Red Bull Formation: Creating a Space for Women's Freeride Mountain Biking
It’s been a full week since I’ve returned home from attending Red Bull Formation, and I can’t stop thinking about the insane rock roll/drop/step up feature that Hannah Bergemann had a vision to build and ride for the 2021 event. After spending five days perfecting every little detail of these features alongside Hannah and her Bellingham dig crew and immersing myself into a new community of kind and inspiring women, I feel like I gained years of knowledge and understanding for the sport of mountain bike (MTB) that I would not have acquired otherwise. Seeing Hannah’s whole process, from concept to execution of her line, made me realize how much work she and the other women of Formation dedicate to pushing the sport and shaping the way for other females. I wanted to take the time to share my experiences attending Formation and give insight as to why I think events like Formation are truly the way to facilitate progression in women’s sports.
What is Formation?
My friend Katie Holden is a professional downhill MTB athlete who founded Formation in 2019, making a long-time dream of hers a reality. Katie wanted to create a space for women to access freeride MTB riding, a discipline that had been accessible to men for many years as showcased through Red Bull Rampage competitions. Katie knew that women were capable of riding freeride terrain, but had not yet had the opportunity to display their abilities. She created Formation as a progression event for women to push and encourage each other. Riders could build and successfully ride freeride lines in Virgin, Utah, creating opportunities for mentorship among female freeride athletes to continue to inspire and progress together.
This year’s event was the second iteration of Formation, and it expanded upon its first year by bringing in more female riders and diggers from around the world to make the event possible. This year’s event showcased eight riders and their dig crews: Camila Nogueira, Casey Brown, Chelsea Kimball, Hannah Bergemann, Jess Blewitt, Samantha Soriano, Vaea Verbeeck, and Vinny Armstrong.
Representing Freeride Skiing and SheJumps
I got a call from Katie Holden just as I was wrapping up my last in-bounds day of skiing at Alpental this spring. I had just gotten back to the truck in the upper Alpental parking lot after a day of late season powder laps out Nash gate. Katie knew about my interests in freeride and backcountry skiing as I had run into her at a ski demo where I was supporting K2 and Line Skis to talk about the new women’s skis I had helped develop. At the demo, we spent some time skiing together and I got to tell her about my volunteer work with SheJumps to create adult women’s freeride skiing clinic series at Alpental to help women progress where there were no current opportunities for adults. Meanwhile she told me all about how she had created Formation to progress freeride MTB for women. We were clearly on the same page and working towards similar goals in our respective sports.
When Katie asked what I was doing at the end of May and if I wanted to come to Red Bull Formation as part of the dig crew, I responded immediately…absolutely, yes! I knew that this was a once in a lifetime opportunity and I was excited and honored to have an invitation. No matter what my full-time work schedule or spring skiing plans looked like, I knew that I needed to go.
As the weeks went by, I didn’t tell anyone that I had been invited except for my partner Peter. I felt a bit of guilt for agreeing to go. I had big aspirations to ski some steep lines in the North Cascades this spring with a quickly melting snowpack and knew that I would have to sacrifice the best part of spring ski season to go to Utah. I had not even touched my bike since October and hadn’t planned to start riding until after ski season concluded. I typically MTB to fill in the space between seasons. I felt that my spot on the dig crew should have been given to someone more dedicated to the sport of MTB, and I felt guilty sharing this for fear of people asking the same question…why is a skier going to Formation to dig?
Despite these feelings, I knew why Katie had invited me: because progression in women’s outdoor sports requires mentorship, new perspectives, and open discussion from many different disciplines, not just from one sport or one group. I had plenty to learn by attending Formation, but I also wanted to share my experience with the people I would meet.
PNWet Trades Loam for the Dry Steeps of Utah
When I left rainy North Bend, WA to head to the desert in Virgin, Utah, I had no idea what I had signed myself up for. I knew that the event would be highly publicized and great for networking in the outdoor industry. I knew that I would make friends and watch some insane mountain bike riding go down by the top downhill and freeride MTB women in the world. I knew that I had lessons to learn about Freeride MTB, and lessons to share about my own time competing in and coaching freeride skiing.
When I arrived in Utah and met the rest of the Formation folks, I had a bit of anxiety about being so far from home for the first time in over a year. It was the first time I had met new people since before the pandemic. Most folks already knew each other through the MTB community or had at least heard of one another. I, on the other hand, had been acquainted with a couple of folks through skiing and the outdoor community in WA. Most of the other diggers were up and coming female MTB athletes or friends of the pros who had a lot of digging experience. After introducing myself as a freeride skier who mountain bikes sometimes, I ended up in the “skier category” for the dig crews alongside Michelle Parker and Lexi DuPont. Huge names and incredibly accomplished female athletes to be associated with! I was honored but also felt insignificant. I am a confident person, but it is hard to not feel humble when you are surrounded with some of the most badass women in the world. I knew that I was going to learn a ton from everyone and hoped that I would have plenty to contribute.
Building Freeride Lines: Dirt + Water = Magic
For the first day of digging, I decided that I would join Hannah Bergemann and her crew from Bellingham, WA for the dig. I made this decision because it seemed like the best way to start a direct connection with a crew geographically that could continue after Formation concluded. Brooklyn Bell was one of Hannah’s diggers who I had already met through the outdoor industry. We had done a photo shoot together last summer and skied once together at Crystal Mountain this past season. Brooklyn is someone that I have really admired over the past few years because she has worked so hard to create space for herself by being excellent at storytelling through her riding and art. Finnegan Hopper was Hannah’s main digger, a friend who she rides with often in Bellingham and who is quite experienced with building trails and who definitely shreds on a bike too. Hannah was the first pro female mountain biker that I had ever heard of, and I knew that she was someone to pay attention to.
After the first day of digging, I felt exhausted, sunburnt, sore, and was not sure how I was going to last an entire week of digging and long days at the event site. Digging has always been the most physical work I’ve done (I’ve worked on climbing trails, hiking trails, and MTB trails), and it was no different in Utah. But Utah dirt is a special kind. It takes so much planning, stacking, and mixing with water to get dirt to stay in place in the desert, and if you don’t plan accordingly, gravity wins in the end and your work will crumble and fall away down the steep gullies and hills. The most physical part of the digging was probably hand carrying backpacks and jugs of water up to each feature from the base road for multiple trips a day. I kept telling myself that it was good training for overnight ski missions carrying a heavy pack up a glacier.
Big Dreams and Big Lines
Formation was planned to have a schedule similar to Rampage with three days of digging, one rest day, and three days of riding and adjusting features as needed. The final ride day was meant to be the day to ride lines top to bottom as a showcase of the event. We spent all three dig days digging 10-12 hours, and two of the ride days digging about eight hours with the pros only riding a little bit in the morning before the winds got bad. Each morning, we’d wake up at 5ish, pack breakfast and lunch, and then hit the road to the site, dig from 6ish until about 1pm, take a lunch break and fill drinking water bottles, and then head back up to the site to dig until it seemed like we couldn’t do much more for the day. The afternoon/early evening ritual was then to head to Sheep Bridge Park, just outside of the event site, and jump in the Virgin River to wash off all of the red dust and dirt from our skin, then head back to the house for a shower before dinner. Dinners were meticulously prepared and planned by Lentine Alexis who crafted custom recipes for the week, with the help of Ariel Kazunas.
These women are angels, and they kept the whole Formation crew well fed and nourished for the entire week with the most welcoming and positive attitudes despite our crazy digging hours which meant late nights and early mornings in the kitchen. Dinner time and river time were a great chance to connect and relax with the diggers and athletes! I enjoyed meeting so many folks with great personalities, and just listening to so many stories.
The whole experience of digging and spending long days at the event site was very hard work but seeing the anticipation of the pro riders to get out on their bikes and ride the features kept us all focused and energized. Not only were these women pushing themselves physically with long dig days, but they were crafting some of the biggest and gnarliest features that any of them had ever dreamed of riding. Each day before bed, I’d listen to the pros discuss their plans for the next morning. Every night, the topic would come up and the riders would acknowledge their ambitions and the scale of the work that we had all been creating. Everyone was dreaming big with their lines rather than playing it safe as they had for the first year of Formation. I could tell that they were incredibly excited to ride their lines, but I could also sense that they were nervous about riding them too.
After the first day of riding, the truth of our work became apparent. Some of the features were built beautifully and rode well. Other features needed some tweaks, which we saw with more in-depth visual evaluation and after some huge crashes from the riders testing them. I was impressed that the pros and their diggers were able to communicate the work that needed to happen and make dream lines into actual freeride lines.
Day two of riding was full of more digging, but also more sends. By the time day three arrived, the pros were ready and their crews were able to sit back and enjoy the fruits of labor: watching all of the Formation women throw down sends on some of the biggest, steepest, and most aesthetic MTB lines they had ever ridden in their lives. Watching these women successfully ride the lines we had all spent days crafting and obsessing over was one of the craziest experiences. I had goosebumps and my heart was racing but stopped at the same time. The well-respected women around me who I now called my friends had tears in their eyes and smiles on their faces. I was one of the lucky few who was fortunate enough to see it in person and send cheers with positive reinforcement as these strong and accomplished women rode their lines beautifully and skillfully. What I saw was not just the best riding I had watched with my own eyes, but the actual progression of the sport of freeride for women. It was the first time women had ridden terrain like this for the world to see and believe. Katie Holden, you made it happen!
How has Formation changed me?
Since beginning volunteering with SheJumps in the fall of 2014, I’ve always loved feeling a post-event “high” associated with creating an opportunity and seeing groups of women come together and get stoked on each other’s encouragement and energy surrounding a love for outdoor sports. All-women’s events and clinics have a special sauce that you don’t get with coed events. There is no judgement, no feeling inferior. There is positivity and encouragement to try because doing the thing seems reasonable and possible when we see another woman succeed. These are the types of experiences that change people’s lives and help them connect with lifelong adventure partners. The feeling of helping facilitate these connections has kept me coming back to volunteer each year with SheJumps, and this feeling is what has helped me evolve my role from Ambassador and Event Coordinator to my current role as the Snowpack Scholarship Program Manager. Follow Krystin on Instagram.
I am an Advocate in life and I enjoy creating opportunities that give people a chance to connect and grow, to gain skills and become proficient, confident, and empowered. I like helping people realize and become what they are capable of being. Attending Formation was a chance for me to be on the receiving end of this experience thanks to the amazing vision of my friend Katie Holden. Katie taught me that if you don’t create space for growth and opportunity, the space will never create itself. You need to make the space and then utilize your resources to fill it. Formation has made me realize more than ever that opportunity and community are what bring change and progression. I am excited to see more Advocates and Enablers create these spaces for progression, and I can’t wait to continue to watch the future progression of female freeriders!