If you pay decent attention to mountain biking, chances are good you saw some coverage from a recent event called Red Bull Formation. From the outside, it looked like a curious version of a women’s Red Bull Rampage, but event founder Katie Holden wants you to know it was anything but.
Katie has been around the freeride scene for the better part of a decade. She’s been on Rampage dig teams, ridden many of the big Utah lines herself, and has often dreamed of finding a way to push the boundaries of women’s freeriding within the confines of mountain biking. You see, “women” and “freeride” don’t typically go hand-in-hand. It’s mostly been a man’s world. With exceptions like Missy Giove, Lorraine Blancher, and Casey Brown, big jumps and steep lines were saved for those carrying the Y chromosome. Katie and a few women outliers wanted to change this. “When I worked to conceptualize Formation and what it meant and how I saw it in the future, I made three pillars; to develop as a freeride athlete, help develop the map for women’s freeride, and develop leadership and personal brand for each rider. This will help grow Formation into a viable avenue for progression and development and work holistically from all angles.”
The basis for Formation is to bring key women together that posses a certain cocktail of characteristics: confidence, big mountain riding skills, extremely good bike handling skills, their ability to work together, and their willingness to grow. “We need to go one step at a time,” Katie said. “This is year zero and we are trying to figure out how to grow this. Formation 2020 is going to be a thing. At the moment, the important thing is the door has been busted open and we’re going to see more women coming forward.” Each of the six women selected had two diggers to help them choose and build their line down the old 2015 Rampage site. The dig lasted for two days. Riders also went through a series of workshops with other Red Bull athletes and mentors to do a deep dive into the psychology behind events like this. Among other topics, they discussed fear and vulnerability involved in riding the terrain found in Virgin, Utah. It may seem like overkill for just riding bikes in the desert, but anyone that’s been to the area knows it’s extremely intimidating and unforgiving, and it requires just as strong a mental game as it does physical prowess.
Out of all of the women invited to participate at the event, one standout was Kona gravity rider, Hannah Bergemann. While Hannah may have been a bit of an unknown rider outside of the Kona/Bellingham circle, she is highly revered locally for her incredible skills on a bike and the quiet confidence that has given her the ability to ride features that terrify most other people. “I picked Hannah because I saw a lot of potential. She is an emerging talent. She has a lot of the underlying skills and foundation that will propel her to success in the future.” Hannah’s presence was immediately felt by not only the riders but by the mentors Red Bull chose to have onsite to help throughout the week, including Jill Kintner and “Queen of Pain,” Rebecca Rusch. “From that first day, she (Hannah) stood out to me,” Rebecca said. “All of the riders are next level and the best in the world, but Hannah stood out because she was sure enough of her riding to do her own line in her own way without distraction or fanfare. She simply saw what she wanted to ride and made it happen. Not only did her riding and her work ethic stand out, but also the way she humbly interacted with the rest of the group. It was obvious to me on the very first day that she is special.”
Hannah’s confidence and skill were on display early. She was the first rider to get tires to dirt when the lines were finished being built. “On the first day of riding, I was feeling nervous, but super excited to start trying out the features we had built,” she said. “We arrived early in the morning, and I guess I was feeling eager to get my tires on the dirt, so my crew and I hiked up to get started. I did one cruise down the center ridgeline and was feeling amped and ready, so I decided to hit the double drop feature. I was super stoked to get that feature checked off. I didn’t think it was weird at the time, but a lot of people gave me props for getting after it first thing in the morning and getting the session fired off. I just knew that I wanted to hit every feature in the line “for myself” before I was concerned about getting photos/videos of it, and I knew if it felt right, I would be fine doing it more times.” Hannah’s confidence helped raise the bar early on and motivated everyone involved. “She gave the group some confidence. Even on the first day she was impressing. She’s ridden here before and just gets it. She has the awareness. Perhaps it’s learned or it’s innate with her skillset,” Katie said.
While four of the women chose to ride down a more flowy and jumpy section of the mountain, Hannah and Micayla Gatto chose the steeper, more technical face. “I chose my line with the help of my “diggers” (my boyfriend Jason, and friend James) that I got to bring with me on the trip. We hiked all around the 2015 site on the first day, marveling at some of the insane lines from the past, and then chose a rough route for a line that looked equally fun and scary. We wanted the line to have some technical and steep parts, some jumps/airtime, and use the center ridgeline that we thought looked really cool,” Hannah said. “The finished line started off at the top and dropped off the ridge down a steep entrance with about 10ft drop to a bench cut and catch berm that we built (using desert plants and sandbags!). Then it followed a highspeed section that flowed into a large gap jump over a small ravine/washout in the hillside. This led you onto the center ridgeline that went straight down and ended with a big cliff/nose wall of rock. The line rolled off the end of the nose into a large double drop feature. The rest of the line was a series of medium to large jumps down to the end!”
It didn’t take long for Hannah to leave her mark on Formation. “She was the first one to complete her route, to piece all of the sections together and the first one to ride a top to bottom line. She was unfazed by the magnitude of the drops and the exposure,” Rebecca said. Hannah’s line turned out to be exactly what she hoped for. “It ended up being just the right amount scary, but also insanely fun,” Hannah said excitedly.
The experience has left a big impression on Hannah. “I learned so much from this experience! I learned some new digging techniques, gained experience in scouting lines and features. Part of that process involves being able to visualize how a line will work and using the right techniques to make it feasible. I gained a ton of experience and confidence in riding the Utah terrain. I feel like my confidence and riding as a whole progressed in that week. I learned a ton from having conversations and getting advice from mentors like Michelle Parker, Rebecca Rusch, Tyler McCall, and many more amazing people that were able to come help us dig and support us with their experience and knowledge,” Hannah recalled.
Like the Utah dirt, the future is definitely Hannah’s to shape. “My goals include progressing my riding by building and riding gnarlier and steeper lines, learning new tricks, and also continuing to have fun. I would love to help produce some more video footage of women in the freeride scene, riding gnarly lines and big jumps, and hopefully inspire more women and girls to do the same!” If her performance was an indication of the future, Hannah will be one to watch. Rebecca agrees. “if there was an MVP for Formation, she would get my vote for being the most complete package in ability, attitude, confidence, and team support,” she said.
We’d like to send a huge congratulations to Hannah for her incredible riding during Formation, as well as a massive thank you to Katie Holden, Red Bull, and everyone else involved in providing a platform for the progression of women’s freeride.