Red Bull Formation

Red Bull Formation

Rocky Mountain’s Vaea Verbeeck. Rocky Mountain’s Vaea Verbeeck.  

A few weeks before the 2019 Red Bull Rampage was held, six of the world’s best female mountain bike riders were invited to Virgin, Utah. The first-of-its-kind athlete project, formally called Formation, was organized by Red Bull and spearheaded by pro freerider Katie Holden. We spoke with Katie to get the lowdown on this event that aims to take women’s mountain biking to the next level.

 

KATIE HOLDENKatie Holden

How special was this event to you?

It was incredible. I had to pinch myself all week. To see that many incredible women out there, riding that [terrain] so powerfully with so much grace—it just looked “comfy.” It looked like they were meant to be there.

How much did the women push each other?

When we created Red Bull Formation, we wanted to create a solid team—to have a team that worked together, that pushed each other, that was going to support each other and also pull up all the women behind them. That’s what we wanted. The chemistry between the women was incredible—I mean, they achieved much more than I thought they would in [just] one week.

Were there any standouts for you? Or any standout runs?

One of my favorite moments of the week was on our first ride day. Everyone had completed their digging. Everyone was gearing up at the bottom, putting on their pads, [getting] their shoes on, and Hannah Bergmann had walked up to the top. She just stomped her double drop first thing in the morning. She set the tone for the whole weekend. That was really powerful. From there, I was just like, “It’s on!”

What’s your history with Rampage?

I started going to Rampage 10 years ago. I was curious—I didn’t understand it, but I wanted to understand it. And I knew that if it was something I was interested in, then the only way to do that was to put myself right in the middle of it. It became a yearly thing where I would go out there and dig for various riders—I’ve dug for Gee Atherton, Kyle “Norbs” Norbraten, Brendan Howey and Rémy Métailler—and ride with the guys in the Virgin, Utah, area. Over the course of that time, I learned so much. I basically became a student of [the sport]. I just tried to soak it up, learn everything I could and just follow the guys around. I started out because it was my goal to one day compete in Rampage.

I made a push in 2015 to make a video, and that was going to be my thing. I ended up getting hurt that season and then had a few subsequent injuries, which is somewhat irrelevant; but, at the end of it all, I sort of didn’t have everything together so I could do it. And I think the lesson in all that is that I learned what it does take. And while it wasn’t for me, I felt like it was something I put so much time and energy into that there was an opportunity to utilize all that knowledge somehow. So, I’ve always had this thing shimmering on the back burner where I wanted to help others out but wasn’t too sure how to go about doing it. And then Rebecca Rusch came along—and she’s always been sort of a “fire starter.” She kinda just makes things happen.

In 2018 we had a round-table dinner at Rampage, and we got a bunch of people together to discuss what the future opportunities for women’s freeride could look like. Then this summer I got a call from Red Bull asking, “What do you think about doing this?” It was full-speed ahead from there. Formation came to be.

It was a tough hike up to the staging area. It was a tough hike up to the staging area. 

Who helped Formation happen?

We wanted it to be a small crew. I also thought it was important to choose riders who were really capable with a diverse skillset—being technically proficient with body positioning and braking but also having a solid head on their shoulders in terms of having the experience on different types of terrain and being able to adapt on the fly. They also needed to be strong, personality-wise, to bring something to the team. That’s one thing I’ve seen at Rampage over the years. It’s definitely not just someone who can jump off something and hope they can land it. You want someone who has real confidence. You look at Cam [Zink] and Kyle [Strait]. They raced downhill for so long, and they are so technically sound—freeride came after. That’s why they’ve done so well out there. They have a lot of skills to sit on. To thrive in Utah, you need the whole package.

So who was invited to Formation?

The core team was quite big. Each rider had the opportunity to bring two diggers. Beyond the riders, we had athletes from other sports who were there to help—Rebecca Rusch [pro endurance mountain biker], Michelle Parker [pro big mountain skier], Jill Kintner [pro downhill mountain biker] and Tara Geiger [pro motocrosser] helped dig and were there to help the Formation athletes develop their career mindset and discuss how to push the sport overall. A big goal of Formation is to support each athlete to develop her personal brand and career goals within the sport, as well as gain the experience of riding big mountain terrain.

What was the schedule of events? How many days of digging? How many days of riding?

When we arrived, we had a half-day warm-up ride and an afternoon scouting the mountain so riders could pick their lines. Then we had two full dig days, then a rest day and two full-ride days.

Who was the first rider to drop in?

First thing in the morning, riders were still putting their pads on and getting ready to ride their work when we looked up the mountain to see Hannah Bergemann dropping in. She had hiked up early and immediately just stomped the double drop in her line like a boss. It was pretty nerve-wracking up to that point, a lot of nerves, but Hannah set the vibe for all the riding. It was on from there!

Tell us about the six female athletes and their riding that went down out there.

At Formation, there were no awards of any kind—the goal was to get top-to-bottom runs. The terrain and location were used in the 2014 and 2015 Red Bull Rampages. The six athletes were Hannah Bergemann, Tahnée Seagrave, Vaea Verbeeck, Vinny Armstrong, Micayla Gatto and Veronique Sandler. Casey Brown was invited but unfortunately got injured prior and was only able to attend to support the other riders. Again, Hannah was super impressive to watch. She rode with authority out there. Tahnée and Vaea rode so fast. I don’t know if guys would have ridden faster than that; they charged from top to bottom. And Vinny, she just looks good when she does everything. She has a great style. Vero is just super playful on the mountain. She adds all these little moves to every feature, which was rad to watch. And Gatto dropped in off this super skinny off the top, which was really cool to see.

What’s the future of Formation? What do you want to achieve with this project?

To me, it was important that the riding—although it was the majority of the output—wouldn’t be the only aspect of the project. We want Formation to be an opportunity to help develop these women into complete athletes with three main goals.

First goal: Develop as athletes. We wanted these women to learn more about the unique terrain found at the Rampage venue—learn about digging and all the physical labor it takes, from the shovel work to watering and all the nuances it takes to create a top-to-bottom line. We also wanted each rider to be exposed to the sheer magnitude of the terrain out there.

Second goal: Develop a road map for women’s freeride. It was a pretty unique opportunity to have all the best women of mountain biking and a few similar sports in one place at one time to have a discussion about where this sport could go.

Third goal: Develop a personal brand and leadership skills. We want these women to be leaders and be the best ambassadors for the sport that they can be to have successful careers. The ability to be proactive within their sport and communicate will ultimately help the scene of freeride mountain biking to grow. We’ll be back in the desert next year, and I can’t wait to see where it can go in the future!

HANNAH BERGEMANN

Age: 22
Hometown: Hood River, Oregon

Hannah Bergemann takes an aggressive descent on her Kona Operator. Hannah Bergemann takes an aggressive descent on her Kona Operator.

Who was on your dig team?

My dig crew was Jason Kasari and James Rowan! Jason is my boyfriend, and James is a close friend—they are my favorite people to ride and dig with.

How was morale on the mountain?

The morale on the mountain was a combination of nerves and excitement. I think everyone was nervous to be stepping into new territory, building and riding new features in unfamiliar terrain. At the same time, everyone was extremely excited to work towards progressing our own skills, as well as the sport of freeride mountain biking! One of the great things about Formation was that it wasn’t a competitive atmosphere. Everyone was connecting and working together to push ourselves and each other.

What was the biggest thing you learned during the week of Formation?

The biggest things I learned [or] gained during the week of Formation was major confidence and progression in my skills and pursuits as a rider. Additionally, I learned lots of digging techniques for the desert, made a ton of new friends and gained valuable leadership skills.

What terrain were you looking for in your line?

In my line, I was looking for a combination of things, including something steep and raw like a chute or ridge, as well as a jump or drop that would be large enough to push my comfort level. I was lucky to be able to find and build both things in my line.

Who got you the most hyped to watch her ride her line?

I’ve admired Vero’s riding and style for a while, so I was especially hyped to watch her tackle the Utah terrain with her signature style. Honestly, watching everyone ride got me super hyped. Everyone rode super clean and smooth and with her own style.

Next time you come to Virgin, what are your personal goals?

Some personal goals for next time I’m in Virgin are to push my progression further and build and ride some gnarlier, more technical and bigger features. Specifically, I’d like to hit some bigger step-down jumps, because they are especially scary being “blind” takeoffs. I’d also like to start working on adding more tricks to my bag and be able to perform them on more features!

How would you like to see Formation evolve?

I’d love to see Formation evolve into a bigger, more broadcasted event. We received a ton of positive feedback, and a lot of people wanted to see more footage of the event. I like how it’s formatted currently with the lack of competition, because it encourages everyone to work together and collaborate instead of competing against each other.

VINNY ARMSTRONG

Age: 20
Hometown: Queenstown, New Zealand

Who was on your dig team?

I didn’t get to choose my dig team, as I was a last-minute fill-in for Casey Brown. Katie Holden chose Jordy Scott and Ming Goetz, two very talented riders.

How was morale on the mountain?

The morale was a roller coaster of emotions, from being nervous to super stoked. There was no competitiveness at all; we were all hyped to be riding this together.

Vinny ArmstrongVinny Armstrong

What was the biggest thing you learned during the week of Formation?

Probably one of the biggest things I learned was to control fear and use it to my advantage for riding this terrain.

What terrain were you looking for in your line?

The terrain I was looking for in my line was flow and a lot of jumps, as that is my strength.

Vinny ArmstrongVinny Armstrong

Who got you the most hyped to watch
her ride her line?

The person who surprised me most would be Hannah Bergemann. Her line looked gnarly, and the first riding day we were all getting ready and she was already at the top, dropping in before we even got to think about it.

Next time you come to Virgin, what are your personal goals?

The next time I come to Virgin, I hope to throw down some more big tricks and send some bigger more gnarlier lines.

How would you like to see Formation evolve?

I would like to see Formation grow, allowing more people to get involved. I’m not sure of the future of this event, but I know it will be something amazing. I can feel it in my bones.

MICAYLA GATTO

Age: 31
Hometown: Vancouver, British Columbia

MicaylaMicayla

Who was on your dig team?

My dig team was originally Ace Hayden and my boyfriend Viktors Vilks; however, Ace’s car broke down before he could get across the border, so I had Jaxson Riddle sub in.

How was morale on the mountain?

The initial vibe was definitely nervous and in awe of what was there previously. A lot of us had never been to Rampage or seen the features in real life, and man, they’re a lot bigger in person! After we got on the bikes, however, we realized how forgiving and malleable the terrain was, and that’s when the stoke and excitement really ramped up.

What was the biggest thing you learned during the week of Formation?

To trust my own judgment. On our first walk of the site, I spotted an entry line that everyone said was too crazy. It was hard to ignore the opinions of some of my closest friends, but at the end of the day, I needed to be super confident in my own capabilities and tailor my line to my strengths. The line worked out for me, and trusting myself like that was definitely a first.

What terrain were you looking for in your line?

Exposure, steep, technical. I grew up riding really steep tech trails and skinnies on the North Shore, and the exposure/heights don’t bother me, so I knew I could build something unique that really played to my strengths.

Micayla

Who got you the most hyped to watch her ride her line?

There were really only two main lines: the “party ridge” line that Vaea, Vinny, Vero, and Tahnee worked on, and then the “gnarly ridge” that Hannah Bergemann and I rode. I was stoked the party ridge girls got some good exposure despite their apprehension at the beginning of the week, and their jumps looked sick. Hannah was awesome to watch as well, and Hannah and I had a lot of fun riding Kong and finding all the steep freeride lines between the main lines once we were finished digging.

Next time you come to Virgin, what are your personal goals?

Well, go bigger and radder! I actually choked on a feature I built on my line from this year, so hitting that is definitely a requirement for 2020. I also want to work on incorporating more jumps into my line, because that is definitely a weakness of mine.

How would you like to see Formation evolve?

I’d love to see it go the way of the Fest Series—a bunch of rad girls sessioning, with rider-chosen awards, because I think giving each other props as athletes are essential for growth and community in the sport. Whichever way Formation evolves, I’m excited to see what’s next!

Tahnee SeagraveTahnee Seagrave

Veronique Sandler, suicide no-hander. Veronique Sandler, suicide no-hander.

Micayla Gatto. Micayla Gatto. 


THERE ARE SO MANY WAYS TO GET MOUNTAIN BIKE ACTION

Mountain Bike Action is a monthly magazine devoted to all things mountain biking (yes, that’s 12 times a year because we never take a month off of mountain biking). It has been around since 1986 and we’re still having fun. Start a subscription by clicking here or calling (800) 767-0345.

Available from the Apple Newsstand for reading on your iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch.

Subscribe Here

You might also like