Kurt Sorge adorns the cover of the December 2010 issue of Bike in a beautiful photo by John Wellburn/NWD. We thought a look back at Sorge's favorite contest would be a great way to greet the New Year.
Words by Kurt Sorge
Photos by Will Walker
The vast mountains of the French Alps are home to the small, ski-village town named Chatel. Chatel is a small family resort of Portes du Soleil, a group of resorts in the French and Swiss Alps, which have a combined 260 chairlifts accessing some of the greatest terrain in the world. I first visited in 2009 for the Chatel Mountain Style and fell in love: great small town vibe, preserved architecture, unbelievable scenery.
In 2010 I traveled back for the fourth Chatel Mountain Style Contest. I was looking forward to it all season long because this is a true mountain bike contest--it has everything. The course is located high up on the face of the mountain, surrounded by gargantuan peaks. It starts on a bit of a plateau with a slopestyle feel, but on steroids. The drops and jumps are all supersized, with multiple starts and ways down, and new for this year was the 33-foot drop into a sniper-steep landing, followed by a massive, moto-style 45-foot step-up jump. If you survived those you then dropped into the DH/freeride part of the course.
This part of the course is quite wide and you can take any line down. Some trails already exist where many riders choose to pin it, full-speed, DH-style. However, there is another approach to this part of the course--the freeride lines. These are some of the most challenging landings you will ever encounter. Next, the course starts to feel like slopestyle again, but this section is still "on the juice". A high-speed road gap races into a huge right-hand berm, followed by a drop into the 45-foot showtime booter. At the end, you're happy just to make it down without tomahawking once or twice.
This course may sound intimidating, but it is more fun than anything I have ever ridden and I am sure most of the riders at the event would agree. And that's not even taking into account all the other lift-access trails in the area. That's another thing that makes this contest way better than the rest--how fun the whole experience is. The first year I came to this contest I arrived the day before practice like you usually do for a comp. But the majority of riders had already been there for a week. I was confused why they would come so early, but by the end of the trip it was clear why--this place is so rad. It's refreshing to see riders with such busy schedules make the time to come early just to ride the terrain and have a good time.
It is now July first (Canada Day), the day before contest, and everyone who hasn't already arrived is rolling in. Putting the final touches on the course is the Chatel Bike Patrol and trail-building crew, a very dedicated group of Frenchmen led by the man behind the comp, Sebastian Girald. They have done a great job sculpting the face of the mountain into one of the best mountain bike courses to date--and it is only getting bigger and better every year. So while many of the riders build their bikes and get a feel for the terrain, Garett, Mike, Romo and myself get a tour of Portes Du Soleil. Our guides, Ben and Will Walker, are two Americans shredders who have made their home in Champery, Switzerland. We rode from Chatel over the backside of the mountain and continued on over many more mountains till we were in Morgins, Switzerland--all by lift access. Morgins is where Ben and Will have devoted many years to building trails, and the dedication has paid off. The trails are sick. Unfortunately, on one of the last laps of the day I got a little too zesty and went over the bars at high speed and broke my collarbone. Riding in the contest was out for me, so I was put on judging duty.
A defining element of the Chalet Mountain Style competition is that it brings riders from all disciplines together to ride the same course. There are the senders like Kinrade, Romo, Buehler; then slopestyle dominators--McCaul, Claw, Zink; and fearless dirtjumpers and white-knuckler downhillers. Drawing from such a diverse and creative group of riders, it's always exciting to see how each one takes to the course.
We weren't sure if finals day was going to happen because of the rainstorm the previous night, but the sun dried the course enough for the riders to get one more run. This is when things got serious: Tricks were flying in practice and riders started to scope out the new 33-foot drop at the start of the course--it hadn't been hit yet. Some standouts I saw were Garett Buehler's huge pendulums off the last jump, but then having some mechanicals before crashing out. Cam Zink going for a big three on the drop before the last jump, but slipping a pedal on the takeoff and going down really hard. He still got it together to put a solid run in. Agassiz was laying it down hard in his run, hitting the big drop at the top into a cork flip on the moto jump and a foot plant off the next drop. But on the run out, he clipped his rotor on a rock, and bent it so bad he couldn't continue. Geoff Gulevich was putting down a great run as well, hitting the smaller tunnel drop then into a huge cork flip on the moto jump and then three-ing the next drop. Continuing his solid run into a unique, smooth line through the face, hitting the big natural drop into an X-up over the road gap. But when he railed the catch berm he blew out his rear tire and couldn't finish his run either. Claw put a good run in, hitting the big drop, 3-ing the next drop, and charged the face. He finished up in second place.
But it was Semenuk, sending it with smooth style. He was the first one to hit the massive drop at the top. He back-flipped the moto jump, no-footered the next drop, took a line that he had shaved in through the face, no-handed the road gap, X-upped the next drop, and then busted a big moto whip on the last jump. Brandon walked away with the big wheel of cheese and was crowned Chatel Mountain Style Champ for 2010. I know I speak for a lot of the riders when I say I can't wait to see what they have in store for us next year.