Big Jumps, Tiny Town|
Friday, April 13, 2007
|Photo by John Gibson
|Kyle Strait gives the locals a thrill.
It started as a drawing on a napkin. A rough sketch scribbled down during a breakfast of bacon, eggs and a double order of toast. An idea had been set in motion at the table and the wheels began to turn.
Up to this point, Aaron Chase had spent the majority of the 2006 season recovering from a broken femur he’d suffered in February during a snowboarding accident in Aspen. Kyle Strait had spent the year racing and competing on the international slopestyle circuit. The deadline for the upcoming New World Disorder movie was getting closer by the day and neither rider had enough footage for a complete segment. It was time to circle the wagons.
On the last morning of the Crankworx Festival in Whistler a breakfast meeting was arranged and pen was put to napkin. Sitting around the table was Jamie Simon of Red Bull, Derek Westerlund of Freeride Entertainment along with Aaron Chase and Kyle Strait. A film project was set in motion in the least likely of places. We were heading to Ymir, British Columbia, Canada. And compared to Whistler it’s about a million miles away.
The town of Ymir took its name from Norse mythology. Ymir was a giant who founded the race of ‘frost giants.’ During the late 1800’s Ymir was a booming mining town with a population of around 10,000 residents with eleven hotels, a hospital, bank, police station, three jails, two hardware stores, a blacksmith shop, an undertaker and a newspaper. Now it has a population of just 300 people and just as many dogs. Some locals say that Ymir means "Your Mutt Is Roaming." A wooden statue of the Ymir giant stands at the bottom of Wildhorse Road and presides over the vehicles that drive past.
A visit to Ymir is a step back in time and a few gears down from a fast pace of living.
The town is a mix of rednecks, hippies and regular people. Men with dreadlocks drive beat up trucks with collections of chainsaws in the back. There are plenty of woolen hats, long beards and Carhartt jeans. You won’t find cell phone service or a Burger King. Ymir is just a few clicks down the road from Nelson and the head office of Freeride Entertainment - the epicenter of the New World Disorder movies. It was the perfect zone to pull off a mission this big, this late in the season.
Derek Westerlund has had his eye on a magical meadow on the outskirts of Ymir for a few years. For this project he finally locked down the site and rented the location. The first person Big D turned to was Paddy Kaye—the legendary course designer who pioneered Whistler’s Joyride event— the precursor to the Crankworx Festival. There was a pile of work to do. With a can of spray paint and a handful of flags Paddy laid out the course. By this time the drawing on the napkin had become a CAD (computer-aided design) drawing and that was passed to Jimmy Deas who took the controls of a thirty-ton excavator and started to dig.
It took four days to rough in the track and get the shape going. The two men spent eleven days shaping and manicuring the course. Curious locals would stop by daily to see what was going on.
"I began to remember the names of people that would come to visit me at the Pit," Kaye muses. "It turned into a community event. People came here at 6:30 a.m. on a Sunday! I feel like I’m part of Ymir now."
"These are not the biggest jumps ever made," PK continued. "We basically stuck a bucket in the ground to see what we would find. It’s unique… it’s like a snow park. I tried to imagine building it with snow. The jumps are safe. They are all step-ups… you can case it and not hurt yourself."
With the deadline for completion looming and the scope of the job increasing, Freeride’s Jonnie Broi stepped in and raked rocks for 5 straight days. A few days later anybody else available was handed a rake and it turned into a work party. With the big ‘S’ bend that the jumps followed and the discovery of several garter snakes, the location was named the "Snake Pit." It had three big step-up jumps with a long bowl that wound its way from top to bottom. A large rock that came out of the ground was placed with care on the left side to provide a unique launching ramp. A huge hitching post made out of three logs was constructed on the edge of the bottom bowl for jibbing.
Chase and Strait flew into Castlegar and headed straight to Ymir. They both jumped out of the truck and stood at the top of the course. They stood there for a long time. Paddy had already put three weeks of his life into the Pit. He knew it still wasn’t perfect and not ready to ride just yet. The two boys picked up a shovel and rake and got down to work. Now we had four cameramen, two riders, a couple of producers, girlfriends, a few local volunteers and a pack of dogs in the Pit.
"I have definitely done a lot of work before but this was a different style of work. This was raking rocks!" Strait remembers. "We just kept raking and raking and getting frustrated. The Snake Pit is the hardest thing I’ve worked on."
Things began to look better though and slowly the boys started to think about riding and turned to each other for inspiration.
"When I first saw the Snake Pit I knew it was going to be nutty," Chase said. "It’s kind of goofy working with Kyle Strait. It makes me half as stressed but twice as dumb kind of thing. It helps me to forget the realness of it all and makes it fun. Kyle’s got that lazy California style and the ‘charge it’ style all at the same time."
The first day of shooting had the crew driving in the dark to Ymir from Nelson for a morning session. Paddy Kaye was already there and stood at the bottom leaning on his rake after buffing the landings one more time. The two riders rode the three step-ups together in tandem to check their speed and both decided that Chase would 360 the bottom jump with Kyle right behind. The boys rode the big line a dozen times and called it a morning. We finally had some shots.
Early the next morning the boys went straight for the rock. After a few warm up jumps Kyle threw down a tailwhip. Chase countered with a backflip. His first attempt saw him come off his bike mid-flight and crash heavily into the ground. It looked like he was hurt. He got up, pushed his bike back up to the top and sat there for a long while. Eyes closed and mimicking the upper body movement like a gymnast, Chase went through the motions sitting at the top. Finally he rolled down, flipped off the rock and landed safely as the camera crew cheered. We wanted it as bad as he did. By 10 a.m. the morning light was cooked and the entire crew went back to raking and prepping for the afternoon shoot.
Back on the road as we were packing up the camera gear a grizzled local came ambling towards us. With a beer in hand he stopped to talk as we were sitting on the tailgate of Westerlund’s truck.
"This is the biggest thing to ever happen in Ymir," he said waving his hands towards the jumps. "Even bigger than the reggae fest last weekend." With those words he shuffled on down the road and around the corner.
Later on that day, Chase got ready to ride the hitching post for the first time. It was perfect for a Fufanu but bigger than anything he’d done before. By this time many Ymir locals had began to gather and their dogs were chasing the riders through the 6-pack. A viewing area near the top was set aside for spectators and their dogs as people continued to arrive with their coolers and lawn chairs.
Chase rolled up to the hitching post a few times and finally decided just to do it. He launched up the bowl and touched his tire to the post but flew off his bike and tumbled down the bowl. It wasn’t going to be easy. After a few more tries Chase was able to launch up the bowl, stall his rear wheel off the post, pivot and pull the bike back around then ride straight back. The small crowd erupted.
With the light warming the meadow both riders pushed their bikes to the top of the course then began to ride the bottom step-up in a big way. Backflips, 360’s and barrel rolls were cranking just as fast as the quad could shuttle the boys back to the top. Chase did a dumped 360 that had him flat through his rotation. Just as soon as the sun hit the deck, the session ended abruptly and the Ymir kids charged the Snake Pit armed with their autograph pens and posters.
"Sometimes when people recognize me it catches me off guard," Chase said afterwards. "The kids here in Ymir were so psyched to see us… sometimes people don’t think you’re a real person. One of the kids said to me, ‘Aaron Chase no way!’ It’s funny. When the people saw this today I’m sure they said, ‘I’ve got to ride my bike more!’"
Strait was surprised by all the attention from the Ymir locals.
"It’s cool to be able to come into a tiny town like this and have people know who I am," Strait said still sitting on his bike. "The kids really wanted my autograph and they stood out here all day long in the hot sun to get it."
The Red Bull Snake Pit was heading one direction all week long and that was our final afternoon shoot. It always seems to come down to the last day during crucial film trips and this was no exception. The riders knew it. And the guys behind the cameras had the same feeling.
Sunday was all about the three big step-up jumps. Chase threw down the gauntlet with a bunch of lofty barrel rolls then a couple of flip one-foot x-ups. Kyle did a superseater. Then a 360 tailwhip which was out of this world. He did a tailwhip and landed it clean but wanted more. Strait muscled his way over the first two jumps then spun his bike twice around and landed with both feet on the pedals to nail a double tailwhip. Something he’s been wanting for a long time. He was charging.
Soon after the sun disappeared over the mountain it was time to put the cameras away and call it a wrap. The Ymir kids had other ideas as they’d been waiting for this moment all week long. Suddenly the Snake Pit had a pile of young riders from top to bottom. Ripping past their heroes who took a turn watching from above.
"This is the most fun I’ve had my whole life!" screamed six-year old Quinlan Thompson as he pedaled furiously down the big bowl on his tiny bike.
"Many of the people that came out to watch didn’t realize you could do these things on a bike." said Matthew ‘Shred’ Thompson as he watched his son take another run. "The kids here in Ymir have seen all the mountain bike movies but have not seen it live. The Snake Pit is going to make these kids want to build jumps and ride their bikes."
The happiest man in Ymir was Paddy Kaye who finally could sit back and enjoy this impromptu mayhem on his creation.
"I looked up and the Snake Pit looked like a skateboard park," Kaye said with a smile on his face. "There was an old school dad… not getting any air but just railing it through. Then you hear what his kid had to say and it makes it all worthwhile."
Later that night seated at The Rez nightclub in Nelson, Aaron Chase reflected on the Snake Pit and how it all went down.
"Everybody in freeriding are friends and we all help each other. Having two of us riding made the Pit busier and kept the motivation high. It made me want to go off! It also takes all the pressure off. The weight was distributed. It went back and forth and it was good to share a few secrets out there," Chase said.
Kyle Strait was happy to finally put an end to his season and his film segment.
"The highlight for me was dialing my flips and stomping the double tailwhip super clean and the 360 tailwhip," Strait said. "It was great to hang out in Ymir with old friends and making new friends as well. I’m a long way from home but feel like I’m at home here."
This was the final film session for the movie New World Disorder 7: Flying High Again and producer Derek Westerlund looked like a piano had been lifted off his shoulders. The pressure of putting together this film project was compounded by the logistics of building something bigger and better than anybody had imagined. The memory of something so big going down in a town so small was not lost on Big D.
"The sort of kids you see in Ymir are the future of mountain biking," D said afterwards. "Their parents ride and it’s a real opportunity. Now we have the second generation of freeride mountain bikers and it’s alive and well in British Columbia. We are keeping it alive here… from Whistler to the small towns we are keeping it rolling."
"It was killer to see Kyle Strait land his stunts in the crunch. That was rad," Westerlund said. "It was great to see Aaron Chase do the back flip off the rock. That was burly. All the Ymir kids came out to watch the best riders in the world. It could have just been a bunch of horses in that field."
The next day the riders and film crew left for home and took off in all directions. Back at the Freeride office there was a movie to edit and new footage to be processed. In less than two weeks the world premiere was set to show in Las Vegas during the Interbike trade show. But back in Ymir there were a handful of kids with a new dream in their heads. And the memory of when the boys and their bikes came to town.