Mike Hopkins on the Risks and Reward of Rampage

Mountain biker Mike Hopkins drops in at Red Bull Rampage 2013.
© Margus Riga/Red Bull Bike

Mike Hopkins talks big mountain and the increasing risks professionals need to take in order to win.

After conquering the demons of 2012 -- i.e. landing the massive step-down that ended his Red Bull Rampage campaign last year -- early in practice in 2013, Mike Hopkins had high hopes for the finals.

Unfortunately, an uncharacteristic fall high on the mountain once again thwarted his Rampage goals.

Having steadily built a reputation as one of big mountain’s most capable riders, Hopkins -- the professional mountain biker and skier -- talks to us about his injury and the increasing risks professionals need to take in order to win.

Red Bull Bike: Might as well start with your recovery; how are you healing up?

Mike Hopkins: Good! Concussions are a funny thing, though. I walked around in my own little world for about a week and half after the crash; interesting times to say the least! It also looked as though I broke my wrist, but as it turned out the massive bump making it look bent was just swelling from a deep bruise. So I am happy to say the body is still intact.

Mountain biker Mike Hopkins shows his wrist injury from Red Bull Rampage 2013.
The aftermath: Hopkins shows his swollen wrist.© Margus Riga/Red Bull Bike

What is the final call on the injury?

Considering how crazy the crash was, I feel pretty fortunate to walk away with only a concussion, sprain and a handful of cuts. I will say: Concussions are not the way forward in life. I had a hell of a time with the symptoms. But in the end I live to ride another day.

I hit the first berm and… it was lights out.

Your crash is difficult to see on the webcast. What happened?

It’s frustrating more than anything. There’s a steep technical chute feeding into a 10-foot drop that puts you into a steep run-out with two catch berms at the bottom. Robbie Bourdon did it a few years ago.

Mountain biker Mike Hopkins looks down into the abyss that is Red Bull Rampage 2013.
Bourdo's Chute: Where it all went wrong...© Margus Riga/Red Bull Bike

Garett [Buehler] and I were doing it in our runs. We’d ridden it ten times each in practice with no issues. On game day, I dropped in off the top, but when I landed my back wheel got hung up and kicked into the air. I needed to be on the brakes as soon as I hit the ground to have a chance at making the berms below. But my back wheel was hovering an inch off the ground -- no traction to be had. I hit the first berm and... it was lights out.

On the webcast, what looked like 15 seconds was actually close to four minutes of unconsciousness. Not the way I had planned to finish the event.

Mountain biker Mike Hopkins barreling toward the catch berm on Bourdo's Chute.
Barreling toward the Catch Berm on Bourdo's Chute.© Margus Riga/Red Bull Bike

You had redeemed yourself on the gap you crashed on in 2012, so that must feel like a silver lining?

Yeah, for sure. Conquering what took me out last year was big for me. I couldn't let those demons get the best of me. Obviously, I would've liked to have put down a solid run in finals [this year], but I can still walk away with a little personal victory in my pocket.

This year, when I rolled up to that gap, I saw how it could be fixed right away. I flattened the lip, making it more of a racing-style step-down jump. On my first attempt, I remember coming up to the lip thinking I was going slow but remembered the hard lesson learned last year and stuck with it. The first hit went exactly how I pictured. It became a non-issue after that -- nothing but fun.

Mountain biker Mike Hopkins digs at Red Bull Rampage 2013.
Mike Hopkins: Shaping the future of Big Mountain© Margus Riga/Red Bull Bike

It seems like after all these years, the conversation about Rampage has shifted. Do you feel Rampage is nearing a tipping point where it has to move locations or something has to change?

Rampage represents the highest level of our sport. As everyone knows, when you are dealing with an event that represents the pinnacle of anything, the consequences are huge. This year definitely had a different feel to it. We are all there to showcase what mountain biking is to each of us and to define -- and in some cases redefine -- the limits of what is possible.

Rampage represents the highest level of our sport.

Mountain biker Mike Hopkins eyes up a jump at Red bull Rampage 2013.
Vision for the sport; Hopkins is eyeing it up.© Margus Riga/Red Bull Bike

My opinion is that at this year’s event, the rushed schedule and lack of training/build time put the vast majority of us in an uncomfortable situation. We, as athletes, want to represent the sport in the best way we know how, and to put on a show that we can all be proud of.

Mountain bikers Mike Hopkins and Garett Buehler rest after a hard day at Red Bull Rampage 2013.
Hopkins and Buehler succumb to a long Rampage day.© Margus Riga/Red Bull Bike

The Rampage event has shifted to a level where a crash is no longer something that athletes are popping up from and giving a wave to the crowd. We're on the level of motocross; When things go wrong at Rampage, they go wrong in a big way.

When things go wrong at Rampage, they go wrong in a big way.

In finals, guys were dropping in to parts of their runs having never ridden them and when you are dealing with that type of exposure it makes for a dangerous situation. With careers, livelihoods, and, to be honest, lives on the line, I think by making small adjustments the "fun" level will be increased. When athletes are having a good time they put on a hell of a show.

Mountain biker Mike Hopkins stands atop the gap that ended his 2012 Red Bull Rampage campaign.
2012's failed gap is 2013's stomped gap.© Margus Riga/Red Bull Bike

As for the location, I think it would be awesome to see it move, but that's much easier said than done. There are not too many places on the globe that cater to mountain biking like Utah. It's been pretty wild to see the spider web of trails grow over the years. If it were in the cards I would like to see it go to a new spot.

Mountain biker Mike Hopkins views Red Bull Rampage 2013 from above the course.
Mike Hopkins surveys the Red Bull Rampage venue© Margus Riga/Red Bull Bike

Does your skiing background help you in big mountain riding?

Yes. On both skis and bike, fluidity is important. Rampage is the only contest I do all year because it’s the closest event to what mountain biking is to me -- showcasing your individual style, in both what you build and how you ride it.

For myself, it's all about fluidity. If I can link something together that is fast, flowing, and big, then I am a happy guy, regardless of how I place.

Mountain biker Mike Hopkins drops big at Red Bull Rampage 2013.
Navigate the gnarl: Skid steeps or vertical leaps© Margus Riga/Red Bull Bike

In skiing, I really appreciate guys who can take a face that is super technical and exposed, and flow down it like they've been doing it every day. It's not an easy thing to do but when I get on my bike I try to approach things with that mindset.

For me, Rampage isn't about the podium... I mean, at the end of the day I would love to be standing up there, but if I push myself and ride my line the way I see it being ridden in my head then I am stoked. Is that a winning approach? Maybe not, but if I can make people at home say, "That looked awesome!" and ignite some inspiration or drive to pick up a bike then it's mission accomplished.

Watch the Red Bull Signature Series broadcast of Red Bull Rampage (in the USA) on NBC on December 21 at 3:30 p.m. ET, and check out the official Red Bull Rampage site for more videos, photos, and a host of awesome interactive features.