As the Whistler Bike Park's dun soil disappears under a better brand of powder, let's take a moment to make sure that something more important doesn't disappear quite as easily. Question: which Sea-to-Sky riders were recently inducted into the Mountain Biking Hall of Fame?
If you don't know, you're not alone. But you should.
Answer: At the Las Vegas Interbike show in September, the original Rocky Mountain "Froriders," Richie Schley, Wade Simmons and Brett Tippie became the first freeride bikers uploaded to this esteemed pantheon. As it should be, of course, since they were the boundary-pushing architects of the mountain-bike freeride movement, a Kamloops-born trio whose efforts were responsible for everything from the creation and wild success of bike parks and events like Crankworx and the Red Bull Rampage, to the movies you watch, the photos you ogle, the bikes you ride, the way you ride them - even the clothes you wear when riding.
To put the fineness of a deserved point on it, these guys put the "mountain" back in mountain biking during a time when lycra-clad cross-country and downhill racing were the silly - but dead serious - ne plus ultra of a young sport that had already turned its back on exploring the edges of its potential. The Froriders' relaxed, balls-out credo and stylish skill sparked a de facto worldwide revolution.
As Mike Douglas, the New Canadian Air Force and their twin-tip boards were to skiing, so were the Froriders to mountain biking. And yet the HOF induction got precious little press on this continent. Some local news here in the valley, dribs and drabs on bike-oriented websites, but nothing in proportion to the magnitude of the boys' impact on the industry. Indeed living legends don't always fare well under the scansorial North American media's eternal scramble to erect the next hero. And yet in Europe, where historical influence is king and the Froriders remain identifiable, poster-signing heroes, they practically organized parades. Privateer , a new coffee-table journal out of the U.K., even went so far as to ask photographer Eric Berger and I if they could re-run "Sick," our February, 1997, pre-Frorider Bike article that introduced the ethos and visual mindf**k of freeriding in print. This led to several reunions that brought back memories and united old friends to both reminisce and smack-talk about the origins and tipping-point of the freeride movement - a backstory richer even than the Froriders' eventual world takeover, one that I was fortunate to witness firsthand.
The year 1996 had featured the debut of Olympic mountain biking, but already a contra-movement called "freeriding" was taking shape in the B.C. hinterlands. What was this all about? The world found out after Tippie bragged about Schley's air capabilities to famous filmmaker Greg Stump. When Whistler-based cinematographer Christian Begin later went to Kamloops to film Schley for Stump's Specialized-commissioned movie, Pulp Traction , Tippie begged his way onto the shoot by dropping a mind-boggling line. The boys and buddy Craig Olsson showed Begin the local goods, Stump was blown away by the footage, and a controversial classic was born. Controversial because it depicted some radical new ideas: no trails; descending natural terrain; man against mountain. In fact, erosion concerns by Sierra Club whiners made Specialized nervous enough to edit down the freeriding in the final cut.
With the 1996 Olympics, mountain biking had launched fully into the public eye: World Cup was booming, the industry, too, but some clearly just wanted to ride . No numbers, no competition, just flowing down a trail or whatever they found under their tires. These riders also weren't interested in spandex or shaved legs. The rebellion struck a punk chord and after "Sick" dropped Berger's insane photos, and Begin's film Tao of Riding took it to another level, Schley, Tippie and downhiller Simmons garnered the first mountain-bike freeride sponsorships from Rocky Mountain. Almost immediately Rocky was at the centre of a copyright lawsuit by Cannondale over the word "freeride." (Since I'd actually coined it first in "Sick" by the same childish logic I could have sued both - but it was far more fun to watch them claw each other's eyes out).
An auspicious start, but it got people's attention. Sidestepping the terminology minefield, Rocky busted out a few afro wigs and ushered in the Froriders: three fun-loving, hard-riding guys with diverse backgrounds in BMX, skiing and snowboarding. A face for the off-trail descents, huge air, massive drops and maximum style of radical freeriding. More importantly, they were also the face of a new lifestyle: road trips and big personalities; loose clothes and open minds. Photography and cinematography took off. Magazines and movie companies flourished. The usual paradox of non-competition competitions took hold. Critical mass tipped the whole thing into the mainstream and the rest is ongoing history.
Pioneering a style with no limits or rules save for what the landscape dictated, the Froriders re-democratized a sport, creating a new and expanding culture that this town, in particular, will forever owe a debt to. Lest we forget.