It’s been 10 years since Red Bull signed on as an official partner of Crankworx Whistler, marking 2022 as a decade of supporting the world’s biggest slopestyle event—Red Bull Joyride. Red Bull’s involvement has undoubtedly taken the Crankworx Whistler marquee event to the next level, bringing even more cachet and credibility, as well as a massive global audience.
After a three-year hiatus due to the COVID pandemic, all eyes are trained on Whistler. Defending champion Emil Johansson perhaps sums it up best, on the heels of his gold medal win at the Innsbruck slopestyle in June.
“Could not be more pumped for it,” says the Swedish phenom of Red Bull Joyride, seven weeks out of the contest which takes place Saturday, August 13 in the Boneyard at the base of Whistler Mountain. “It’s the event we’ve all been waiting for to return since 2019.”
That pent up energy is fanning the flames for a competition that is set to be one for the ages… in true Whistler Crankworx fashion. At the 10-year milestone, Crankworx Whistler takes time to look back on Red Bull Joyride with some of the people who have shaped the story of its evolution to get it where it is today—at the top of its game.
A little history
Slopestyle competition in Whistler dates back pre Red Bull, even pre Crankworx. In 2003, a grassroots upstart festival called the Whistler Summer Gravity Festival made its mark on the Whistler’s summer events line up and it was clear it had tapped into something special. The following year the name changed to Crankworx and 17-year-old Paul Basagoitia took the top spot at the slopestyle event…on a borrowed bike.
“Back when it started, we really didn’t know what it was,” recalls Justin Wyper, who is building the Joyride course this year. The slopestyle riding cribbed a little bit of something from many sports, and riders threw it all together on the side of the mountain, putting on crowd-pleasing feats on their bikes.
By the time Red Bull came on the scene as partner in 2011, the slopestyle event at Crankworx was already well-established and the riding was getting better and better every year.
The athletes, and Red Bull, took it to the next level.
“A brand like Red Bull is so well known for doing really cool things,” says Darren Kinnaird, Crankworx’s managing director. “The global awareness (of Crankworx Whistler), the exposure, has grown dramatically by Red Bull’s involvement…The world has always known about Crankworx Whistler but they brought it to a much bigger audience.”
Today, more than 35,000 people line the side of Whistler Mountain, settling into dusty spots along the track to cheer on the 14 select competitors. Millions more watch at home. It’s no exaggeration to say that Red Bull Joyride is the Superbowl of mountain biking.
“Joyride is one of a kind, absolutely love the event and the crowd there,” says Johansson. “It is impossible to measure it to any of the other stops.”
Meanwhile, rider progression exploding year over year as riders take their skills and talents to new heights.
“Now it’s such a science,” says Wyper. “It comes down to inches, not only on the riding but in the building.”
If anything points to how just how far Red Bull Joyride has come, it’s the course itself.
Adds Kinnaird: “The course is a real reflection of the evolution of the sport.”
If you build it… they will ride it
For the past ten years, Paddy Kaye, owner of Joyride Bike Parks, has been been at the helm of the design and build of the Red Bull Joyride. Every year, after the winner is crowned, and the 10-day Crankworx Whistler festival wraps up for another year, the course is dismantled and flattened, the slate wiped clean. No other slopestyle course is like that.
It is both a blessing and a curse.
“We get to change it accordingly every year,” says Kaye.
The overall footprint essentially remains the same. Over the years, Kaye and his team, with collaboration and input from the athletes and Red Bull, has figured out how to use the slope to manage speed and build the Red Bull style features accordingly. It has been continually refined over the past decade.
“You can’t just put a jump anywhere,” says Kaye, pointing to the Fitzsimmons chairlift running right above the course, operational during the event for the Whistler Mountain Bike Park.
“We’ve had 10 years to learn a lot of lessons and apply them,” he adds.
This year marks the first time Kaye is handing over the reins; Wyper, who has been working at Joyride Bike Parks since 2015, can also hold his own on his bike with the best.
Wyper’s design will be different for the 10-year milestone. Take the traditional “whale trail” feature which is typically a step up jump into a landing. This year there is an added twist; instead of jumping up on the whale tail, this year there will be a jump to drop into the feature.
“That’s just one example,” says Wyper. “Every feature has a little bit of a twist from what we’re done in the past.”
This year, in collaboration with five-time Red Bull Joyride gold medallist and local legend Brandon Semenuk, Wyper was also involved in a project called ‘Realm,’ designed to celebrate the upcoming 10-year Red Bull Joyride anniversary. ‘Realm’ features Semenuk, with a cameo from Wyper, riding four unique features designed to allow riders to explore and push their creative limits. Fans were asked to vote on their favourite feature with the fan-favourite—the Sphere— to be a part of the 2022 Red Bull Joyride course. The Sphere looks like a large satellite dish.
“I’m really excited to see how each rider looks at it, interprets it and rides it,” says Wyper.
Wyper will likely be the first rider down the 2022 course, testing his design, seeing if what he imagined in his head, translates on the ground and in the air.
It is, he admits, a little daunting, dropping into something for the first time, even though the features are tested throughout the building process.
“You don’t know until you get tires on the ground,” he says.
Then again, only a select few can ever ride the Red Bull Joyride course. Hard to say no to that, he adds.
The “Whistler” factor
Ten years on and the traditions, the mystique of Red Bull Joyride are now firmly cemented in Whistler lore.
“We’ve purposefully created special traditions that only happen here in Whistler,” says Kinnaird.
Take the champions dinner with invitations that go out to all former champions from Basagoitia to Semenuk. At that dinner, the previous year’s winner is presented with a ring (Semenuk has five, even a pinkie ring). It comes in a shot glass in the world’s coldest vodka tasting room at the swanky Bearfoot Bistro.
These traditions highlight the gravitas of Red Bull Joyride, the recognition of what it takes to be in this select company, the best in the world, the boldest, the most-daring. Only a few can do what they do. Johansson has waited three years to get his ring.
“What it takes to win has been on an exponential curve,” said Kinnaird.
He points to local legend Semenuk as the one who set the bar a decade ago on what it takes to win—the mental focus, the dedication to the sport, the drive to be the best. In 2011, the first year of the Red Bull partnership, Semenuk took home his first gold, a feat then repeated four more times.
“They’ve become so focused and so serious so they can overcome the daunting-ness of what they’re doing, which is truly mind-blowing,” says Kinnaird.
Unlike the early days of Slopestyle, the wild west of sorts, now there is much at stake.
“We’ve launched careers through this,” Kinnaird adds. “Winning it, you’re at the pinnacle of your sport.”
The riding has come so far in the last decade from Semenuk’s corked 720 in 2014 to Johansson’s double truck drive down whip in 2019.
While in many ways, the ten years with Red Bull marks a coming of age of sorts, in other ways there is a sense that this could be just the tip of the iceberg with more to come.
“It doesn’t feel like the end,” says Kaye, who has been there since the beginning. “It’s feels like it’s been a decade and… let’s do another one.”