The eight Wild Card athletes that will head to Red Bull Rampage in October were announced last week
. For the athletes not pre-qualified or on the among the Wild Cards, the Marzocchi Proving Grounds presented by Five Ten event is the only chance they have at making the cut. I caught up with Red Bull Rampage organizer Todd Barber to see how the Wild Cards were chosen, why he decided to add a qualifier event this year and what its format will be.
How many applicants do you get to Red Bull Rampage every year?
This year we received 30 interested athletes.
How do you decide who gets the Wild Card entries?
Wild card invites are chosen by the Rampage Committee which consists of Cam McCaul, Aaron Chase, Randy Spangler, Nico Vink, Dave Smutok and myself. Riders are selected based on past Rampage results, results from similar big bike contests, proven skill on a big mountain bike, and current video segments.
It's not an exact science. The high production value pieces are nice, but I've never required anyone to make a Rampage video.
I think we're all very unbiased and that's the reason we've put together this panel of people. I feel like they're all on there for the right reasons and none of them are team managers. I try to find all the guys that will stay as neutral as possible and either competed or understand what it takes to compete at the event.
Long story short, it's not an exact science. It's more of a ‘who is peaking in the sport,' 'what they're doing', and 'do they have the skills to come compete safely and possibly win the event?’
Are there any kind of red flags for you when you're looking at people that would suggest that they're not ready?
Yeah, there are certainly people that are crashing hard a lot. Adolf last year would be a prime example of somebody that was a bit on the border. Raw young talent, but also goes big. It made us all a little bit nervous but we all felt like he had truly amazing bike skills.
We each make a decision and we all vote once. Then I collect all of those and I tabulate them. Then we get on the phone the next day and we have a two and a half hour conference call. Then we vote again. Then those are the final athletes that are chosen!
I think it's worked pretty well so far. I think there's been some controversy, but that's more on a personal level than on a sport or a big-picture level. There are people that get frustrated because they didn't get in, their friend didn't get in, or they're a Team Manager and their athlete didn't get in. But I would say in the grand scheme we think 'these eight guys, are these the eight that should be there?'
Why did you decide to add a qualifier event to the Rampage selection process for 2019?
This is something that we have been trying to pull together for the past four years and it is finally coming to fruition this year. We decided this was necessary after the sport matured to the point when we had way more ripping athletes that could ride Rampage than we had room to invite.
The other big reason is the hope to develop the sport further. Most sports have year-round opportunities for athletes to build to the pinnacle of their sport. We have Slopestyle events, but no way for the big bike athletes to earn name and prove they deserve a shot to compete at Rampage. Years ago the Rampage was part of the FMB World Tour, and while it was not a good fit trying to make pure slope / dirt jump guys compete at the event, it did introduce new highly skilled athletes to the arena. Many people do not know that is how Brett Rheeder got his start at Rampage six years ago. Proving Grounds will finally be a place for these guys and girls to come build the sport and prove they belong at the Superbowl of Freeride.
Why do you think it's such an important part of the puzzle?
I've always been like, we need a better way to do it than just who's the hot guy and who's got the hot video. We've just felt like there's just a missing piece of the segment. There's Dirt Jump all the way up to Crankworx. That's kind of a linear amount of events going on all across the world. There's this massive gap where Rampage is. So the thought behind it is really a gap to fill and to really help the sport.
Freeride is a lot about just being out riding your bike, filming, and doing what most of these athletes do 98% of the year. It's more about going big. The Fest Series is kind of like that but it's just such a loose thing. There's no real judges and it's a tight-knit crew that do that. So this is to fill the void and help develop the sport and encourage guys out there and girls out there to shred, come out and compete in this, and see if they can get into Rampage.
This year we've got Casey Brown. The name Proving Grounds came from that interview in Outside Magazine last year
. They did a whole article on Casey and they asked me, can she get into Rampage? It wasn't that she was male or female, it was that she just hadn't proved it yet. You have to be the top eight or top eleven to make it to Rampage and I don't feel like she's proven that she is that yet. She could be. Now with Proving Grounds you can prove yourself on the big bike.
So what do you think her chances of qualifying are at this point?
I have no idea, I really don't. I know she's ripping these days. I've been communicating with her just trying to make sure she understands what we're doing and how we're doing it, and she's totally down. She said she's been training, riding and focused on doing good at it. She is definitely one of the inspirations for hosting this event. We needed a place for males and females to come and prove themselves. It definitely sparked the whole interest in doing it. I'm really excited to see how she does and crack that door to see what's possible for the future.
I have had a lot of questions on how a girl can compete fairly against the boys. We feel that is the uniqueness of Rampage more than any other elite sport in the world. At both Proving Grounds and Rampage it is up to the athlete to choose their own path down the mountain. At this years Proving Ground there will be 3 to 4 options at all times to choose their ultimate path down the mountain. There will be massive flat drops, berm presses, step up, downs and overs and even a 60’ canyon gap that mimic Rampage type features.
With that said, a female could come in and say 'hey, this is the line I'm going to ride or build’ and there is no pressure to do what others athletes are doing. Then everyone will be judged with the same criteria. Maybe she'll beat some of the guys with her line choice it will be up to her ride to her abilities and see how the judges see it. If she does well and the format works, then maybe there are a couple other girls that can come out to compete next year.
What is the format for the Proving Grounds contest?
As far as a competition, it will be judged the same as Rampage and we will have 4 of the judges - Spangler, Bender, KJ and Nico. As far as the course it will be a totally custom brand new course built to mimic Rampage type features. As mentioned, there will be 3 to 4 options at all times to allow the athletes to ride to their strengths and style.
What terrain are they riding?
Yeah, that's another side of this uniqueness of this event. On the opposite side of the valley from where the Black Sage course comes down we're creating an entirely new course. 500 plus feet of vertical on about 1700 linear feet of length. If you were to look at it, you'd be like 'how do you do a Rampage course there?' There aren't any steep chutes, rocks or terrain. But the idea is to build features that mimic Rampage type features with big flat drops, doubles, shark fins, step up - down overs, berms and rhythm sections. Basically a course that will test the athletes not just on their tricks but their ability to ride a big bike in bike terrain. Athletes are definitely going to need to know how to rip a berm and carry speed into the features.
Then we're going to build three to four separate lines that are going to intersect each other at different points. If you go right, there'll be a big hit into a big double. If you go straight there'll be a big flat drop. If you go left it'll be a big berm into a double step down, step over. Basically, the athlete has one of three to four ways they can go and within that, they can really crisscross, jump from the backside of a berm onto a berm.
So that's where we get the Rampage creativity and how they want to interpret the mountain and terrain.
A couple features on the Proving Grounds course. KJ photos.
The Marzocchi Proving Grounds event will take place September 7-8th in Bend, Oregon. KJ photos.
To come up with the course, we have been looking at the videos from the past four years and just seeing all the key, marquee features and trying to recreate those in a safe environment. We're not necessarily looking for an athlete to come out of this and win Rampage. That would be amazing if they did, but this is really just cracking the door, allowing more riders into the sport. If they qualify, they're going to have to learn how to dig, they're going to have to learn how to ride, they're going to have to get their build crew together. They're going to have to figure it all out. But what better way to do it than to actually go do it.
If we get two or three people that haven't been to Rampage every year that come out of this, that are now in the system to learn how to build and learn the etiquette and get into it, then maybe in two, three, four years they win it. At the current pace, there's really no other fair way to get into it.
Ale di Lullo photo
So it's basically a feeder? A way to help build Red Bull Rampage?
It is. Like is said, there's such a gap between the slopestyle world and then there's this island of Rampage that is just all by itself. I think that's cool in a lot of ways and the uniqueness of it. But I think the sport's matured now to a point where there needs to be more options to get into it. I'm excited to see where this goes.
I'm putting everything on the line to try and produce this event. I've been calling in every favor and every partner I know. Every sponsor, all my builders, my friends, and everybody to try to throw whatever they can in to make this the coolest most bad ass event. Kyle Jameson, Carson Storch, Cam McCaul and Arron Lutze from Red Bull have been a massive help and the reason this event is ultimately happening in Oregon. The bonus of this weekend is that Black Sage and the Fest Series will be happening on Saturday the 7th and Proving Grounds will be on Sunday the 8th. Should be an action packed weekend.
You said the alternate athletes would be taken from the Proving Grounds event as well, could you explain a little bit about how that would work?
In the past, we've had the wild cards that were chosen and then we always chose 5 alternates in case anybody got hurt or for whatever reason couldn't make it. Like when Remy couldn't get across the border a couple years ago.
But we can't really do that fairly if people are planning to come to Proving Grounds this year. So it couldn't be 'pick the eight wild cards and have two alternates from that when people are spending money and their time and energy into coming all the way out to Proving Grounds. I felt like it's all got to come out of Proving Grounds. If you're committed to coming to Rampage and you didn't get voted in, then you're going to have to come out and prove it. Then we'll take two alternates out of this, so the top three will get in then we'll take two more as alternates.
What excites you the most about this new event?
The dream at Rampage has always been to create a festival type weekend, unfortunately the town of Virgin is not the right place to host this type of event. There is way too much of a tightrope we walk there
every year with the land, the town, the dust, and the crowds.
So we are bringing the festival here, we will have 2 days of events with Black Sage and Proving Grounds as well as camping Friday and Saturday night. We've got 10 Barrel beer flowing all weekend, food trucks, expo and we're going to show Anthills “Return to Earth” on Friday night and music on Saturday night.
Proving Grounds is on private property and people can come out for the whole weekend. Purchase tickets online then show up Friday at 1pm with your tent, Sprinter, RV and just hang out, watch movies, listen to music, drink beer then get up in the morning each day and and watch the worlds best mountain bikers throw down. We are really hoping people will come out and enjoy the whole weekend. This will be the first ever big bike mountain bike festival. Hope to see everyone there.Key Dates:
● September 7-8th - Marzocchi Proving Grounds - Bend, OR
● September 8th - Final Three Rampage Qualifiers Announced
● October 25th - Red Bull Rampage - Virgin, UTLearn more:
● More information on the H5 Events website here
● Follow the Marzocchi Proving Grounds presented by Five Ten on Facebook
● Purchase tickets for Proving Grounds / Black Sage Fest here
. Todd Barber and the Proving Grounds crew are hosting a Pinkbike special until Sunday the 25th - use the code PGCWX19 to unlock a code for $10 off 2-day passes and $25 off camping. Plus be entered into a drawing to win a GoPro Hero 7 camera package that will be given away on the 25th.
Thank you to all of our partners ≈ Marzocchi, Five Ten, GoPro, BF Goodrich, RaceFace, Magura, Red Bull, Clif Bar, Fast House, Alpine Bike Parks, 10 Barrel Brewing, Camelbak, Smartwool, PinkBike and Peterson Cat