Riders Down: Is Slopestyle Becoming Too Dangerous?

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Injuries are part of sport. When it comes to mountain biking, injuries are an unavoidable part of sport.

But the continued escalation of slopestyle challenges and gravity of injuries raises the question: Has the sport gone too far?

The bunching together of serious injuries at Crankworx competitions in Colorado and Whistler this year have served to highlight the issue. While the aerial acts continue to amaze and astound, the carnage factor is giving pause.

In Colorado, everybody’s favorite stuntster Cam McCaul took a terrible fall, shorting a front flip and breaking his femur. Cam was his usual gonzo self throughout the episode, telling concerned friends and bystanders that it was simply time to get the thing set so he could start healing and get back on the bike. But a broken femur is serious business, and none of the riders we’ve seen with this injury have come back without a far healthier respect for the damage a crash can do.

Still, Cam can thank his lucky stars he didn’t break a two C-vertebrae like downhiller Dan Atherton, who landed a jump wrong while doing practice runs in his own back yard.

At Whistler Crankworx, leading names fell like flies. Slopestyle competition favorite and hometown hero Brandon Semenuk, fresh off his third straight win at Colorado, suffered neck and collarbone injuries, fellow B.C.-er Darren Berrecloth hurt his arm and wrist on his final 360 and France’s Yannick Granieri had to be hospitalized after landing badly. To show how tough the competition was, Yannick still finished 6th and Semenuk 8th in the overall judging. Go big or go home indeed.

It’s always going to be a tough call as to when a course is just too vertical to be safe. Partly to accommodate more extreme tricks, slopestyle courses always feature variations from year to year, stepping up the drop distances, the berm angles, the jump ramps. There may also be an issue with judging. When the riders who go the biggest get hurt as a result, the ones who get rewarded with the wins are the riders who best manage to balance difficulty with getting to the finish line in one piece. That isn’t necessarily the right way to move the sport forward either.

Ultimately it’s not the public who arbitrates this issue. The public wants the scariest, gnarliest and raddest stunts possible. Instead, it’s the riders who will have to make the call. Sort of like in the Tour de France, when the difficulty factor overrides the fairness of the course and safaety of the cyclists and a rider like Fabian Cancellara or Lance Armstrong says hey, time out — that’s what will have to happen if and when course design and judging philosophy exceeds the bounds of rational wisdom.

We’d be interested in hearing from the riders on this point, as well as their fans. Whether they do it publicly or not, though, there needs to be a conversation about the dynamics of slopestyle with regard to the safety of the sport.

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3 thoughts on “Riders Down: Is Slopestyle Becoming Too Dangerous?”

  1. Just my 2 cents…I don’t think slopestyle is becoming too dangerous. It’s always been dangerous. Sure, they can try to design the course a bit safer and that’s always the case but I think the main reason riders are getting hurt more is because most don’t have access to large courses like these to practice on. If we could all practice on courses like they have at Crankworx on a regular basis, the injuries will go down. Most practice on much smaller features and have to step it up and throw the same tricks on a much bigger jump in competition. The familiarity just isn’t there and thus, the lines aren’t dialed. It will inevitably lead to more crashes.

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