Canadian Freeride? The term lacks a solid definition. Maybe it’s more of an idea or way of life than something that can be defined in a sentence or two and it can mean something different to everyone who rides a mountain bike. Canada is known as the birthplace of freeride mountain biking and the movement has made British Columbia a mecca for riders from all over the globe. But to some, the spirit of Canadian Freeride is fading, being sidelined by new styles of riding and trail building. None feel this more than the Calgary-based freeride group called The Flannel Crew. In fact, they feel so strongly that they’re launching the Rocky Mountain Freeride Awards. The awards will showcase grassroots freeride talent in the spirit of Canadian Freeride and it’s about much more than just the riding.
I sat down with Austen Tanney (who is spearheading the awards) and Bryant Freeman of The Flannel Crew to learn more about their idea of the spirit of Canadian Freeride. We talked about how and why they want to use these awards to keep that spirit alive.
Flannel and Freeride
As the brainchild of The Flannel Crew, the Rocky Mountain Freeride Awards will closely align with the group’s mission in general. According to Austen, that mission is all about raising the stoke around mountain biking and getting more people out riding bikes.
“Our purpose is just to keep building the best bike community we can by putting on events, building trails and just getting more people involved,” he says. “Our overall vision is just to get more people on bikes in the mountains!”
At the end of the day, it’s about having fun with friends, and maybe a few beers along the way.
With this attitude in mind, it’s fitting that I met Austen and Bryant for a beer as they took a break between sessions at their local indoor bike park: B-LINE Bike Park in Calgary. And it was obvious as we talked that The Flannel Crew’s tagline, “Pretty Stoked on Bikes” sums them up perfectly.
What is Canadian Freeride?
The Rocky Mountain Freeride Awards hinge on the idea of Canadian Freeride. Nominees will be judged based on a number of factors. Out of all these factors, one of the most important is their commitment to Canadian Freeride. This goes for nominees in both the riding and trail-building categories. There is no dictionary definition of the term but Bryant and Austen have some pretty clear ideas of what it means to them. And it all started with the North Shore.
“We want to promote people to build their own stunts, their own jumps, their own sketchiness and just get out of their comfort zone.”Austen Tanney of The Flannel Crew
“Canadian Freeride is… steep, rooty, rocky with wood features. Like wood drops [and] river gaps,” says Bryant. “Just gnarly, holy crap stuff!” It’s using and enhancing the natural landscape to build trails, not transforming the landscape into something it isn’t.
“We’re still stoked on [trails where] the bars just fit through the trees, it’s steep as hell! It’s 50/50 if you make to the bottom without crashing,” remarks Austen. “We want to promote people to build their own stunts, their own jumps, their own sketchiness and just get out of their comfort zone.”
This type of Canadian Freeride is really meant to push riders’ limits. And over the years it has become known all over the world.
Is Canadian Freeride losing its way?
As well known as Canadian Freeride might be, The Flannel Crew believes the spirit of this type of riding is slowly being eroded. For example, it’s being replaced with trails that are more accessible to a larger number of riders, but that don’t push them to progress as quickly, or to the same degree.
“Canadian Freeride has really taken a new direction in the last 10 years. It’s gone toward flow trails [and] the manicured berms. It’s kind of like riding a highway down a mountain,” notes Austen.
Austen, Bryant and the rest of The Flannel Crew don’t believe there is anything wrong with these types of trails. But they want to keep their idea of the spirit of Canadian Freeride alive to help push the limits of the next generation of riders. And they believe that the Rocky Mountain Freeride Awards are a step in that direction.
The awards in a nutshell
The Rocky Mountain Freeride Awards consist of three award categories and they are divided into male and female. They are as follows:
- Trail Builder of the Year
- Freerider of the Year
- Dirt Jump/Park Rider of the Year
“You can call it the America’s Got Talent for biking in the rocky mountains.”Austen Tanney of The Flannel Crew
Riders can enter using the submission form on The Flannel Crew’s website. In addition, anyone can nominate a rider using the same form. One person can be put forward for all three categories or a single category. Nominations must include the contender’s Instagram handle, which has to be linked to a public account. Aspiring award winners cannot be professional riders, or have sponsorships, and must be a resident of Alberta or British Columbia. A panel of judges will use the Instagram accounts to narrow the nominations down to 10 finalists in each category. From there, the general public will vote for the final winners through an online poll. Each of the finalists will be asked to put together a one-minute highlight reel from the season to be shown at the awards presentation event.
Austen describes the Rocky Mountain Freeride Awards in a single sentence:
“You can call it the America’s Got Talent for biking in the rocky mountains.”
Important dates & places
- Nominations open January 1, 2020 at 12:00
- Nominations close October 1, 2020 at 12:00
- Voting will end October 15, 2020 at 12:00
- Award presentations will be held at a location that is yet to be determined.
Using a rider’s Instagram account to narrow the field allows judges to consider a nominee’s entire riding season. It also means that the general public will have access to those accounts for review when voting on the final 10 contestants. The Flannel Crew sees the use of Instagram in the judging process as a natural part of the evolution of mountain biking.
“Nobody has ever used that platform for judging before and I think that’s where everybody shares their best shit,” notes Austen. “Instagram has really changed the way that we market ourselves.”
There will be 10 judges in total. Four will be members of The Flannel Crew and there will be six guest judges. The guest judges will be members of the mountain bike community. Some will be riders representing a cross-section of different riding disciplines and styles. Others will represent the sponsors of the event.
One of the most important characteristics of the awards is that nominees cannot be professional. Judges will be looking for grassroots riders that may not otherwise get any exposure.
“I want to bring out [riders] who don’t have a media team, they don’t have professional photographers and videographers.”Austen Tanney of The Flannel Crew
“I want to bring out [riders] who don’t have a media team, they don’t have professional photographers and videographers. There’s [riders] just as good as those pros that deserve recognition, and that’s what we want to try and find in these awards. We want to find the [riders] who aren’t getting recognized, who just post normal stuff on Instagram,” says Austen.
Maybe counterintuitively, the awards will recognize riders who don’t ride for the recognition. According to Bryant, the awards are meant to expose “the talent that we have here—unsponsored. The [riders] who are doing it because they just want to do it, not because they’re pressured by anybody to make content.”
Winners will show a commitment to more than just riding!
These awards are about far more than just riding. This might be obvious for the Trail Builder of the Year category. But that goes for the riding categories as well. For Austen and Bryant, it’s also about showing your commitment to the mountain bike community as a whole.
“To be a good applicant, it has to show your commitment to the sport,” says Austen.
He sees participation and attitude as key for riders hoping to win an award. “If you’re out there riding every weekend and getting people hyped on it and getting more people involved in the sport and you’re documenting that and showing that you’re a good ambassador…that’s what’s going to get you an award!”
“If you’re out there building trails, people are just as stoked as if you just did a double backflip.”Bryant Freeman of The Flannel Crew
Bryant echoes the idea of ambassadorship, alongside the riding, as being a crucial aspect of the award judging.
“Be a good ambassador and…obviously slay some stuff!” he says.
For example, even if you aren’t looking to win the trail building award, things like trail building are still an important part of being a good ambassador for the sport.
“That’s what gets people stoked just as much…If you’re out there building trails, people are just as stoked as if you just did a double backflip,” notes Bryant.
In the end, The Flannel Crew isn’t able to give an exact formula for showing participation, ambassadorship and attitude when it comes to freeriding. They’ll be looking forward to seeing how nominees interpret these values for themselves.
Success doesn’t have to be about winning
The Rocky Mountain Freeride Awards are largely an extension of The Flannel Crew’s mission to get more people on bikes in the mountains. It’s part of the reason there is more to the awards than just showcasing great riding. They want to recognize riders who are out there riding just because they love it.
“At the end of the day, if I can leave this earth leaving people smiling, then I’ve done a good job. That’s all it is!”Bryant Freeman of The Flannel Crew
“I just hope it makes mountain biking better as a whole, so more people get involved from the grassroots up,” says Austen. “For me to see these awards as a success would just be to have to the community participation. I’d love to see [riders] that we’ve seen on Instagram for years and years excel. I’d love to see those [riders] names in the hat and get the recognition and the awards that they deserve.”
As we near the end of our conversation, Bryant admits that he hopes the awards will help to spread his attitude toward mountain biking.
“At the end of the day, if I can leave this earth leaving people smiling, then I’ve done a good job. That’s all it is!”
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