Freeride mountain biking’s game changing moments – The List

Freeriders, Froriders, flowriders, streetriders, stuntriders, shoreriders, trialsiners, slackers, hoppers, droppers, coasters, jumpers: give us any label you feel necessary to separate our baggy-clothes-wearing, untucked-jersey-selves from you, if that is what you feel you must do. We’ll always have camaraderie amongst ourselves, which is all we really need.” Joey Hayes, 180 Magazine, 2003

Oct 21, 1976 The fat-tire revolution begins with the first downhill mountain bike race in Fairfax, CA, with 12 riders (including Charlie Kelly, Gary Fisher, Tom Ritchey, Mike Sinyard and Brian Cross) descending 400 metres of gravel road in about 5 minutes on “clunkers”. The participants go on to found Fisher Mountain BikesRitcheySpecialized Bicycle Components, as well as mountain cross racing, and the first mountain bike magazine.

1981 Specialized introduces the Stumpjumper – the first major production mountain bike in the world. Available for $750, it is “superlight”, weighing just under 30 pounds, is made of steel, has 15 gears and no shock absorbers.

1980s North Shore pioneers start riding hiking trails:

 a small group of bike riders, on primitive mountain bikes, started trying to ride various hiking trails scattered throughout the mountains that give Vancouver it’s picturesque backdrop. Quickly, they learned that many parts of the trail were impassable without getting off of their bikes, and henceforth started to devise ways of overcoming these obstacles. Rocks and planks were added to trails so that mud pits were filled and riders could ride over fallen logs. A few years later, bike specific trails were constructed, and the rocks and planks became integral parts of these new trails, because these new trails were designed to be technical in nature. The trail builders, free from the constraints of traditional hiking trails, sought out lines that linked significant features together. ~ Noel Buckley

1984 Todd “the Digger” Fiander builds his first trail.

Lee Lau later writes: Digger pioneered so many trail features that I cannot even begin to list them definitively. He built ladder bridges over wet sections. Then he “built them high, built them sick, built them skinny”. He saw rideable rock faces before anyone even began to think of riding them & pioneered the use of “Digger’s gold” to lay on top of trailwork to finish sections. Something for which Digger doesn’t get enough credit is his attention to route finding; he hikes routes over and over again before putting in a single shovel. He’s still one of the few builders to not use a chainsaw. 

1985 Don Douglass convinces Mammoth Mountain to host the Kamikaze Downhill – the first lift-serviced, ski-resort based mountain bike event. Prior to that “the ‘what if’ subject of taking bikes on a ski lift and riding down the service road had come up plenty of times as the ultimate fantasy.” Charlie Kelly remembers: “The success of the first Kamikaze so impressed the resort’s in-house promotion company that the next year Douglass was out of the picture and Mammoth Mountain promoted the mountain bike races along with the regular programme of road bike races.”

1988 Mitchell Scott’s Fear and Loaming article in Bike magazine highlights the explosion of the North Shore.

1989 Whistler’s Off-Road Cycling Association is founded, in response to BC Parks attempt to keep mountain biking out of Garibaldi Park. 20 years later, WORCA boasts over 1500 members and is the heart and soul of Whistler in the summer.

20 Years of Dirt! from WORCA on Vimeo.

1990 Ned Overend wins the first ever mountain bike world championship on a carbon fibre prototype Stumpjumper

Early 1990s Front fork shock absorbers introduced

1994 The first ladder bridge is built by Todd, the Digger, Fiander. Dangerous Dan Cowan takes the idea to the trees.

Dangerous Dan Cowan built the Fleshy Wound in 1992 and Todd, The Digger, Fiander (Of the North Shore Extreme video series) began his incredible trail portfolio in 1986. The Digger gets much of the credit for the high standard of trails on the shore. His trails, besides being incredibly inventive and fun, drain amazingly well and can take enormous traffic without becoming shredded. In 1994 Digger showed Dan his first “ladder bridge” which spanned a low, muddy part of Ladies Only where ferns and skunk cabbage grew. A ladder bridge is built by laying 2 pecker poles (preferable cedar) across a gap and then banging split cedar “rungs” into the poles to make a deck. Dan ran with Digger’s invention and started building narrow ladder bridges high above the forest floor. This lead to more difficult trails and other builders began using the technique. Today ladder bridges have spread across North America and the shore virus can be detected in tiny pockets even in the Eastern US. Dan is also credited with the discombobulator, a devious series of teeter totters attached together so that if one moves they all move. Dan is an important figure in the history of the North Shore because of the range of his talents. He is one of the best riders around and at the same time one of the most prolific trail builders. When Dan builds a trail he thinks beyond his current abilities so that his twisted imagination comes up with a trail that is more difficult than his last. ~ Noel Buckley.

mid 90s Lift access mountain bike riding is being experimented with on both Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains. To buy a lift ticket to take your bike up the Whistler Mountain gondola, you have to be able to squeeze an orange as hard as you can for a full five minutes, to prove you had the braking strength to go up the mountain. Eric Wight kickstarts the first bike park on Whistler running guided trips on the mountain, combining bike trails with ski runs around Whiskey Jack, Pony Trail, Marmot and Bear Cub. “In the first year, you had to have front suspension or you couldn’t go. And no one wore padding. People thought it was a little crazy.” (Whistler Blackcomb take on its operation in 1999.)

1996  Debut of Olympic mountain biking coincides with the birth of  “free-ride” mountain biking in the BC hinterlands – Brett Tippie, Richie Schley and Wade Simmons start the revolution by “launching off anything,” dropping steep lines in Kamloops, putting the “mountain” back into mountain-biking.

The year 1996 had featured the debut of Olympic mountain biking, but already a contra-movement called “freeriding” was taking shape in the B.C. hinterlands. What was this all about? The world found out after Tippie bragged about Schley’s air capabilities to famous filmmaker Greg Stump. When Whistler-based cinematographer Christian Begin later went to Kamloops to film Schley for Stump’s Specialized-commissioned movie, Pulp Traction, Tippie begged his way onto the shoot by dropping a mind-boggling line. The boys and buddy Craig Olsson showed Begin the local goods, Stump was blown away by the footage, and a controversial classic was born. Controversial because it depicted some radical new ideas: no trails; descending natural terrain; man against mountain. In fact, erosion concerns by Sierra Club whiners made Specialized nervous enough to edit down the freeriding in the final cut.

With the 1996 Olympics, mountain biking had launched fully into the public eye: World Cup was booming, the industry, too, but some clearly just wanted to ride. No numbers, no competition, just flowing down a trail or whatever they found under their tires. These riders also weren’t interested in spandex or shaved legs. The rebellion struck a punk chord and after “Sick” dropped Berger’s insane photos, and Begin’s film Tao of Riding took it to another level, Schley, Tippie and downhiller Simmons garnered the first mountain-bike freeride sponsorships from Rocky Mountain. Almost immediately Rocky was at the centre of a copyright lawsuit by Cannondale over the word “freeride.”  Sidestepping the terminology minefield, Rocky busted out a few afro wigs and ushered in the Froriders: three fun-loving, hard-riding guys with diverse backgrounds in BMX, skiing and snowboarding. A face for the off-trail descents, huge air, massive drops and maximum style of radical freeriding. More importantly, they were also the face of a new lifestyle: road trips and big personalities; loose clothes and open minds. Photography and cinematography took off. Magazines and movie companies flourished. The usual paradox of non-competition competitions took hold. Critical mass tipped the whole thing into the mainstream and the rest is ongoing history.  Leslie Anthony

Greg Stump and Christian Begin capture the action for a Specialised-commissioned movie, Pulp Traction. Richie Schley is featured on the Feb 1997 cover of Bike magazine riding a Kamloops line with the headline: Drop everything!

“…the thing about freeriding is that it is not about Joe Blow being three seconds faster than you on this course – that’s what racing is about. Freeride’s about your personal goals. It’s like ‘oh man, I aired those stairs that I have been looking at for years.’ So have a hundred people that may have aired them better than him but that doesn’t matter. it’s just that’s what he wanted to do on his bike and that’s what he did.” Wade Simmons

1997 Joyride forms, a production company borne in Chris Winter’s garage, with the dream of creating a World Championships of Freeriding, free of the stuffy UCI guidelines that were governing mountain biking at the time. Co-founder Paddy Kaye remembers, “that got kaiboshed on paper pretty early on. We tried to do Joyride ’99, again unsuccessfully, so went back to the drawing board.” In the meantime, PK had been building a little trail on Whistler Mountain, “Joyride”, with a view to hosting a lift-accessed mountain bike event there.  In 2001, they hosted the first Joyride, a bikerX inspired by boardercross.

1997 NSMBA forms

1998 Release of Kranked 1 – the first ever freeride movie:

1999 Whistler Blackcomb take on operation of the bike park, opening the Whistler Mountain Bike Park with an expanded trail network. Approximately 10,000 visits are recorded.

2001 A-Line built on Whistler Bike Park. It takes two summers and 1200 machine hours to build. “B-Line began the change, but A-line defined it. That trail alone had such a huge impact on our business and the whole industry of lift-asssisted mountain biking,” said Dave Kelly.

2001 Dave Watson wins the first Joyride, an event organised by the Whistler Summer Gravity Fest founders Paddy Kaye and Chris Winter, Whistler’s first biker cross: “Unlike most events that they would compete in, Joyride was more about just having fun and riding the unreal terrain in Whistler,” remembered Dave Watson. That fall, the Harvest Huckfest debuted, a jump demo that was the beginnings of Whistler’s slopestyle course. Kaye and Winter also produce the first Crud to Mud. Hosting Kranked movie-screenings and the MSP and TGR film premieres in Whistler helps them pay the bills to keep the events side of things afloat. In 2002, Joyride brings in international riders, including Cedric Gracia, Brian Lopes and Steve Peat, who fall in love with the park and spread the word, putting the Whistler Bike Park on the map. Lopes later says: “Whistler is hands down the best place to ride a bike. Riding there made me buy a house there, so it must be special.” In 2003, Gravity Fest includes the Joyride bikercross, an Air Downhill on A-Line, a 2 day trials event, and the first Slopestyle Expression Session, an X-gamesish freerie competition where riders are judged on creativity, type and number of tricks, smoothness, bike control and aggression.

2002 The first Air Downhill is held on Whistler’s A-Line, a last minute addition to the Joyride festival when the World Cup DH is cancelled. Cedric Gracia won for the guys, and Anne-Caroline Chausson won for the ladies.  Everyone loved it, and the Air DH legend was born. Remembers Paddy Kaye, “The A line downhill was a whole new thing for mountain biking, a downhill course with 50 jumps. And the riders were taking it seriously. Canada was never known for having fast downhillers. We had fast XC guys, but A-line really built the skills of a lot of local riders. They got really fast really quick, getting lots of laps, and people would have to step up their game when they came over here to compete. And that’s still happening, which is cool.”

2002 Andrew Shandro hosts the first week-long freeride mountain bike camp, introducing 35 Summer Gravity Camp-ers to the Whistler Bike Park. Ten years later, they’re still going strong.

2002 First Red Bull Rampage is held in Utah, Wade Simmons takes the inaugural crown. Unregistered, unsponsored, virtually unknown and recently fired from his job, Darren Berrecloth shows up, and places 3rd.

Richie Schley and Brett Tippie take us back to the beginning, here:

2002 Introduction of dual suspension bike

2002 Wade Simmons lands the Moreno Valley road gap on his Rocky, in New World Disorder 3, a massive 42 feet. (Video, here.)

2003 Dave Watson hucks over the Tour de France.

2003 Wade Simmons offers this definition of ‘freeriding’ and identifies 18 year old Thomas Vanderham as the rider to watch:

“A creative interpretation of the landscape that is original and fits into the ability of the rider. Breaking out of the obvious where someone might say, ‘why didn’t I think of that?’ Finding lines that express talent, that are original… and most importantly that flow and are fun to ride.”

2003 Darren Berrecloth basically invents Slopestyle, crossing over from BMX and winning the first contest ever (and $2000), the Whistler Summer Gravity Festival’s Joyride Slopestyle, an event produced by Paddy Kaye and Chris Winter. Berrecloth is declared one of Outside Magazine’s World’s 25 Coolest People the next year (ranked up there with Jimmy Chin, Kit deLauriers, Michael Phelps and Arnold Schwarznegger.)

2004 Whistler Mountain Bike Park expands into the Garbanzo Zone, tripling the Park’s vertical and adding four hand-built single-track trails through Whistler’s sub-alpine.  The International Mountain Bike Association (IMBA) describes Whistler as the “benchmark for lift-accessed mountain biking”.

2004 17 year old Paul “Bas” Basagoitia, with no sponsor and a borrowed bike, upstages the field at the first Crankworx to win the Slopestyle, and does it again in 2005 to prove he’s no one-hit wonder.

2004 Joyride moves to Sun Peaks, where they build a new bikercross track. The following year, Paddy Kaye pulls the pin on the event, saying “there is a good chance the Joyride event will be back again some day, but only under the proper circumstances – if it provides great value to all the parties and has a positive impact on the sport. Joyride has always offered a big cash purse to athletes who make a living on a bike and remains a visionary platform for the young sport of mountain biking.” It takes seven years for the planets to align, prompting Kaye to comment: “It was a great experience. I learned a lot. But I think in some ways were were a little ahead of the game, and just needed to sit back and let things catch up.” By 2011, the sport had evolved. “There’s more people. More eyes on it. More opportunities. I’m stoked to have the opportunity to be involved again.”

2005 The 360 heard ’round the world”: Darren Berrecloth high-speed 360s the road gap at Crankworx. How did it feel? “Very relieving cuz if I crashed I would be mangled but it was such a weird feeling going so fast and far backwards.”  “Do you think I should do it,” he asks Richie Schley. “Can you?” Schley responds, later acknowledging, “I was so impressed.”

Whistler Mountain knows how to build mountain bike features. With huge gap dirt jumps, a ten foot curved wall, quarter pipe and a ridiculous teeter-totter option, which had multiple lines to it. Then there is the 60 ft road gap which Darren Berrecloth 360’d…… WHAT THE &%*#. You must see that guy ride. Burly does not describe what that was. The crowd went insane! Dirtworld.

Five years on, Brian Lopes called it  “the sickest thing he’s ever seen.

“To this day one of the sickest things I’ve ever seen was from Darren Berrecloth. At CrankWorx he 360’d off the huge ladder bridge over a big step-down gap. It blew my mind and every year I see that gap I still can’t believe he did it. To 360 something with no lip, going that fast and gapping to a landing that’s 15ft lower and not so big has enormous consequences if you don’t pull it. But he cleaned it.”

June 10 2007 16 year old Alex Prochazka becomes the first and the youngest rider to land a double backflip in competition, attempting the trick that he has practiced at the Whistler Air Dome for the first time on dirt in competition at the 26Trix Dirt Jump competition in Leogang, Austria.

2007 Mountain biking proves it’s economic chops. It’s now worth $34.3 million to Whistler a year.

2008 Bike park building goes seriously viral and becomes one of Whistler’s most successful exports. Gravity Logic, made up of top trail-makers Tom Prochazka, Dave Kelly and Rob Cocquyt, spins off from Whistler Blackcomb – the trail rats are now legit. Writes Andrew Mitchell of the Pique:

Three years before there even was a Whistler Mountain Bike Park, Dave Kelly and Rob Cocquyt were cutting trails on Whistler Mountain with Eric Wight of Whistler Backroads Adventures. Before that they were building trails in Squamish, including legendary Powerhouse Plunge, 19th Hole, Power Smart, Pseudo Suga, and others with a distinctive freeride bent. When Whistler-Blackcomb decided to open a bike park in 1999, Kelly, Cocquyt, and Tom Prochazka were the obvious choices to plan and build the new trails. Since then the size and scope of the bike park has increased every year, while ridership has increased by double digit percentages annually.

“When we built those first trails on the park in 1996 a busy day was 25 riders, and we were all making single digit hourly wages,” said Kelly. “I never thought in a million years that I would be heading to China or Norway or the Mediterranean to build mountain bike parks and making a legitimate career out of it.”

The success of the park has prompted other mountain resorts around the world to sit up and take notice, which more than two years ago prompted Whistler-Blackcomb to create the Gravity Logic group to serve as consultants for the growing lift-assisted mountain bike industry. They also hosted Gravity Logic forums in Whistler, inviting other resorts to take part.

2008 Andreu Lacondeguy lands a double backflip and wins the Monster Energy Slopestyle at Crankworx in Whistler.

2009 Richie Schley, Wade Simmons and Brett Tippie, the ‘Froriders’, are the first freeride bikers to be inducted into the Mountain Biking Hall of Fame. (Check out Hans Rey’s induction speech:

At a time when full suspension bikes where just growing out of their puberty and World Cup Downhill courses still included fireroads and uphill sections;  these guys started shredding steep chutes, gravel fields and drops with transitions. Hmmm, I thought, transitions that’s a pretty genius alternative to the drops to flat I was used to….All three of them had roots in BMX, combine that with their snowboarding or skiing backgrounds and things almost start to sound logical. A lot of these early influences came from these sports and not necessarily from the established mountain biking scene of those days, along with them came other riders, filmmakers, photographers and promoters from the skiing and boarding industry – and all them helped shape this new school movement. Slopes got steeper, drops and jumps got bigger and Tippie’s jokes stayed the same and nobody laughed  more about them than he himself. But that’s a different story.)

2010 The FMBA creates the Freeride Mountain Bike World Tour, giving Crankworx one of only two “diamond” event status. More than 50 riders take part in 18 competitions around the globe – Cam Zink ends an epic comeback season to Win the World Tour title.

2010 Cam Zink gives hope to every rider ever laid up on the couch by winning the Kokanee Crankworx Slopestyle, his first victory since taking the title in 2006, after spending 4 years sidelined by injuries and knee surgeries. He goes on to win the Red Bull Rampage and the FMB World Championship and a place in everyone’s hearts as the Comeback King.

2010 Greg Watts wins the VW Trick Showdown with a backflip double whip.

2011 Red Bull Joyride aims to reinvent the slopestyle contest by constructing a rider-designed course that puts the free ride back into slopestyle,  with man-made North Shore inspired features, a pure dirt jump line, and a slopestyle line offering a series of options, to allow maximum creativity, and to reflect what mountain biking has become.

May 28 2011 Kiwi Jed Mildon does the first triple back flip. He spends 2 months practicing in the Southern Hemisphere’s biggest foam pit, on a nearby farm with one objective “get triples.” Holy hell. What will they think of next.

Thanks to Leslie Anthony, Chris Armstrong, Mike Crowe, Paddy Kaye, Darren Kinnaird, Lee Lau, Martin Littlejohn, Rob McSkimming, Tarek Rasouli, Mitchell Scott, Richie Schley and Eric Wight for their insights. The oversights, however, are all mine.

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Lee Lau says:


    Perhaps a bit more on Digger since he’s arguably one of the most influential trailbuilders in freeride mountainbiking. He influenced riders and builders worldwide. Respectfully, I’d omit Dave Watson’s road gap of the Tour de France. – feel free to use with attribution of course

    1. pembygrl says:

      What an awesome archive. Thanks Charlie.

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