race and minimize their losses.

Surely more than a few breathed a temporary sigh of relief when the 2020 round was cancelled, simply because of how difficult a race weekend Fort William always proves to be. But that relief would have quickly been followed by a bit of sadness once the realization that despite its challenges, Fort William is still without a doubt one of the most electric and exciting races of the year. Love it or hate it, it is a race that is terrific for the sport with an atmosphere that is second to none. Both on the ground and in the skies above.

Long Live Fort William




I wonder what the track conditions are like Because you sure can t see them from the gondola
I wonder what the track conditions are like? Because you sure can't see them from the gondola


You can almost always bet on rain in Fort William
You can almost always bet on rain in Fort William

Sometimes it snows... In June
Sometimes it snows... in June

You can see the weather rolling in from miles away. Quite often it s not a pretty sight
You can see the weather rolling in from miles away. Quite often it's not a pretty sight

Rider on the storm
Rider on the storm

As if it wasn t hard enough to see in the rain... Lets add some fog to make it even more fun
As if it wasn't hard enough to see in the rain... Let's add some fog to make it even more fun



Scottish weather... it s a mood
Scottish weather... it's a mood

Mick Hannah making a splash - 2019
Mick Hannah making a splash - 2019

Standard waterfall in the middle of a WC track. Dakotah Norton - 2019
Standard waterfall in the middle of a WC track. Dakotah Norton - 2019

Mike Jones - 2015
Mike Jones - 2015

The infamous woods section that seems to change year after year. Whether for the better or worse is hotly debated
The infamous woods section that seems to change year after year. Whether for the better or worse is hotly debated

It s rare to find dirt much drier than this in Fort William
It's rare to find dirt much drier than this in Fort William

Does this look fun
Does this look fun?

How about this
How about this?

What do you think Tahnee Seagrave is thinking right here
What do you think Tahnee Seagrave is thinking right here?

At least the landing here is soft compared to 95 of there track
At least the landing here is soft compared to 95% of there track


The Neer changing weather



Crashes here are unforgiving
Crashes here are unforgiving

That s gonna leave a mark
That's gonna leave a mark

Sometimes you lose a shoe. Totally normal
Sometimes you lose a shoe. Totally normal.

Not an uncommon way of the mountain after a big crash.
Not an uncommon way of the mountain after a big crash.

By race day in Fort William there seem to be more riders bruised and taped up than any other venue on the circuit.
By race day in Fort William there seem to be more riders bruised and taped up than any other venue on the circuit.

The dirt on the back of the jersey tells the tale of the day for Manon Carpenter - 2015
The dirt on the back of the jersey tells the tale of the day for Manon Carpenter - 2015

Loic Bruni roughed up - 2019
Loic Bruni roughed up - 2019


Tahnee Seagrave s season ender in 2019
Tahnee Seagrave's season ender in 2019

Mick Hannah s ousted shoulder - 2015
Mick Hannah's busted shoulder - 2015


Fort William is a mental game for riders as it s easy to get hung up on the weather and track conditions. Those who can push past that thrive in the wet cold fog midges rocks and general discomfort of racing here.
Fort William is a mental game for riders as it's easy to get hung up on the weather and track conditions. Those who can push past that thrive in the wet, cold, fog, midges, rocks, and general discomfort of racing here.



Fort William A never ending rebuilding of wheels
Fort William = a never ending rebuilding of wheels

No rim is safe here
No rim is safe here

equipment covered in water bud and grit at all times
Equipment is covered in water, bud and grit at all times

Shocks doing work. So hot the mud instantly dries to dust
Shocks doing work. So hot the mud instantly dries to dust




It was bright and dry somewhere on this day but that somewhere was definitely not on the slopes on Aonach Mor.
It was bright and dry somewhere on this day, but that somewhere was definitely not on the slopes on Aonach Mor.

Kaos Seagrave giving the hands a rest and with another 3 minutes of rock smashing to go.
Kaos Seagrave giving the hands a rest and with another 3 minutes of rock smashing to go.

Gee Atherton outrunning the incoming storm - 2018
Gee Atherton outrunning the incoming storm - 2018

Maybe the sun will come out
Maybe the sun will come out

In some years 2019 it never seems to stop raining.
In some years (2019) it never seems to stop raining.

Umbrellas out in force during the finals in 2019
Umbrellas out in force during the finals in 2019

A trash bag kind of day in Fort William. Heavy rain cold temps and stinging wind meant a lot of spectators and media were caught out from not being prepared. Practice was canceled the following day as the weather went from bad to worse - 2015
A trash bag kind of day in Fort William. Heavy rain, cold temps and stinging wind meant a lot of spectators and media were caught out from not being prepared. Practice was canceled the following day as the weather went from bad to worse - 2015

Finn Iles after getting acquainted with the ground
Finn Iles after getting acquainted with the ground

Dean Lucas dips below the fog just above the midway point on track - 2015
Dean Lucas dips below the fog just above the midway point on track - 2015

The infamous Scottish Dust is flying through the air in abundance
The infamous Scottish Dust is flying through the air in abundance

Got clear vision
Got clear vision?



Other year another victim
Another year, another victim






38 Comments

  • 25 0
 I've seen a few comments over the years about Fort Bill being too easy for a WC round. I'd say to anyone of that opinion, go and do 6-7 runs back to back so you can experience just how trashed both your bike and your body will be. It's a brute of a track.
  • 5 0
 Yeh, I spent 2 days riding it about 10 years ago. Never actually managed a full run without stopping through arm pump.
Crashed near the top on my final run of the second day (good timing at least). Drove 12 hours back to Southampton with a mangled left hand but totally worth it to ride one of the most beautiful spots on the planet.
  • 5 0
 "Equipment is covered in water, bud and grit at all times"

Wait... so that liquid, it's not just rain?
  • 1 1
 I’ve heard the same about skibowl here in Oregon. You never see more flats or broken wheels anywhere else.

I hope to some day ride that mountain.
  • 1 0
 I also love that everyone complained how hard the boggy wood section was one year so the track stewards buffed that section out, and then the next year the track was, "too bike parky."
  • 8 0
 Some great photos there.

The Bill... apart from the woods, probably easier in the damp than the dry, so many have raced it or ridden it in pretty much all conditions (me included, many times).
The thick fog in the morning in the dry is the scariest for sure as you know how fast you can go but you are running from memory the whole way down. The wind is 2nd to the fog as the smooth lines are so tight in places.

One of my favourite race tracks that we race in the UK as its the only one the northern racers get to practice before race weekend. Plus it suits my riding style.

Would be great if the WC track was in the same condition as the SDA and these days the nationals race the track as its often so much more beaten up.

Cant believe you missed out Ian Jones and his yearly pilgrimage to marshal the same corner, since the beginning of time I think. haha.

Will never forget Mark Weightmans crash around 10 years ago at the SDA after I had flatted, horrific spiral and distal fracture of tib and fib. We splinted him initially with his armour, lucky a surgeon was not far from the crash site to help before the medics got there.
  • 1 0
 Cheers, I feel humbled....
  • 4 0
 Such a magical place! I'm thankful that my visit to Fort Bill didn't have any rain until the afternoon after the races finished. It is a beautiful sight to see. The crowd at the finish line is by far the most enthusiastic crowd to behold.
  • 3 0
 Love Fort Bill, went to my first one in 2017, had an awesome week up there and was hooked. This year would’ve been my fourth consecutive visit until the pandemic hit.
Great atmosphere and having friends racing in Juniors and Elites, makes it extra special, too.

You don’t realise just how brutal the track is until you see it ‘in the flesh’, just an unrelenting physically demanding onslaught.
The midges are pretty savage, too...
  • 2 0
 Witnessed Tomas Slavik take a massive crash on the Fort Bill 4x course in 2009 during a practice. I think it pretty much ended his season. It was horrific by every measure and only made worst my proximity to the impact. Gnarly place for sure.
  • 2 0
 @davetrumpore Fantastic article and awesome photos! I love making the pilgrimage to the Fort year in, year out, be it to snap photos, marshal, or just to spectate and love the vibe and atmosphere! Watching today's weather earlier tho...with a low pressure weather system moving down from the north, it looks like today was a wet one and more for the weekend. Here's to 2021!!! : )
  • 4 0
 I was expecting a video still of Gwin when he had 'That' crash, on a very rare Gwin off day!
  • 3 0
 One BDS race weekend there when my sons were racing cost me a set of handlebars, a chain device and 5 wheel rims. Worth every penny.
  • 1 0
 The best sporting event I have ever attended. Unbelievable atmosphere year after year, no matter the weather. Brilliant memories - the woods in 2017, meeting Danny MacAskill in 2018 (and seeing first hand how decent a bloke he is ), seeing (and meeting) Gwin, watching Bruni, Hart, Rachel, Tahnee, Pierron etc etc practicing and racing close up. A must visit for any Downhill fan or rider. Great place to ride and ski as well! Long may it continue.
  • 1 0
 Check out the No Fuss Endurance Downhill. The aim being to see who can get the most runs done in 6 hours. The start was an uphill race from the car park to the wall ride, them down all the way for 6 hours!! Broke me every time I took part, but it was the greatest event ever!
  • 4 0
 Amazing photographs! Thank you!
  • 2 2
 track could do with a shake up in my opinion. Now they’ve cobbled the woods section there’s hardly any natural rooty stuff, and the motorway is a bit artificial. I realise there’s a difficult bit of flat terrain there if you’re going to keep the epic finish bowl. Still breathtakingly raw and brutal up top tho and a fantastic event.
  • 1 0
 In some respects I agree.
The xc section before the motorway seems a bit lame and often the race is lost on the motorway rather than the tech. The woods cobbles are not easy and probably the hardest part of the track on the body/hands as their is no rest.
I always dreamed of the finish coming through the lower 4x track rock garden and table top, with some modifications and a woods below the gondola (so not really woods but straight down exposed section), you could put a schlayer style section in there including the step downs, that would be wild!

We can all dream though.
  • 1 1
 Mr Trumpore, I can`t help but feel a little bit of negativity there.... Is it not all about the best being the best at this level of racing?
I`m sorry about the weather, think yourself lucky in that you could get up and move down the hill,to shelter. I was there for a few hours and, well I actually liked it, meeting various people (including yourself) in various states of dishevelement.
Or am I missing the point. For some of us it IS an annual pilgrimage to see some folk who we only see for a few moments a year. Friendships that were formed on the same wet muddy foggy midgee infested mountainside.We try to make the most of it, regardless of the weather. Yes it is hard, and it is difficult but it could be worse, it could be like this year and we have no racing....
Not a rant, hopefully we`ll be back next year and I look forward to seeing you and all the rest then.
  • 1 0
 I think you misread this... Despite all the things one could point to as negative it's still one of the best race weekends out there. Those with the mental ability to push through thrive in that environment succeed there... To quote a well known Team Manager's social media post today "fort William world cup, even if I think about the midges, the rain, the 48 hour drive to the next race and the concrete dust carpark that stays with you for the rest of the season, even then, I'm missing this one a lot and wishing I was packing away the truck surrounded by people in fancy dress, steaming during trying to 'help'. " ... This is pretty much how many feel, and what the last paragraph of the above article is articulating. Cheers and hopefully we can all slog about in the mud, get eaten by midges, and experience the amazing race atmosphere again in 2021...
  • 1 0
 @davetrumpore: you never know, it may be warmer than 12(european) degrees and windier than 4mph. It has been dusty before, All the best Sir!
  • 1 0
 Brought back the feeling of world cup season. Thanks for story again, but kinda again felt differently good ! Cheers from Latvia.
  • 1 0
 Man flashbacks of Gwin's somersault crash scared the crap outta me. Yikes. (Obviously not the only one but that's the one burned into my brain).
  • 1 0
 Fort bill is a magical place, passing through the ancient mountains of Glen Coe on the drive there to the beauty of fort William, great atmosphere and one hell of a track!
  • 2 0
 Whats the skiing like? Icy, wet and windy?
  • 1 0
 Can be brilliant, can be brutal, depending upon the weather. Ridiculously fast on Warrens and the Goose when they have been pisted, And there's also the Back Corries...
  • 2 0
 Gwin's ejection from Ft. William was pretty spectacular.
  • 1 0
 Beautiful. I wouldn't like to be the one wearing those clip pedals though...
  • 1 0
 Serious envy here. Would love to ride there one day, or even live near there.
  • 2 0
 Equipment is covered in water, bud and grit at all times
  • 1 0
 My equipment is also often covered in bud at all times.
  • 2 0
 Today's weather would have fitted right in!
  • 1 0
 Bravo, Dave. You take some real nice pictures.
  • 2 0
 where's gwin?
  • 1 0
 Glen Coe too! Savage race tracks!
  • 1 0
 Simply beautiful!
  • 1 0
 Carnage.... Nuf said.
  • 1 0
 Brutal.

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