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Riding the Red Bull Snake Pit

The Red Bull Snake Pit started as a drawing on a napkin. A sketch scribbled down during a breakfast of bacon, eggs and a double order of toast. Find out how the idea grew into something pretty amazing here. Words by John Gibson.

The Red Bull Snake Pit took a whole lot of digging to make. 15 days in fact, before it was shaped and ready to ride!

The Red Bull Snake Pit started as a drawing on a napkin. A sketch scribbled down during a breakfast of bacon, eggs and a double order of toast…

Taken from Dirt Issue 63, May 2007

Up to this point in the season, Aaron Chase had been recovering from a broken femur he’d suffered during a snowboarding crash 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.

So on the morning after 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 riders 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. It had 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 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 miles 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.

Click through to view the full Red Bull Snake Pit gallery before reading on…

Derek Westerlund 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 he 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 as partner Jimmy Deas took control of a thirty-ton excavator and started to dig. It took four days to rough in the track and get the shape going. Then it was another eleven solid days shaping and manicuring the course. Curious locals began to 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 showed up at 6:30am on a Sunday morning to help out! 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.

With the deadline for completion looming and the scope of the job increasing, Freeride’s Jonnie Broi stepped in and raked rocks for five 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.

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.”

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