Slopestyle Superstars | Meet The Riders of the Most Dangerous Discipline of Mountain Biking
“I’m always scared because slopestyle courses get bigger every year. But that’s why it’s fun...."
We've teamed up with Dainese to shine a spotlight on luminaries from across the world of action sports and adventure travel - from big name athletes to epic events that showcase ambition and achievement that goes above and beyond the norm. Dainese-sponsored slopestyle mountain biker Simon Pagès risks it all every time he rides, and does it all for a love of the sport. In this exclusive feature, we head to Crankworx, the premium event in slopestyle mountain biking, to find out more about the method behind the madness.
It was not so long ago that Darren Berrecloth made history by landing a 360 on a mountain bike over a 60ft road gap in a competition run.
That was back in 2005, at Crankworx Whistler. It was dubbed “the 360 heard around the world" due to the roars of the dumbfounded Canadian crowd, and it set the wheels in motion for the future of slopestyle mountain biking.
Those wheels have certainly travelled some distance since then.
Slopestyle has always been a dangerous discipline. It requires the best riders in the world to one-up each other on a course formed from monster jumps, drops and one-of-a-kind features. By its very nature, it is bound to be dangerous. But these days both the size of the kickers and the skills of the competitors are getting increasingly hard to believe.
12 years on from Berrecloth’s ground-breaking run and we’re standing at the foot of the final jump of the slopestyle course in Crankworx Innsbruck.
Crankworx was the premium weekend in slopestyle mountain biking back when Berrecloth made history in Whistler in 2005. Now it has become the premium world series in slopestyle mountain biking, with stops not only in Whistler, but at Rotorua in New Zealand, Les Gets in France, and indeed, from this year onwards, in Innsbruck in the Austrian mountains.
These days if a 360 is included in a top-level slopestyle run at all, it tends to be one of the more basic manoeuvres.
The winning competitors are throwing down cash-rolls (a 360 combined with a barrel roll), and twisters (off-axis 1080s). That’s a spin three times dizzier than Berrecloth’s iconic road gap drop.
“Crankworx stops are my favourite," admits Dainese rider Simon Pagés, a French rider who has been riding the elite tour for several years. “They’re the biggest events in our sport.
“I'm always scared when I compete, because slopestyle courses are getting bigger and bigger every year. But that's why it's fun.
“I guess everyone is nervous and scared a lot of the time. My favourite part of the sport though is that feeling that you can do whatever you want."
Despite his experience, Pagés is still only 21 years old. We can’t help but wonder how anyone could get started in such a sport. It turns out Simon’s story is somewhat of a family affair.
“I actually started riding cross-country," continues Pagés. “I used to ride with my dad, and then started riding jumps on my bike around 2008, and did my first competition by 2010.
“I was still learning the basics at that time and the tailwhip [where riders whip the frame of the bicycle around the front wheel before climbing back on] was the one I found hardest to learn. It took me more than a year of hard training.
“I’ve got some jumps close to my place in my grandmother’s garden though, and there’s almost everything there that I need to train on. I’ve been practising pretty much every day since 2014."
Simon doesn’t need reminders from his grandmother to keep the protective gear on. It’s a bit of an essential when you ride dirt jumps for a living, but with the Dainese logo on his armour he knows he's in safe hands.
“I’ve had a lot of small injuries since I started riding, and a few broken collarbones and a broken leg as well," he admits.
“But the big injuries are going to happen in the sport. The knee pads and elbow pads are almost more important. They save you every day from dangerous little impacts."
The course we're stood staring at in Innsbruck is capable of causing brakes of the worst possible kind. It's absolutely enormous.
It starts by dropping riders over a road gap and sending them down a wickedly steep dirt decline to gain speed for the opening jump – which is roughly five-times the height of an average human-being.
The riders then flow around a comedy-size berm, drop off another log and fly through more jumps capable of hospitalising even the best of riders before the climactic end ramp beckons. The finale is monumental.
We watch on as the jump propels rider after ride high into the air then down on a huge dirt-landing pad, roughly 10m wide. It’s almost difficult to forget the riders aren’t straight out of a video game.
American Nicholi Rogatkin is at the forefront of the slopestyle world right now. He took the gold medal at Crankworx in Rotorua at the start of the year and would go on to take the win in Innsbruck at the end of the weekend too.
His acrobatics have even the best in the world baffled on how to beat him, and the tailwhip to cash roll he nailed on the final jump in Innsbruck was the first ever landed in competition. The crowd reacted appropriately, and Nicholi did as well when he got off his bike.
It’s fast, it’s furious, and it’s incredibly unpredictable. It’s also absolutely enthralling to watch.
“I guess I just showed that you have to put everything on the line to win in slopestyle these days," Rogatkin tells us on the finish line, with gold around his neck and a giant cheque for $7,500 lying nearby with his name scrawled across it.
“Not everyone could compose themselves in the circumstances and drop in like we do.
“The progression rate is astronomical. Guys like Darren Berrecloth were 360’ing jumps in the close past, and I guess they couldn’t have imagined the level that the sport is at now. I’m just stoked to be part of a sport that’s progressing so fast.
“We’re setting the platform now and building the sport for the future, and I think it’s going to get real, real rowdy."
With Nicholi only 21 years old, and Pagés still one year his junior, it certainly seems like the slopestyle generation are only just getting started.
If this is where the progression has taken the sport so far, we can’t wait to see – and we dare not dream – just where it’s going to take it in the future.
Stay tuned to our Dainese Luminaries hub for more from the world of ambition and adventure.
Next month we speak to Marcello Bencini, in charge of the Strategic Analysis & Project Management office at Dainese, who are currently working on the spacesuit that NASA will take on their first manned mission to Mars in 2030, having already revolutionised the modern day spacesuit as we know it.