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 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.
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."
[part title="Riding the Red Bull Snake Pit Part 2"]
The first day of shooting had the crew driving in the dark to Ymir from Nelson for a morning session. Paddy Kaye was already there and stood at the bottom leaning on his rake after buffing the landings one more time. The two riders rode the three step-ups together in tandem to check their speed and both decided that Chase would 360 the bottom jump with Kyle right behind. The boys rode the big line a dozen times and called it a morning. We finally had some shots.
Early the next morning the boys went straight for the rock. After a few warm up jumps Kyle threw down a tailwhip. Chase countered with a backflip. His first attempt saw him come off his bike mid-flight and crash heavily into the ground. It looked like he was hurt. He got up, pushed his bike back up to the top and sat there for a long time. With his eyes closed and mimicking the upper body movement like a gymnast, Chase went through the motions sitting at the top. Finally he rolled down, flipped off the rock and landed safely as the camera crew cheered. We wanted it as bad as he did. By 10 a.m. the morning light was cooked and the entire crew went back to raking and prepping for the afternoon shoot. As we were packing up the camera gear a grizzled local came ambling towards us. With a beer in hand he stopped to talk as we were sitting on the tailgate of Westerlund’s truck.
“This is the biggest thing to ever happen in Ymir," he said waving his hands towards the jumps. “Even bigger than the reggae fest last weekend." With those words he shuffled on down the road and around the corner.
“Sometimes when people recognize me it catches me off guard," Chase said afterwards. “The kids here in Ymir were so psyched to see us…sometimes people don’t think you’re a real person. One of the kids said to me, ‘Aaron Chase no way!’ It’s funny. When the people saw this today I’m sure they said, ‘I’ve got to ride my bike more!’" Strait was surprised by all the attention from the Ymir locals. “It’s cool to be able to come into a tiny town like this and have people know who I am," Strait said still sitting on his bike.
The Red Bull Snake Pit was heading one direction all week long and that was our final afternoon shoot. It always seems to come down to the last day during crucial film trips and this was no exception. The riders knew it. And the guys behind the cameras had the same feeling.
Sunday was all about the three big step-up jumps. Chase threw down the gauntlet with a bunch of lofty barrel rolls then a couple of flip one-foot x-ups. Kyle did a superman seat grab. Then a 360 tailwhip which was out of this world. He did a single tailwhip and landed it clean but wanted more. After another quad tow to the top Strait dropped in and muscled his way over the first two jumps then spun his bike twice around and landed with both feet on the pedals to nail a double tailwhip. Something he’s been wanting for a long time. He was charging.
The happiest man in Ymir was Paddy Kaye who finally could sit back and enjoy this impromptu mayhem on his creation. “I looked up and the Snake Pit looked like a skateboard park," Kaye said with a smile on his face. “There was an old school dad… not getting any air but just railing it through. Then you hear what his kid had to say and it makes it all worthwhile."
Later that night seated at The Rez nightclub in Nelson, Aaron Chase reflected on the Snake Pit and how it all went down. “Everybody in freeriding are friends and we all help each other. Having two of us riding made the Pit busier and kept the motivation high. It made me want to go off! It also takes all the pressure off. The weight was distributed. It went back and forth and it was good to share a few secrets out there," Chase said. Kyle Strait was happy to finally put an end to his season and his film segment.
This was the final film session for the movie New World Disorder 7: Flying High Again and producer Derek Westerlund looked like a piano had been lifted off his shoulders. The pressure of putting together this film project was compounded by the logistics of building something bigger and better than anybody had imagined. The memory of something so big going down in a town so small was not lost on him.
“It was killer to see Kyle Strait land his stunts in the crunch." Westerlund said. “It was great to see Aaron Chase do the back flip off the rock. That was burly. All the Ymir kids came out to watch the best riders in the world. It could have just been a bunch of horses in that field."