One of only two riders to win Rampage twice, Kurt Sorge's story is a feel-good tale for the ages. While the Nelson B.C. rider has been riding professionally for many years, the past few have presented some challenges. Multiple injuries and the loss of some major sponsorships plagued the friendly Canadian freerider and slopestyle specialist as he tried to get back on top after winning Rampage in 2012. We caught up with the always stoked Sorge to hear his thoughts on Rampage, injury and the Fest Series.
By 2012 you were riding high on a wave of success...and then you got hurt. Tell us how you hurt yourself.
Things were going well. After winning Rampage [In 2012 - ed] I continued to do a bit of everything: filming, big mountain stuff, and was still competing in slopestyle events. I had a busy year like usual and had competed at X Games and Crankworx with decent results. I was headed over to Vancouver Island for Bearclaw's event. I had my truck loaded to the brim with gear and people and had been up early from doing a run to the Vancouver airport from Whistler already and then back to Whistler and then missing a ferry. Anyways we made it to Bearclaw's and everyone that was competing at the event that year was headed to Claw's dirt jumps for a pre-event session. We made it there pretty late in the day and slapped on my pads and went to join in the session. I only had my 'slopestyle' bike at the time (xc bike) and was probably way too tired to ride but I wanted to get in some practice before we headed up to Mt. Washington for the event. These jumps are in the woods and after messing up the line the first couple times I had gone off one of the first few jumps which are in a tight spot of trees and before I knew it I was headed straight for a tree in the air. I remember laughing a bit at the situation while soaring towards the tree and then realized I wasn't going to be able to miss it. I made an effort but clipped my knee and knew right away something was wrong. It ended up being a broken tibial plateau.
I remember you hobbling around 2013 Rampage on crutches and looking dejected about not competing. How did the injury affect your confidence?
Well, it sucked because it was the worst injury I had sustained and I wasn't able to defend my title. But I wouldn't say my confidence was affected much. I was stoked to watch all my homies ride and push the sport to new levels, I just wish I was out there to be a part of it. If anything I was more motivated than ever to get back to 100% and back on my bike.
You ended up losing most of your bike sponsors. That's a big kick in the junk for a pro rider on the mend. How did it feel to have to start from scratch and look for new support?
I was on a two-year contract so I didn't have much to worry about going into 2014 but just getting better and kicking some ass. I was able to come back with my knee feeling good and started my web series with Solos Productions. We had also started the first year of Fest Series which was sick and it was turning out to be a wicked year. I then busted my fibula on a dumb slip of a pedal (didn't even crash) weeks before Rampage and was going to have to watch from the sidelines again. It was after this I was waiting for the call to renegotiate my contract and there was was nothing to talk about. I was just cut. And it was just my bike sponsor that had cut me, but unfortunately, everything that had to do with my bike was along with that deal. Leaving me with finding a completely new ride. All of my other sponsors stuck right by my side, though.
You mention you lost the team sponsorship. Are there advantages to being on a team program versus getting support individually?
Being on a Factory Team has its advantages for sure. The team manager deals with the companies, they collect all the parts at the beginning of the year and build your bikes and they can offer more support with a mechanic at certain events. But for myself I'd rather work closer with the companies I am riding for. Also, it works better for racing because you're always on a set schedule, but for freeriding we are always off on an adventure and it's not really necessary to have a full team support, you just have to be more prepared yourself.
So....2015, you show up after two years of injury at a Rampage venue that has been more or less claimed and built up by the riders from the previous year. It seemed like you had a bit of a challenge finding a line that would work for you while not screwing up other riders hard work. How frustrating was that?
Ya, I went into last year's event trying not worry about having to find a line between everyone's from the previous year, but that seemed more challenging than I expected. I wanted to stay away from obvious lines but it was pretty clear which top section was going to score the best. It would have been pointless to spend all that time and effort to work on a line and risk it all for a run that even if I had nailed to the best of my ability wouldn't have even been a contender. There is a fair bit of strategy for Rampage and line choice is a big part of that.
Rampage seemed to drive a rift between you and Aggy, at least for the few days of initial building. Both of you are both old friends and fierce competitors. What was it like to have your friendship stressed by competition, and then how good did it feel to stand on the podium next to him?
It was tough up there right from the beginning. I had never seen the course before and because of the ridiculously long line up to register, my team was one of the last on the hill, even though no one was supposed to go up before everyone had been signed in so it would be a fair playing field. By the time we were up there most of the guys were working on their lines from the past few years and I just wanted to get a feel for the whole venue because I didn't want to run into any drama. I eventually made it up to the start point and was still having troubles finding a line. Straight down from the top had the obvious gnar factor and I wanted to find something comparable to Aggy, Andreu and Semenuk's drops. I had a few options but they were less than ideal builds, and then I ran into Claw who had yet to find a line either. We ended up deciding on teaming up on a drop that led us into Strait and Zink's chute. From there I wanted to build a jump over the ridge and the landing ran into Aggy's line and that's where we tried to find a solution that worked for both of us. He was already letting us help build up their hip on the ridge so I wanted to respect his line. I looked at many options and there wasn't any way around it and luckily it all worked out and didn't affect his landing much. It was pretty insane out there, every time you moved dirt or rocks it would land on someone else's path and you would have to go down and move all that dirt and rock a second time just so it would be clear for the other guys. We even had to help build up Zink's catch berm and chisel out the Frenchies' landing because we were squeezing between so many other lines and didn't want to affect their line.
It sucked having stress between friends just for the contest sake and especially with Aggy because we're best buds and I wanted to see him win just as much as I wanted to. But I was there to do my best and I wanted to prove myself and make everyone that was counting on me proud. It was pretty surreal standing on the podium with Aggy and Andreu! Not bad for a few dirtbags!
How confident were you before finals? Did you believe you had the line and the drive to win?
Before finals, I was feeling pretty good. My team was really supportive and kept reassuring me that I had what it took. Plus they had been busting their asses all week and I didn't want to let them down. I wasn't 100% on our top drop as it was easily one of the gnarliest things I have ever hit, but luckily Claw had to guinea pig it in qualifying so that made me feel quite a bit better about it. Thanks, Claw! With our top drop I knew we had one of the gnarliest entrances and if everything was going well from there I was going to send PB's and Tommy G's big drop. I didn't want to hit it for the sole reason of not building it, but when it came down to it my team manager for the event, Alex Volokhov, reassured me I would have a possible winning run if I hit it. Everyone was riding so well I didn't want to take the safe way down. I wanted to send it!
There was a lot of controversy behind the scenes at Rampage this year. From POV camera usage, to prize money, to dig crews and line-stealing/sharing, the tension felt high at times. Does Rampage need to change the program to evolve with the riders? If so, how?
A handful of us and the proper people involved had a meeting with Red Bull already and there are going to be some major changes which are going to support the riders better.
Who got robbed at Rampage? And what do you think about the fan's passionate reactions to the judges' decisions?
Everyone has their favorites, of course, and I think the hashtags get created from that, but there were some guys that maybe should have done better. It's so tough in a judged event at the scale of the Rampage because so much is happening so quick and the venue is quite large so it's not the easiest to see. Even for the riders you are so pressed for time with building, practicing and preparing for the finals that you don't get to go see everyone's lines and for the most part you don't get to see anyone's full runs because you are either at the top or at the bottom with bad vantage points. And that is a big part of it unless you go walk everyone's lines and stand at the top of each feature it's hard to know what's harder than the next.
There are lines out there that are completely nuts and then some of them might look pretty gnarly but actually are not so bad, and it's not always the easiest to tell them apart on camera. The riding last year was so high that almost half the field could have taken the top spot. And some guys were nailing their runs, but I think what the judges are really looking for is that pure freeriding spirit that Rampage was born on...going big. I am a strong believer of bringing tricks into to the big mountain but you can't compromise size or gnarliness for tricks, you really have the balance it out. Speaking of which, there were a few guys that stepped up their tricks and had the size which really impressed me and got me stoked to send it. Zink's run, I think, had the full mix of what a Rampage run should look like, plus Semenuk had some sick tricks going on too. Aggy and Andreu's line was really gnarly and the guys hitting and tricking the canyon gap, I thought, were super sick as well. But like I said before, you have to have the perfect formula with difficulty, speed, style, and tricks. Not to say I thought I had it perfect but I'm stoked the judges saw it that way and to take the win. Every year you can expect the riding to progress and you have to be prepared going into it and can't just coast your way through. So I'm looking forward to another rad year and pushing myself and progressing for what the next Rampage has to offer.
Despite the tension between the event and the riders, the competitors more or less stayed a tight community throughout. Can you give the readers an idea of what Rampage community is like when the cameras get turned off?
It's like a brotherhood. Everyone is hanging and having a good time. It's what makes an event like this so fun and worth it, hanging and shredding with all the homies you only get to see a few times a year.
Let's talk about the Fest Series. We've all heard the riders talk about how rad it is and how it is the future, but is it sustainable without bringing in major sponsors to pay for all the awesomeness? Or is it fine just the way it is?
I think the Fest has avenues to progress and grow. It's not like we have been turning down big sponsors and trying to keep it to just big bike jump lines. We all have our own riding careers that keep us busy and with the amount of time and budget that we have this is what were able to come up with. Which is a hell of a good time! [Laughing] But with more people supporting us the possibilities are endless. We just need more people to come on board that believe in us and like the direction we want to push and promote the sport. Cheers to all the sponsors and supporters that we do have!
As the resident Fest Series big mountain guy, are there any serious plans for a Fest Series big mountain freeride event like Rampage? There are only so many whip trains I can take, and I'd love to see what you guys could do with a real mountain.
Ya, like I touched on above there is a whole lot of directions we'd like to take it, it just takes the budget and time to be able to put these things together. But it doesn't seem to be really slowing down and more people are taking notice every day so I must say I am really excited to be working with these group of guys and we got some big plans for the future.
Hoffest rules so hard, from Grohman to the gravel pit to Retallack to Kootenay lake. What do you have planned next?
Well like you were saying you'd like to see what we can do with a real mountain... I might just have something up my sleeves.
How important has the Kootenays' region been to your development as a rider?
I love the Kootenays, it has so much to offer and I feel fortunate to have grown up there. From the terrain to the wicked riding community, I couldn't have asked for anything better and I am excited to keep exploring the area and I always look forward to shuttling and sessions with all my buddies back home every chance we get.
OK, time for shout outs. Who keeps Sorge stoked?
I've got amazing support from so many great people, teams, and companies. I'd like to take this opportunity to thank Giro for the support throughout my whole career so far, feels great to be with companies that believe in you and you can work together with. Big shout out to my other long time sponsors; Rockstar Energy, Schwalbe, Seven Protection, MRP, Oakley, Evoc, GoPro, Sensus, MyPakage, and Ossur. I am also very stoked to be back on Deity Components as of last season. They supported me in my early years as well and to be back with them feels great plus their product is kicking ass! My other new partnerships as of last season include Polygon Bikes, SR Suntour, Cane Creek, Shimano and Royal Racing. Also, I want to give a shout out to the Fest Series boys! And all of the supporters, I'm stoked to see where we have brought it and excited to see where it goes! Last but not least! Thanks to my girlfriend, mom and dad, family and friends from home to around the world!