By Andrew Mitchell
This Canada Day weekend Whistler will play host to the top 35 BMX dirt jumpers from around the world at the third annual Red Bull Elevation.
Following a format conceived by Canadian BMX legend Jay Miron the Red Bull uses the slope to reduce pedaling and give riders a chance to hit more jumps in every set, get more air, and attempt bigger tricks and combinations than ever before.
This year the course was built with extra berms up top to help riders control their speed more easily, a new hip jump at the corner, and a longer gap at the bottom. There are also three different line choices up top, and the jumps are being arranged to let riders transition from one line to another to make that perfect run — and judging from past years it will take a perfect run to win the top prize of $10,000. There is also a $5,000 award for the best trick, to be decided after a jam session after the main contest wraps up.
Eight countries will be represented this year, with two Canadians in the running — Parksville’s Darren Berrecloth and Sydney’s Matt Beyers.
The whole show is spectator friendly, and visible from anywhere in Mountain Square at the base of Whistler Mountain. Friday, June 29 is practice day, the qualifiers take place at 2 p.m. on Saturday and the finals run from 4 to 5:30 p.m. on Sunday, followed by the Hard Trick Contest. The awards will take place just after 6 p.m., followed by a free concert by Metric.
Pique Newsmagazine caught up with Darren Berrecloth, just back from Europe, to talk about the evolution of mountain biking and BMX. Berrecloth, also known as Bearclaw, is something of a rarity in the dirt jumping world in that he has made the cross-over into freeride mountain biking. In 2003 he won the inaugural Slopestyle Expression Session held in Whistler, a unique showcase of bike park skills that has since spawned dozens of other pro events around the world.
Berrecloth has remained at the forefront of slopestyle through its growth, which is no small feat considering the number of talented riders getting into the sport. He spent the past two months in Europe going from contest to contest with his mountain bike, and rode away with the overall Qashqai Challenge against the top names in the sport. Now he’s back in Canada for Red Bull Elevation, the Kokanee Crankworx Slopestyle, and his own event at Mt. Washington, the Bearclaw Invitational.
Pique: Judging by all the mountain bike websites out there you’re having a good season.
Darren Berrecloth: It’s been really good. I just got back from this huge series in Europe, the Qashqai Urban Challenge, and ended up winning it. I’m pretty stoked right now.
Pique: Do you get to ride your BMX much or just for contests like Red Bull Elevation?
DB: Not that much anymore because I’m travelling back and forth so much, but I probably spend one or two days a week on my little bike.
Pique: You were the first winner of pretty much the first slopestyle, and now there are events all over the world. What’s it been like to be part of that?
DB: It’s kind of insane how big the sport blew up, but it’s a really good formula and everyone who sees it can see right away that it’s a sport that’s going to go somewhere. It’s in your face, and it’s accessible because it’s really a lot of sports like BMX and motocross and freeride mountain biking put together.
Pique: The progression has also changed a lot. How do you stay in front?
DB: As soon as you get a bunch of younger people into the industry with fresh minds and a fresh take on things, you usually end up getting a huge surge in the level of riding, especially in competitions. Kids are coming in and pushing everyone else. They’re crazier and younger, and rubber-boned, and they send the level of the sport up and up, and open everyone’s eyes to what’s possible.
Pique: Do you have a strategy for events, or do you watch to see what everyone is doing and try to top it?
DB: My main game plan is always to pedal fast and go big, and that’s been working for me.
Pique: What about new tricks? Do you spend a lot of time on your BMX and mountain bike in the winter getting ready for the next season?
DB: I maybe spend a day a week in the winter where I’ll go out riding and focus on practicing and learning new tricks. Where we live on Vancouver Island it’s raining six days out of seven so it’s kind of tough. If I lived in California with the rest of the boys I’d have sunny jumps every winter day and more time to practice.
Pique: What does the Red Bull Elevation mean to riders like yourself?
DB: Right now that’s the only premier event in BMX. In terms of BMX and dirt jumping this is the best contest, and it’s kind of a shame that there aren’t more of them. At X Games there’s no more dirt jumping for BMX, which is weird because that’s one of the sports to help lift the X Games off the ground and a lot of the guys are pretty bummed out who make their livelihood from dirt jumping. When Jay Miron and Red Bull started Elevation, it really gave the sport a boost.
Pique: Is Red Bull Elevation pretty serious, or is like riding with your friends?
DB: My personal take on this contest is that it’s more of a fun event for me. BMX dirt jumping is what I grew up doing and I still love being on my little bike.
Pique: Do you guys think out set runs, or is there a lot of improvising?
DB: When I’m out there riding with the boys and see someone do something, like spin over a big jump, I’ll go “okay, he spun that, so it’s your time to get ’er done”. Especially with a big jump course like this, everybody is watching to see who flips that jump, who spins that jump. Either you’re the person who guinea pigs, or you wait until someone does it and then you drop it yourself.
Pique: The jumps are a lot bigger than other contests. Is it scary at all, or are most of the riders just used to it by now?
DB: Everybody is nervous. There are a few riders who feel really comfortable on the big jumps, but a lot of people don’t like it when it’s as big and gnarly. I’m definitely a little freaked out doing these tricks on the big jumps. Even at the end of the day it’s definitely something that’s on your mind.
Pique: With BMX in the Olympics and this kind of event with Red Bull do you expect to see any kind of resurgence in the sport?
DB: BMX has so many different disciplines. There’s racing, then there’s vert ramp and street, and dirt jumping, and everything is just so different. I would definitely say that a lot of kids are going to be onto BMX bikes again, and riding around the streets and looking for little dirt piles to jump off of, because that’s how we all started.
Pique: Before winning that first slopestyle did you ever imagine you’d be able to make a living riding?
DB: I dreamed about it, but I never thought it would actually happen. I never thought I’d be able to jump on my bike and travel around to exotic places and countries, and ride my bike for photos and video shoots and competitions. It still surprises me.
Pique: Any spoilers for Red Bull Elevation?
DB: I’m just going out to have fun, hang out with the guys, and get on my little bike again.