Whistler has produced a lot of great athletes over the years, but it’s not every day that a town can take credit for inventing a sport.
In 2003, during the Joyride festival, organizers enlisted freeride guru Richie Schley to design a new event that combines all the elements of the sport of mountain biking, from North Shore-style mountain bike stunts to BMX-style dirt jumps. The first event was called the Slopestyle Expression Session, and about 5,000 fans turned out to see what it was all about.
In five years, the slopestyle format has gone global with events throughout Europe and North America attracting tens of thousands of spectators. There’s an event almost every week through the spring and summer, and a core of riders chasing some of the best prize money and sponsorship opportunities in the sport.
The slopestyle courses have also evolved in size, difficulty and creativity to both challenge the riders and to give the athletes enough air time to push their own abilities.
When Whistler hosts its fifth slopestyle Saturday night, July 28, more than 15,000 fans are expected to turn out to watch the action. For the first time the contest will also be webcast around the world on Rip.TV.
The top six finishers from 2006 have earned automatic entries into the final on Saturday. In order, the top six competitors are Cameron McCaul (California), Kyle Strait (California), Ben Boyko (North Vancouver), Darren Berrecloth (Qualicum Beach, B.C.), Ryder Kasprick (Parksville, B.C.) and Thomas Vanderham (North Vancouver). Cameron Zink, who won the 2006 event, is injured and won’t be able to defend his title.
There are three qualifiers taking place on Thursday, July 26, running from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The top five finishers from each heat, and the top-three riders who were not in the top-five will go on to the finals.
Each rider will get two runs in the qualifier with the best score counting. In the finals, all 24 riders will get two runs in the first round, and the top-12 will move on to the Super Finals where everybody gets one more run. The finals get underway at 5 p.m. and will take about two hours.
The qualifiers will feature 104 riders, including a strong group of local pros that are starting to have an impact on the sport invented in their hometown. They will have their hands full with a number of top pros that didn’t make the top seven in 2006, including 2004 and 2005 slopestyle champion Paul Basagoitia.
From Whistler, the list of riders in the qualifier includes Kyle McDonald, Alex Prochazka, Brandon Semenuk, Dave Musgrove, Gareth Dyer, Kyle Norbraten, and Scott Collingridge. Kyle Quesnel of Squamish is also in the running.
Alex Prochazka, 16, recently became only the second mountain biker to land a double backlip in a competition. He also placed fifth in the Crankworx Colorado slopestyle. Kyle McDonald, Prochazka’s teammate on the Rocky Mountain Young Guns Freeride Team, placed 15 th in last year’s slopestyle, and was the best junior in that contest. Brandon Semenuk has been training in California, competing in Europe, and has now been featured in a couple of freeride movies. All three riders are 16.
Gareth Dyer is well known in Whistler as a local top rider in previous slopestyle events, and as the jumper who injured his shoulder in the 2004 competition when he attempted to backflip over a huge gap onto an off-set transition.
Dave Musgrove, Kyle Norbraten and Scott Collingridge have also been hard at work training on the dirty jumps and riding the park, and ready to take on the Boneyard.
The competition is truly international, drawing competitors from across Canada, the U.S., the U.K., Australia, Germany, Austria, France, Spain, Italy, Norway, and Croatia.
Several new stunts and lines have been added this year, including the jumps from the Red Bull Elevation BMX competition, a massive step-up and drop at the bottom of the hill, a semi-trailer step-up and drop, and various elevated wall rides, gap jumps, and wooden features.
There are good viewing spots along the side of the course, but one of the best spots to be is in the village where cameras will show the action on a huge screen built under the last drop.
Also at Crankworx
In addition to the Kokanee Slopestyle on Saturday, two other events remain in the Crankworx lineup. On Friday, the finals of the inaugural Telus Dual Slalom will take place at the base of the mountain, with riders going head to head on a course that includes a series of gates and sharp corners. The heats get underway at 5:30 p.m., with racers facing each other twice — once on the red course, and once on the blue course — before the rider with the lowest combined time moves on to the next round.
Sunday is the Canadian Open Downhill, a World Cup-style downhill race through the Whistler Mountain Bike Park. The first runs get underway at 1 p.m.
For more details visit www.crankworx.com.