As spectators walked through the canyon beneath the start gate early Thursday, riders exploded into the air off jumps and drops they have painstakingly perfected over the last 2 weeks.
Thursday marked the final day of practice for Red Bull Rampage 2023 before the final event this morning. Though winds have prevented some practice sessions, many riders took to their lines Thursday to further refine their runs, return to old features, and experiment with new ones.
The world of freeride mountain biking at this level is decidedly small. Most people who look at the Rampage venue see only opportunities to fall from dizzying heights. These riders see the opportunity to fly.
In the 2 decades since Red Bull Rampage began, riders just keep coming back. At the same time, new riders also emerge on the scene to take up the mantle of freeride legends.
It’s tough for most people to understand exactly how and why these athletes do what they do. But for the athletes, it’s usually pretty simple.
The Red Bull Rampage Veteran: Building for Success
Kurt Sorge has ridden in Rampage 10 times and won the contest on three occasions. He said the experience he’s built up over the years has helped him build lines that play to his strengths, resulting in both fun and thrilling descents that he consistently throws down.
“You know what you are kind of looking for, and you know how to build it properly,” Sorge said. “This year, it’s a second-year venue. So you do get to build off of previous stuff, which helps a lot. First-year sites can be a super time crunch just to get the line done. And then that cuts into your practice, and you’re almost riding it all blind.”
But even with adequate practice and near-perfect builds, nothing is certain at Rampage. Weather, particularly wind, always plays a huge role in the contest.
“Your wheels just act like a sail, especially going 50, 60, 70 feet; that wind is gonna catch your wheels, and it’s gonna put you offline, and it’s not a good recipe,” Sorge said. “We like to eliminate whatever risks possible. You make sure everything’s pointing right and then just (rely on) a lot of experience building my own trails and jump film projects before. You know how things should look.”
The Red Bull Rampage Rookie on Knowing the Terrain
Talus Turk, a 21-year-old rookie, does not have the same level of experience as Sorge, but he still has generated a lot of hype through his runs down the mountain. Instead of a decade of Rampage events under his belt, Turk recently moved nearby to familiarize himself with the terrain.
“That definitely helped me understand this place (moving to the area) and get used to the riding, so I wasn’t always stressed about (the exposure). Getting comfortable with blind features was the biggest thing I wanted to work on, and then working on tricks after figuring that out. That kind of all started last year, just riding here for fun and just doing it for me.”
Though Turk is a first-timer on the Red Bull Rampage stage, he understands the risks involved and how to manage them.
“A couple of the riders who have been here before think the same way I do. If it’s windy, they’ll be like, ‘dude, it’s not even worth it.’ For me, if you can do all the things you want to do in practice but not on your run, you’ve already pushed yourself as a rider and progressed.”
Since Turk lives so close, he said he can always come back on his own when conditions are more favorable to accomplish any goals he may miss out on during Rampage. That, however, is not the case for everyone.
“Some riders are like, ‘I’m here for this. I’ve traveled all the way from Europe or whatnot,’” he said. The older guys like Cam Zink, he’s someone who just sends it. He just says I’m going to go down if it’s windy or not. Most of the time, he is pretty methodical, but then also has the ‘huck and pray’ in his background of riding.”
The Mental Game
Every rider has to take on the challenge of Red Bull Rampage in their own way. Sometimes it works out. Sometimes it doesn’t. This year has already seen a severe injury to Gee Atherton that took him out of the race due to injuries, including fractures to his skull and vertebrae. A couple of other riders have taken spills or had close calls, too. For now, everyone is ready to drop in when the event kicks off this morning.
For Sorge, Turk, and the other Rampage riders, what they do in Utah is not all that different from what they do any other day.
“We get to come to the desert once a year and get the whole family back together. It’s just really good times,” Sorge said. “We’re doing some pretty gnarly stuff, and we ask a lot of our builders. I’ve never seen anyone work harder than diggers at Rampage. You go through something gnarly like that with close friends, it just brings you tighter together, and you just build lifetime friendships.”