Going Hoff Goes Off

Last summer, undeterred by torrential rain and springing ground water, Kurt Sorge opened some of the craziest bike jumps ever built to an elite cast of friends at Retallack Lodge.

“These are the best mountain bikers in the world, and they only have one event to ride in,” says Kurt Sorge, motioning at a crew of riders in the dark. The “one event” he is referring to is the biggest in freeride mountain biking. One year out from his win at the Red Bull, Sorge stands backlit by a bonfire, suspended like the Eye of Sauron between two massive towers of dirt. The jumps here will set the stage for Hoff Fest, the fourth stop of the Fest Series: a global by-riders-for-riders grassroots series of “non-competitions,” answering a need for innovation in the now highly regulated and judged discipline of slopestyle mountain biking.

Every few minutes, a beer can full of gasoline lights up the faces of freeride-mountain-biking’s best: Graham (Aggy) Agassiz, Andreu Lacondeguy, Garett Buehler and Nico Vink, to name a few. They’ve travelled far and wide to come to Sorge’s inaugural signature event.

Each Fest Series stop is hosted by a pro rider on his home turf and uses an athlete-judged jam format where riders control everything. They drop when the conditions are right and choose the winners of each category together: best trick, best whip, best rider and best photo. “It all started with Makken’s Hillbilly Huckfest [in Norway],” explains Sorge. “We were like, ‘We should get together and do this more often.’ And then Aggy went for it and started the series. The whole fest thing is more about us coming together and getting to ride than it is a competition.”

For his event, Sorge found a keen partner in Retallack Lodge. An hour and a half from Nelson, tucked midway between the towns of New Denver and Kaslo, Retallack is a world-renowned cat-skiing destination still breaking into the mountain-bike market with its niche guided and lodge-based riding.

Retallack’s manager and majority owner is Phil Pinfold. “Sorge’s a local kid and he’s been up here riding forever,” explains Pinfold. “It just makes sense to get into this new segment of riding. And we like to think outside the box as well. I don’t think you’ll see any other events at 7,000 feet.”

MRP_0578

Dropping off of Retallack’s Reco Peak. Photos: Margus Riga

The intention is to use the course for years to come. It’s an investment both Sorge and Retallack have paid for themselves. No sponsors means complete control, but as the series grows, they are hoping for support from companies willing to let the athletes continue do their own thing. Sixty-foot gap jumps don’t come cheap.

“These are the best mountain bikers in the world, and they only have one event to ride in,” says Kurt Sorge, motioning at a crew of riders in the dark. The “one event” he is referring to is the biggest in freeride mountain biking. One year out from his win at the Red Bull, Sorge stands backlit by a bonfire, suspended like the Eye of Sauron between two massive towers of dirt. The jumps here will set the stage for Hoff Fest, the fourth stop of the Fest Series: a global by-riders-for-riders grassroots series of “non-competitions,” answering a need for innovation in the now highly regulated and judged discipline of slopestyle mountain biking.

Every few minutes, a beer can full of gasoline lights up the faces of freeride-mountain-biking’s best: Graham (Aggy) Agassiz, Andreu Lacondeguy, Garett Buehler and Nico Vink, to name a few. They’ve travelled far and wide to come to Sorge’s inaugural signature event.

No sponsors means complete control, but as the series grows, they are hoping for support from companies willing to let the athletes continue do their own thing. Sixty-foot gap jumps don’t come cheap.

Each Fest Series stop is hosted by a pro rider on his home turf and uses an athlete-judged jam format where riders control everything. They drop when the conditions are right and choose the winners of each category together: best trick, best whip, best rider and best photo. “It all started with Makken’s Hillbilly Huckfest [in Norway],” explains Sorge. “We were like, ‘We should get together and do this more often.’ And then Aggy went for it and started the series. The whole fest thing is more about us coming together and getting to ride than it is a competition.”

MRP_8124-1For his event, Sorge found a keen partner in Retallack Lodge. An hour and a half from Nelson, tucked midway between the towns of New Denver and Kaslo, Retallack is a world-renowned cat-skiing destination still breaking into the mountain-bike market with its niche guided and lodge-based riding.

Retallack’s manager and majority owner is Phil Pinfold. “Sorge’s a local kid and he’s been up here riding forever,” explains Pinfold. “It just makes sense to get into this new segment of riding. And we like to think outside the box as well. I don’t think you’ll see any other events at 7,000 feet.”

The intention is to use the course for years to come. It’s an investment both Sorge and Retallack have paid for themselves. No sponsors means complete control, but as the series grows, they are hoping for support from companies willing to let the athletes continue do their own thing. Sixty-foot gap jumps don’t come cheap.

 

The public is supposed to show up in four days, but the trouble is the course is still springing water and it just keeps raining. At dawn, everyone is ready for a practice session, but from all angles skeptical voices whisper, “Dude, did you hear it out there this morning? Two hours of torrential downpour!”

These jumps are big—there can be no variables. The dirt has to be dry, predictable and fast. Sorge tamps the landings by driving his truck up and down them. The triple stack of 50- to 60-foot gaps looks like a set of mirrored aerials jumps. By late afternoon, the course is marginally dry, and maybe the landing of the first step-down will give enough speed to test the middle gap—which is potentially the biggest hip ever built for a mountain bike.

A few try the step-down and make it, some barely grease in, but Jordie Lunn cases hard and narrowly escapes injury. It’s still too wet. Over the following three days, the rain doesn’t stop. About half the crew moves on due to prior commitments, including Graham Agassiz—the Fest Series’ biggest advocate. His own stop in Kamloops, Aggy’s Reunion, was awarded Slopestyle Event of the Year by Pinkbike.com—mountain biking’s biggest website. “Our goal with the Fest Series,” says Aggy, “is to create something core and pure to the sport of freeride mountain biking.” With 213,000 views for his highlight video on Vimeo alone, it’s clear the idea is resonating, and it’s difficult for him to pull away from Hoff Fest.

The Saturday public event has to be cancelled, and incoming weather is uncertain. Days later, though, the wait pays off. Under a blue sky, Sorge’s insistence on waiting for the right conditions leaves him and his remaining friends with dry jumps and calm winds. Everything is dialled; they’ve prepped for weeks.

As the riders’ eager wheels leave the ground, the Kootenays play host to a backyard moment in freeride mountain-biking history. Backflips, whips and 360s of ridiculous magnitude burn into the retinas of the few who get to watch. Has anyone ever built a stack of jumps quite like this before? Not that these riders can remember.

For two hours the energy level ramps up. The crew tests not only their own limits, but those of the sport. Camera sensors record, for the world, Sorge’s vision becoming reality. “Against all odds,” he says, “we got to ride the course—the best jumps I have ever ridden. And I can’t wait to get back on them!”

Overcoming the groundswell that almost kyboshed Hoff Fest, a wholly different one now captures the imaginations of hundreds of thousands of freeride fans across the world. The Fest Series is here.

Check out this year’s course preview:

And last year’s highlight throwdown:

Author / Contributor

Matt Coté

Matt is the associate editor at Forecast. He’s been penning and editing ski, adventure and mountain culture-based stories for over a dozen publications for the last decade.

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