No going back: The dust trails show the speed and commitment as freeride mtb legend Darren Berrecloth drops 'the Goblin' cliff at this year's event (above). 

 

Behind The Scenes: Red Bull Rampage with Christian Pondella

The Red Bull Rampage mountain bike event held out in the desert of Utah never ceases to amaze. An invitational mountain bike freeride competition, where every year the riders seem to push the limits of what is possible on a mountain bike. The incredible riding and dramatic terrain creates a spectacle that transcends action sports media and amazes hardcore fans and casual spectators alike. The images that come out of Rampage are equally draw-dropping. We caught up with Global Icon and Rampage veteran, Christian Pondella, for his take on capturing this year's mountain bike madness:

 

Pierre Edouard Ferry takes the direct route from top. Follow his straight-line down to the interview below:

 

Rampage looks pretty death-defying watching from afar on a screen. What's it like witnessing it in person?

I tell everyone if there is one event to see in person it is Rampage. It is just mind blowing to see this in person and to witness how steep and big the features these guys are riding!

Can you give us an idea of the Rampage experience as a photographer. Is it hard to move around in that environment to find good angles?

Rampage is by far the coolest event I get to photograph. You get to interact with the riders and have a ton of flexibility to run around and make some creative images. The sun is low in the sky so you always have shadow and light to play with.

The evolution of the event is always pushing towards bigger jumps and heavier tricks. Do you ever find yourself getting concerned for the riders' safety?

Naturally the event has progressed to bigger jumps and tricks,  but fortunately these are the best riders I the world and are very confident in what they do. Obviously I worry about the safety of the riders as what they are doing is very consequential! Serious injury is certainly a reality, but fortunately this year everyone rode incredibly well and there were only a few minor injuries.

 

Dealing with light and shade is a challenge for the riders like Darren Berrecloth here, but makes great opportunities for photographers:

 

Utah local and Rampage veteran Logan Binggeli takes the plunge for cameras:

 

What gear did you use at Rampage this year?

My gear list this year was: Canon 1DX, Canon 5D Mark IV, Canon 16-35, Canon 24-70, Canon 100-400, Canon 24mm, San Disk 128gb CF cards, and my f-stop Ajna.

I try to keep my gear as light and simple as possible so you can run around the hills and stay very mobile. This year I used the Canon 100-400 for the first time which allowed me to leave a 70-200 2.8 and 300 2.8 out of my bag, essentially saving me 5-6 pounds of weight. I have been skeptical about big range zoom lenses in the past, but found this lens to be pretty amazing and flexible for an event like Rampage.

It looks really dusty out there in the Utah desert. Do you have a post-shooting ritual for cleaning your camera gear?  

Strangely enough I do not do very much in terms of cleaning my gear during the event. It gets caked in dirt and dust and I do not clean it each night, sleep is more important to me. I just clean the front element of my lenses during the event, and then I get my gear professionally cleaned by Canon when I am finished.

As a photographer, do you remember the actions or the images more, over the years?

It’s a combination of both. As a photographer you are watching the action through your lens, so it is the images that bring back the memory of what happened. Every now and then it’s good to put the camera down and just enjoy wit your own two eyes! 

 

We're glad Christian doesn't put down his camera too often, so we get to see artistic shots like this of Tyler McCaul:

 

Where did I leave my bike? The parking lot at Red Bull Rampage is something else:

 

This was your 12th Rampage. What are the stand out memories, among all the crazy lines and tricks that have gone down?

I have been fortunate to shoot every Rampage and witness the progression over the years. I have so many amazing memories, from the original days where it was so raw and very little line preparation like today. Back then these guys would send cliffs to un-manicured landings, maybe just move a bush out of the way. Now they have build crews and diggers and buff the lines out. Landings are perfect which has allowed these guys to go so much bigger. Two memories which come to mind naturally produced two of my most favorite images. The first was Brandon Semenuk’s canyon cliff drop he hit in 2012 and 2013. It was probably one of the most technical cliff drops I have witnessed. The other great memory is a photo of Andreu Lacondeguy when he and a bunch of riders sessioned this kicker for about an hour one afternoon/evening. It was one of the few times as a photographer where everything lined up where you can compose an amazing shot with Zion in the background. They rode until sunset and there were clouds and amazing light on the peaks. I was able to use a strobe to light up Andreau, and he was sending these huge sylish backflips. I think the image I got of Andreau might be my most iconic image in twelve years of shooting Rampage.

 

2014 Rampage winner, Andreu Lacondeguy, going big for Christian's camera set against the Zion National Park backdrop:

 

Don't look down! Brandon Semenuk sending a huge gap with the focus that has led him to two Rampage wins:

 

Where were you standing to get this shot of Brandon Semenuk? 

For the Semenuk shot, I took it on a pole cam and triggered it with a pocket wizard. The pole was about 15 feet tall and I had a fisheye on my camera. 

That really captures the feeling of the steepness of the terrain, and the consequences of the lines that athletes are taking on. Thank you for taking the time to talk about your Rampage experiences!

To see more of Christian Pondella's work, check out his website www.christianpondella.com
and follow his Instagram here for more epic adventures. 

 

EXPLORE GEAR USED IN THIS STORY

 

The 40L Ajna pack helps Cristian to stay mobile, combined with the Large PRO ICU for carrying two mounted bodies and additional lenses. This is a great set up for gear-heavy but light-footed shooting - balancing on the edge of large cliffs optional! 

PRO ICU LARGE 

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