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Creating an Iconic Jump Line for the Northwest

Blood Sweat and Gears: Mt. Bachelor

Story by Katie Lozancich

The sound of spinning freehubs punctuates the silence. We use it as a cue to get ready for the next wave of riders coming down the trail. We wait with viewfinders up to our eyes, and in a quick flash, Carson Storch, trailed closely by Kirt Voreis and Matt Eddleston, glide past us as they throw it to 90 degrees and back. 

Silence. Before the dust can fully settle, Hannah Bergemann, followed by grom Brooke Anderson is soaring over the mass of dirt. For a second, it felt like we were watching Whistler's Whip off as one rider after another flew past us throwing their finest sideways style.

But no passports are needed for today's fest. Instead, myself and an event media crew are enjoying a breathtaking day at the Mt. Bachelor Bike Park. Today's festivities are all part of a new event Bachelor is calling Redline Rally. Initially, the resort planned to host a large jam contest featuring the best freeriders from across the country on their new pro jump line. However, COVID-19 threw a wrench in the plans, forcing the resort to pivot to a private jam session. Instead, Mt. Bachelor invited the best local freeriders (and a couple of ripping ladies from Portland and Bellingham) to minimize travel and prioritize safety. Spectators weren't allowed to come up and watch, but the hope is that next year there will be a crowd of cheering fans lining the sidelines.

The first turn of Redline rewards you with an incredible view of the Three Sisters mountain range. Katie Lozancich photo.

The premise of the event was pretty simple. The riders had about an hour and a half to take as many laps as they wanted down Redline. The course had three judged features: a whip jump, a nose bonk / can smash drop and a best trick booter. Prizes were on the line, but the day was less about winning and more about having a good time with your buds. If anything, Mt. Bachelor wanted riders to start spreading the word about Redline. As the Northwest's equivalent of A-Line, the trail features massive berms, drops, and of course, big jumps that are perfect for throwing tricks. It's the kind of trail that gets lapped incessantly and known exclusively by its name throughout Oregon. Mt. Bachelor opened Redline last year, giving the local freeride community in Bend and the Northwest a space they've been craving.

Bend is just around the corner from Mt. Bachelor and has always been a treasure trove for outdoor recreation here in Central Oregon. But a freeride mountain biker's paradise? Not so much. Fifteen years ago, the city was well-known for its cross country race scene. If you wanted to freeride, you went to zones like Virgin, Utah, or Whistler B.C. These days, though, it's changing. Thanks to a growing community of legendary riders like Carson Storch, Cam McCaul, Kirt Voreis, and many more, Bend is becoming a hub for progression and creativity. Local events like Black Sage Fest and Marzocchi Proving Grounds are growing in notoriety and showcasing what the region offers. On top of this, the Mt. Bachelor ski resort has expanded in the last eight years to become a thriving bike park, and incorporating a trail like Redline, was the logical next step. 

The Mt. Bachelor ski resort has been a staple for the community since 1958, known for its 360-degree skiing accessible from the summit. The vibe is relaxing and welcoming. Patrons are welcome to camp out in their RVs or vans in the parking lot. There are no fussy restaurants or luxurious boutiques. Instead, the goal is to ski or ride and have plenty of fun while you're at it. As with most ski resorts in the last decade, Mt. Bachelor noticed mountain biking potential during the summer months. In 2007, the resort invited Gravity Logic to assess Mt. Bachelor's trail capabilities. Their findings were both uplifting and demoralizing. "They told us that Mt. Bachelor had some of the best terrain they'd ever seen, but paired with the worst dirt they'd ever seen," explains Tom Lomax, the resort's mountain operations consultant. Unlike other bike parks—which typically sit on top of mountains—Mt. Bachelor calls a massive stratovolcano home. The terrain is what you'd expect to find in a landscape torn apart by volcanic chaos. The rock is largely composed of basalt and basaltic andesite rock. In layman's terms, it's like chunky porous pieces of asphalt. That's not to say there isn't dirt, it's just mingling with all this volcanic debris.

Left: Brooke Anderson throws a clean whip on the judged whip jump. Austin Smith leads a party train down the mountain. Katie Lozancich photo.

The following year Gravity Logic helped write a master plan for the mountain bike trail network. Doubtful that a dirt jump trail could ever work given the challenges, they didn't even bother including one on the original plan. Thankfully, Mt. Bachelor didn't listen. After building the main foundational bike trails in 2013, Lomax ventured into the mountain's Red chair area and envisioned a jump line weaving its way down the slope. Convinced that it was possible, the Bachelor trail crew flagged the trail in 2017. To get the job done, they recruited local trail builder Paul Lissette to assist the trail crew. Eight years ago, Lissette turned his passion for slinging dirt into a full-time job by launching his business  Dirt Mechanics. Over the last few decades, he's built trails here in Central Oregon, and back in his home country of New Zealand. When he was offered the Redline build, he was excited but knew this wasn't just another project. He quickly realized that if they wanted to make something comparable to Whistler’s A-Line or Dirt Merchant, they needed some special expertise.

Kyle Jameson was one of the first people Lissette suggested to help with the project. Not only is Jameson a phenomenal rider, having competed at events like Red Bull Rampage and the FEST series, but he's just as talented with a shovel as he is with two wheels. The Bachelor team loved the idea, and it didn't take much convincing to bring Jameson on board. For him, it was the closest you could get to a dream project. "Growing up in the middle of California where it's flat as could be, I had this dream of living somewhere with a bike park," he explains. As his life evolved, though, so did that original dream. Now Jameson—who owns his own trail building business, Black Sage Dirt Works—didn't just want to have a bike park in his backyard; he wanted to help contribute to its design.

The success of a jump trail is entirely dependent on one crucial factor: the dirt. Mt. Bachelor had workable soil; the problem was getting to it. This is where Irene came in handy. Lissette introduces me to her over email, and attached is a photo of not a person, but a 6'x5' metal screen. Given the Bachelor's copious amount of rocks, the builders knew they had to find a way to sift through the rubble to find workable soil. Lucky for them, Bachelor's metal shop had some spare scrap metal and fabricated Irene the Screen to use throughout the trail. "Everything from the top of the Red chair where Redline pops out and down utilized Irene the Screen," Lissette says. 

Building Redline was tedious work. Lissette and Jameson worked their way down the trail clearing out the rock. Dirt Mechanics photo.

For months their workflow went like this: Lissette led the way by pulling rocks out of the trail to make a flat surface, screening the dirt through Irene as he worked. Volcanic rock tumbled off to the sides and out of their way. Jameson followed with his evacuator, shaping the dirt. They repeated this process for three months, slowly moving down the mountain. "For almost every single scoop—except for the last two features—we used Irene," explains Lissette. Poor Irene, she had her work cut out for her. In the end, the duo screened over 24,300 tons of rock, and Jameson packed about 57,600 square feet of trail.

Once they laid the groundwork, it was time to give Redline some character. You'll notice that while riding Redline, some sections are smoother, whereas other parts incorporate the natural terrain—like the rocks—into fun drops. For building the trail's many jumps, they decided to work with the mountain, not against it. "That's the way to succeed in trail building, as soon as you try to force things, Mother Nature is going to take over," says Jameson. The team built many of the jumps on these rolling ridgelines, which provided the perfect starting point for the tabletops. In the winter, these rollers act as natural jumps, and you can air off them. Using that feeling as inspiration, they applied it to mountain biking. The ridges also logistically made sense because they didn't have to be weather resistant. "Basically, we dug into the hill for the takeoffs, unlike a freestanding jump that's going to erode over time from weather and wear," says Lissette. Once they got back into the trees, where the soil was loamier, they built the trail's grand finale: a massive trick jump that two riders can hit side by side. It's perfect for sessioning.

Left: Lissette poses with Irene the Screen. Right: Lissette and Jameson making their way through the "Party Stump corner".

For two years, the trail builders toiled on Redline. Unlike most projects, Jameson wasn't able to test it during the build due to logistical constraints. Leading up to opening day, he was anxious. But the night before the trail's debut, luck was in their favor. It rained and continued to rain during the morning, setting up the trail's dirt nicely. Up at the top, a crowd of people gathered around the start, eager to drop. Once given the cue, they flew onto the trail. Jameson waited at the bottom and watched one rider after another exit hooting and hollering, celebrating with a round of high-fives. "It was a cool feeling," he says.

No two sections of Redline are the same, and that's part of the reason riders love it so much. It never gets old. If someone like Carson Storch—who hits some of the gnarliest features at Rampage—can't get enough of the trail, that says a lot. The local legend explains, "I love everything about this trail. It flows top to bottom, with non-stop unique features, most of them being trickable, scrub-able, with multiple line options all over the place. It doesn't get old, and that's a rarity for a bike park jump trail nowadays." The wide takeoffs, especially, allow riders to hip from one side to the other. It also helped to have Jameson's eye, who knows how to build for guys like Cam McCaul. Still, both Jameson and Lissette are excited to see how the riders approach the build. "There are some purposeful lines in there, and there are some other ones that have come about which have caused Kyle and I to go, 'Well, shit—we didn't see that when we built it," Lissette says with a laugh. For the trail builders, it's rewarding to watch. It means that there won't be a dull moment on the trail, and the athletes agree. "There's so much potential for this trail. Redline is the gift that keeps on giving in Bend," Storch emphasizes.

Whether you ride Redline solo or with a group of pals, the trail never seems to get old. Katie Lozancich photo.

Hannah Bergemann sampling one of Redline's many jumps. Katie Lozancich photo.

The beauty of Redline, however, is that it's not just a trail for professional riders. It's supposed to be fun for both guys like Storch and newer advanced riders. Considering Mt. Bachelor's commitment to progression, it's not a surprise. They build with all riders in mind and even lay the foundation for skill building with their more accessible trails. "We purposely built some of our green and blue trails with features you'd find on the blacks—not because they need to be there—but so newer riders could get used to riding them and eventually progress to something like Redline," says Lomax.

On top of that, they created a skills park for practicing intimidating maneuvers like jumps and drops. Their drop zone has multiple heights to help riders progress and push themselves. Given this positive environment, it's not too surprising that the younger riders are already riding Redline. "It's been huge for the community. I think we're going to see a lot of young rippers excel because of access like Mt. Bachelor," says Jameson, who's had a blast following these groms down the trail.

The riders fly by so fast that it's tough to discern who's an adult and who's a kid. There's an army of groms riding at the event today, and they're keeping pace with the veteran riders. Trailing close behind Cam McCaul and Sage Cattabriga-Alosa is Kiger Holmer. While he might be half the size of the riders he’s following, he makes up for it with his bike handling skill. He floats a massive whip past us and flawlessly brings the rear wheel back to stick the landing. As he rides away, the judge next to me chuckles and says, "you know that kid is nine years old, right?" Holmer is just one of many local kids in Bend already lapping Redline.

Nine-year-old Kiger Holmer is already riding like a grown adult. What is this kid going to be doing when he's 20? Katie Lozancich photo.

If there's anyone excited about this new trail, it's the next generation. Aside from the local dirt jumping spots like The Lair, Bend doesn't have many places for kids to progress their freeride skills. "These kids have always been there, but never had the terrain they needed. Now with Redline it's the icing on the cake," Lissette explains. This trail is giving these riders the tools to succeed. "I'm interested to see how these kids will evolve. What are they going to be doing at 18 or 22? To think that we've been involved with their progression feels pretty awesome," he points out. Who knows, maybe they’ll be the next Rampage or Joyride competitors. Following the completion of the trail, one of Lissette's most gratifying moments was riding at The Lair, and hearing Redline pop up in the kid’s conversations. They can't get enough of it. And it's not just the groms who like it, the local adults have become fans as well. As someone who's lived in Bend since the early 2000s, Lissette can tell you loads about the original bike scene here. Bikes had three chainrings and were meant to go long distances. Not hit massive jumps. That endurance culture hasn't gone away, but many of those original riders are evolving themselves. "Even some of the older cross country riders are getting full suspension bikes, and are learning to jump. 15 years ago you would never have thought that would happen in Bend," he chuckles.

We end the day with a small award ceremony in a grassy clearing. The riders relax with lunches and beer. Judges announce the day's winners, and everyone celebrates together. No one cares too much about being the best; today was about having a good time, if anything. Though, the cash prizes are a nice bonus. Before Bachelor wraps things up, they invite the groms up for a photo. There are five of them, all under the age of 15. Seeing the five of them together gets the crowd more excited than anything else. Watching these kids ride is a reminder of why trails like Redline are essential for the community.

Imagine if the Bachelor team listened to that original Gravity Logic plan and didn't even bother trying to build a trail like Redline. Sure, it would have saved them hours of back-breaking work and head-scratching. But sometimes the best things don't come easy. Redline is a testament to their perseverance and ingenuity, proving that if there's a will, then there's a way. And now, everyone gets to reap the reward. 

The Redline grom squad. The future of Bend's freeride scene is looking bright with riders like this. Katie Lozancich photo.

Check out our previous installments of Blood Sweat and Gears

Blood Sweat and Gears Part 4: Rotorua, New Zealand

Blood Sweat and Gears Part 3: Estes Park

Blood Sweat and Gears Part 2: Vermont

Blood Sweat and Gears Part 1: Crested Butte