Before there was a Crankworx, there was a vision for a man-made trail down the dusty forest slopes more often home to skiers in Whistler, British Columbia, our hometown resort on the lip of the Canadian Coast Mountains. Whistler Blackcomb vice-president of business development, Rob McSkimming, was overseeing the creation of the world’s first gravity-assisted mountain bike park as a grassroots bike scene took shape in the woods.
It took dreamers, visionaries and builders blazing trail to make Crankworx a hub for gravity worshippers. Mountain biking put down roots early in Whistler. In the 1980s, riders in the Sea-to-Sky, the corridor running from North Vancouver to Whistler, slowly crafted trails, built jumps and used two wheels to cut lines along the steep camber of the rainforest. By the mid-’90s, key races were arriving. The Cactus Cup Mountain Bike Race Series, a season-opener for most pro riders, made its first Canadian appearance in town and the seeds of a lift-accessed mountain bike scene were beginning to take shape. Mountain biking was going mainstream, staking its claim in the 1996 Olympic Games, and the diggers started work on the Whistler Mountain Bike Park. The doors opened in 1998 as the Whistler International Classic Mountain Bike Festival was established, immediately followed by the Summer Sessions Sport and Entertainment Festival, both products of MTB event gurus Marika Koenig and Claire Bonin.
Bikes, racing and events were a new way of life in the mountains and Chris Winter and Paddy Kaye, the man behind today’s Red Bull Joyride course, had designs on the festival scene and freeride. The pair created the Whistler Summer Gravity Fest, eventually capping out under the direction of outdoor recreation advocate and North Vancouver shredder Richard Juryn as a seven day event. Summer Gravity Fest hosted the Air DH, the Joyride Bikercross and Shimano Slopestyle, a clear vision for Crankworx to follow. Combined with the successes of the Whistler Mountain Bike Park season finale, Harvest Huckfest, the stage was set for a sport-meets-art celebration of competition and culture.
Paddy Kaye, Chris Winter, Founders of Joyride | Photo: Blake Jorgenson
The athletes had a huge hand in creating Crankworx, the pioneers of freeride both on and off the competition course. Without Eric Wight, for example, who convinced Whistler to try bikes on mountains and opened the first trail-guiding operation in the mid-80s, the prospect of drawing mid-summer crowds to a ski town seems dubious. Rob Cocquyt, who built trails on the mountain in the mid-90s with Dave Kelly, the man behind A-line, was instrumental in creating our playground. Darren Berrecloth put the early trail builders’ efforts to work, shaking up the 2003 Gravity Fest Slopestyle enough to be named one of Outside Magazine’s 25 Coolest People, and Paul “Bas” Basagoitia, who borrowed a bike to secure the first Crankworx Slopestyle win, put epic on the map.
Paul “Bas” Basagoitia, two-time Crankworx Slopestyle Champion | Photo: Peter Mozola
Our moniker belongs to one man, Crankworx executive producer Mark Taylor. An event and branding consultant with a hand in producing the World Ski and Snowboard Festival, Taylor was asked for help developing a comparable summer scene and delivered on an unimaginable scale. According to legend, the word “Crankworx” is his brainchild, the result of a brainstorming session gone far enough astray to include the Saturday Night Live “Love Werx” skit. Over the next decade, game-changing athletic performances, killer concerts, stunning photography and the kind of cinematography that shows our fans just why the pilgrimage is worth it, made Crankworx every bit the icon of its namesake. As Chris Lesser, of Bike Magazine put it, Crankworx became the “Super Bowl of freeride mountain biking.”
Crankworx flew the coop in 2007, testing the international waters first with Crankworx Colorado, later touching down in Europe in Les Deux Alpes, the first French home for the festival. In 2015, the Crankworx World Tour expanded once again, this time to the Southern Hemisphere, setting down roots and establishing its mountain biking Whānau (the Māori-language word for extended family) in Rotorua, New Zealand. 2016 brought another exciting move as Les Gets, with its storied downhill mountain biking history, providing the new home base for Crankworx in France. In 2017, an unprecedented fourth stop was added to the tour, bringing the Crankworx action to a second European home base in Innsbruck, Austria.
“When I brought the idea of Slopestyle to Rob McSkimming for the first Crankworx, I wanted to bring all of the elements that live in the forest─the ladder bridges, jumps, drops, teeter-totters and steep rock faces─to the bottom of the mountain to show everyone what goes on up there in the park. And they went for it─Rob McSkimming, Tom Pro, Jason Roe and Dave Kelly─were all such receptive people and stoked to do cool things and get things going. I knew the day we started talking about having a festival that Crankworx was going to help shape mountain bike culture.”
– Richie Schley, original Slopestyle advisor