Red Bull Formation 2022: a slingshot to somewhere higher

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It’s spring in the desert. Tiny wildflowers are emerging, there’s a buzz in the air, and the evenings are long again. Most notably, a mountainside in Virgin, UT, is dotted with 12 of the most skilled women in freeride mountain biking working with dig crews to carve wild lines on the mountain. Just like that, we are back at Red Bull Formation for its third edition.

This year’s event takes place at the 2019 Formation site, which was previously used for the 2015 Red Bull Rampage. hiking days. Thanks to a forecast of high winds on Wednesday, the schedule changed from the 3-1-3 dig-rest-ride format to two days of digging, one day of rest, then the third day of digging before the three days of driving. . There’s a strong team helping out, some of whom are up-and-coming drivers and others who bring unique experience, perspectives and motivation. By Thursday evening, runners will have built lines all over the mountain, in many cases working together on shared features, which they will use throughout race days to eventually piece together full runs from top to bottom.

Three years ago, women’s freeriding wasn’t as established as it is today. Sure, there were little women-specific events here and there, women’s FMB contests were budding, and Crankworx Whistler had added a Speed ​​& Style category for girls, but nothing quite like Formation; no place where women can build whatever they want, without being constrained by preconceived ideas about how a women’s freeride line should look. 2019 was the year Casey Brown made headlines by rolling at Proving Grounds and the year Katie Holden’s long-held dream of an all-female invitational progression session came true, aiming to elevate women’s freeride to compete at high-level events like Rampage. In October the tires hit the ground and six of the best freeriders in the world – Vaea Verbeeck, Vinny Armstrong, Vero Sandler, Hannah Bergemann, Tahnee Seagrave and Micayla Gatto – visited the site to see what they could build and ride.

Now in its third iteration and back on the Formation 2019 site, the atmosphere is markedly different. Not only have these riders changed and grown, but so has the bike industry. In 2021, after Formation returned for its second showing in May, the then-eight riders returned to the world to bring home what they had learned, and even further. Some, like last year’s replacements Robin Goomes and Harriet “Haz” Burbidge-Smith, have traveled to Europe and thrown themselves onto international stages. Robin became the first woman to backflip in a Crankworx competition. In fact, she threw the first six Crankworx women’s backflips at Speed ​​& Style in Innsbruck. Haz received her Red Bull helmet from Hannah Bergemann at Hannah’s Hang Time event.

Speaking of Hang Time, Hannah and Casey Brown went on to launch their own events in Bellingham and Revelstoke, respectively, and attracted a huge depth of talent to each of them.

Overall, the sport is in a different place than it was three years ago. Even with a global pandemic that has shut down nearly every sporting event around the world, women’s freeriding has continued to pick up steam. If it reached a tipping point in 2019, it has now flipped and snowballed.

And that is exactly the goal. While the first Red Bull Formation (and, to some extent, the second) looked like the absolute frontier of women’s freeriding, it hasn’t stayed that way, now that many female riders – more than I even care to list! – send it to events such as Dark Fest, Proving Grounds, Audi Nines, etc. Red Bull Training is not the end goal. Instead, it’s a start of sorts; a starting point. Founder Katie Holden describes the event as an incubator that can nurture talent and promote growth, but not the place to stay forever. Event veterans, she hopes, will go in any direction their careers take them, soon hoping to compete alongside the boys at major events while providing mentorship to newcomers moving up the training ladder. .

It’s not just the runners who are developed. Perhaps even more than walking spectacular lines or committing to the biggest shipments, Formation is about building a community that elevates. Some of the diggers are up-and-coming freeriders who might get the opportunity to ride next year themselves. Georgia Astle, Robin and Haz are all guest runners this year who dug last time out.

One of the driving ideas behind Formation is that “a rising tide lifts all boats”, so to speak, and it’s a collaborative event rather than a competitive event. Riders don’t own their lines and most riders collaborate with each other on shared features. Diggers, too, work to help everyone, not just the rider everyone is there to support. And, while each runner had the chance to bring a digger, there are also several independent diggers, which Katie brought because they would bring something special to the event as a whole – athletes like the legend freeskier Michelle Parker, who followed a similar progression. for women in its field of big mountain skiing and brings a unique depth of experience when it comes to crossing scary big lines; up-and-coming riders as up-and-coming freeriders, especially from places in the world that don’t have as much access to events like Formation as we do in North America; and community-driven runners who are uniquely invested in improving and growing the sport.

The focus is obviously on everyone building the lines and the key athletes themselves will roll, but the incubator is about the group as a whole and moving the whole space forward. So it will remain a small group because it is an incubator. I hope that, well, the sport is about 20 years behind, but if we have this rapid progression as an incubator, we’re constantly getting new talent into the group and all these other events popping up around the world, c is a bit like a slingshot and the level goes really high. There are all kinds of events where we want women to attend.Katie Holden

Most – if not all – athletes are somewhat competitive, but that doesn’t mean they have to compete in a place like Formation. Some riders are more competitive than others and there always will be, Katie explained, and there will always be a place for that competition. Yet, by laying the groundwork and establishing the expectation from the start that everyone at Formation will be working in a collaborative space, it brings runners together in a way that helps them lift up and celebrate each other’s successes. Again, a rising tide lifts all the boats. With everyone staying together in one house, athletes and builders eating meals together after working hard throughout the days, the conversations taking place make it almost inevitable that runners want each other to succeed. “Watching your peers succeed and be successful here means all of these people will have better opportunities in the future and be paid more and have more space, and that’s not just coming from one person,” Katie said. “It only happens if everyone does it.”

The exhibition is real. Photos: Re Wikstrom / Red Bull

As this year approaches, the veterans are more confident than ever, and that confidence is contagious among everyone on the mountain. Looking at the lines shaped, it’s clear that the last two Formations showed these riders that they could do more than they ever imagined. This time there is no wading slowly. Even with just one day of construction in the books, the features taking shape are no joke.

Katie says she sees it in the way they move.

great quotes For me, the most revealing thing is body language. In 2019, it was like a novelty. Everyone was like, ‘Holy shit, this is crazy, what am I doing here?’ It was really hard to find it. They rode so well, but you could tell by the confidence and the approach that they were scared, and rightly so. They are the ones who put it on the map. Now you fast forward these years and even the body language of not only the runners but also the builders, being here and walking the course is like they had a vision, they were confident, they knew they belonged and this is their space. They just own it. In body language alone, this is a truly powerful transformation.Katie Holden

Follow all of Formation’s coverage here on Pinkbike, straight from the desert.

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