This October, we traveled to Southwest Utah with Red Bull to experience the world’s premiere mountain biking competition, celebrating its 21st year since inception.
Red Bull Rampage is the world’s premier big-mountain freeride competition, this year bringing together 18 of the world’s most skilled mountain bikers to Virgin, Utah to compete in a battle that balances skill and mental preparation that define the extreme sport of freeriding. Athletes carve through slopes and narrow lines of sandstone ridges with the help of their two-person build crews. The broadcasted competition showcases the best jaw-dropping and mind-blowing tricks where athletes complete a run from the top of the mountain demonstrating precision, skill, and balance along the way.
The free ride movement began as a spinoff of the ski and snowboard scene. The genesis of Red Bull Rampage is the brainchild of Todd Barber, a certified legend in the mountain biking scene, who saw an opportunity to apply the free ride movement of the ski and snowboard scene to the world of mountain biking.
Naturally, teaming up with Red Bull in the early days with limited infrastructure and production proved to be challenging: there was no audience on TV, and no carved slopes and trails. However, as the slopestyle movement of mountain biking gained traction (with jumps, stunts, and tricks), it transitioned into Rampage which introduced polished takeoffs and landings (like digging up bushes and chipping rocks) for the extreme stunts of today.
We embarked into the exhilarating world of Red Bull and the culture surrounding professional mountain biking with an inclusive experience on everything Red Bull Rampage – from adventure in the mountain to meeting the athletes and players who made the competition a reality.
As a bi-coastal cosmopolitan living between the east and west coast, transportation on this journey wasn’t your average Metro ride; arriving at each location utilized a variety of transportation methods, including UTV, helicopter, and hiking.
Descending into St. George, Utah, the porthole view was filled with a horizon of mountain, brush, and sand as we landed into a quaint airport seemingly in the middle of the desert. Greeted by our Red Bull hosts and joined with two other writers, our media team of five were immediately whisked away on the first leg of our adventure for a UTV tour rolling over 50,000 acres of the Red Sand Dunes and Sand Trails of the Sand Hollow Mountains.
The Red Bull group rode through a vista of sand, terrain, and rock for over four hours, and by the end of the ride I was contemplating whether I wanted more or to never do it again. The only comparable experience that reminds me of this is watching Mad Max: Fury Road. Our group departed looking like sand-battered veterans – a great teaser and entry to the mountain culture.
Preparation before the competition
The following day before the main event, we were invited to a preview of the course, by way of a spirited UTV ride into Virgin, Utah where Red Bull set up a Rampage city of tents, preparing for the fandom and excitement, starting from the top of the mountain, leading into the slopes, and trailing down to the finish line.
Guided by members of the Red Bull team and previous Rampage contestants, we discovered the intense and manual preparation of Red Bull Rampage and its origin from an ideation to now a worldwide phenomenon.
Time is of the essence in preparing for Rampage. While we hiked up the course, we saw a digger preparing a line before the competition the day ahead with limited resources: shovels, rakes and water. With diggers working morning until night, it’s not uncommon for their arms to fall asleep every day due to the intense labor.
Beginning on the scouting day, athletes and teams walk through the mountain as a blank canvas and see what they want to do and where they want to go. Teams are given just four days to dig to build their lines, followed by a mandatory rest day on Sunday. During this time, they’re not allowed to touch their bikes or practice. Then the following week, there’s four more days of building and riding from Monday to Thursday leading up the big event on Friday.
Each team gets 75 pounds of sand to work with. Diggers fill up sandbags, stack them, and then layer dirt on top to shape the slope. If teams want to do a feature, they can combine their sandbags and efforts to work together to make a certain drop. The collaboration could be a complete feature or a trail that joins for one point and then separates.
On site, due to projected wind, we learned that the new start time of Rampage got pushed back to 10:30AM, a delay that would hint the outcome of the competition to follow. Spectators hiked into the mountains early morning, eager to find the best viewpoints to watch the show, while the event began streaming live exclusively on ESPN+ in the U.S., and on Red Bull TV in all other countries. Media and photographers followed the course along the mountain and soon enough athletes began flying down from the top of the course accompanied with drones, helicopters, and cameras all focusing on the riders’ lines trailing to the finish line.
Every year the top five finishers of Rampage are automatically invited to the next year’s competition, then a panel of judges vote for the rest of the riders. This year, Red Bull Rampage invited 18 riders from around the world to compete for the grand prize.
The athlete to watch was Brandon Semenuk, a four-time Red Bull Rampage champion and Rally racer, who made the last-minute decision the past weekend to compete in Rampage and Rally this year, exemplifying quite an athletic and mental feat. Semenuk prepared both for races this month, flew between Utah and Michigan, took home the championship for the Rally on Saturday, and had eyes to win again for Rampage within the same week.
Athletes are judged not only on insane tricks but also the embodiment of the sport spirit, characterized by the early slopestyle movements with steep, extreme stunts. For example, hitting the Canyon Gap, a legendary feature made 74-feet from takeoff to landing, would score significant points. Canada’s Brett Rheeder did just that with his balance of complex tricks and steep jumps, earning him first place with a score of 90.66 and taking the most coveted title in mountain bike freeriding, and now a three-time champion of the Rampage games.
“I was pretty unsure what was going to happen this year. I had a lot of changes I went through as a person, and I didn’t know if I’d ever get back to this level of riding. So, I didn’t come out to win, to be honest. I just want to make sure whatever I do is for me. Only for me. Not for any sponsors, not for my competitors, not for any ego. I want to make sure it’s for guiding the sport in the right direction and having a good time while doing it,” said Rheeder
We were also looking forward to Reed Boggs, who we spoke to just days earlier on his quest for the prize. Boggs almost secured his place in third until Brandon Semenuk took the last run down a knife-edge ridgeline, completing a 15-feet-deep jump right from start line along with a tail whip, back flip, and 360 spin knack garnering him the Best Trick award, rocketing him into third place.
Watch Reed Bogg’s insane POV as he nails his run (sound on!):
After the first run, several riders opted to go in for a second attempt to boost their scores, however, the wind proved to be too strong to continue another successful run cementing the first run as the final scores. Following the announcement of the results, crowds rushed to the finish line to celebrate the winners of the 2022 Red Bull Rampage with champagne and trophies.
Find all things Red Bull Rampage here and lookout for tickets to attend the event next year in-person.