The newest Red Bull Media House freeride mountain bike movie, North of Nightfall, premiered this week in Bend, Oregon. North of Nightfall features the riding of veterans Darren Berrecloth and Cam Zink, along with emerging stars Carson Storch and Tom Van Steenbergen – four distinct riders with their own unique styles on an expedition to the remote and uninhabited Axel Heiberg Island in the Canadian Arctic.
Berrecloth and Zink first identified Axel Heiberg as a potential mountain bike destination through photographs posted by glaciologist Dr. Laura Thompson. Unlike the majority of the relatively flat Arctic, this land mass has mountainous topography shaped by glaciers. And, as you learn early in the film, the island is known for its gypsum, the same mineral found in the epic southern Utah mountain bike destinations. But Axel Heiberg is nowhere near as accessible as Utah – a pivotal part of the story told in this film.
The Tower Theater in downtown Bend, Oregon, was at max capacity for the world premiere – a smaller venue than the usual Red Bull premieres, but Bend makes perfect sense as a location. It's home to featured athlete Carson Storch, and while Bend is already firmly established as a mecca for road biking and trail riding, Storch sees it quickly emerging as a destination for freeride mountain biking and dirt jumping. Prior to this premiere, Storch had just hosted his second-annual Black Sage Fest at the Oregon dirt park just outside of Bend in early May, which attracted top riders and media from across the country. More is in the works – Storch is currently working alongside a crew of talented local pro riders that includes Cam McCaul, Dusty Wygle, Kyle Jameson and Jamie Goldman, to build a new bike park – a full on slopestyle course and dirt jumps slated to go in on the Bend's eastside.
The crowd was packed with the cast and crew, and a large contingency of Red Bull athletes including Bend local skier Sage Cattabriga-Alosa and snowboarder Ben Ferguson; skiers Angel and John Collinson and Michelle Parker, kayaker Rafa Ortiz, biker Kate Courtney to name a few, along with a broad swath of Bend's outdoor community in attendance with the red carpet rolled out, and a noticeably more relaxed dress code.
North of Nightfall follows a path of exploration, with the group experiencing exhaustive travel and total isolation during their month-long adventure. The setting is completely captivating, with the sparse campsite tightly circumvented by electrical wire and an armed guard to keep hungry apex predators, including polar bears, out. The raw, glacial-carved barren landscape and the eternally orbiting, 24-hour sun circling overhead provides an incredible backdrop for the truly expeditionary nature of this mission in search of all-time lines. And they definitely found lines. Storch said, "The terrain we found catered to any sort of big mountain riding style you want to do. If you wanted to ride the biggest longest lines you could. Or you could ride something more technical and trick your way down stuff – there was a very broad spectrum of terrain."
Berrecloth came to the island with eyes on a 2,740-foot face he dubbed "Dream Chute." For reference, the Red Bull Rampage lines are 1,000 vertical, this is three times as long – likely the biggest freestyle line anyone has ever ridden on a mountain bike. Cam Zink takes on a 2,500-foot open face, which he named "Drag Strip." The riders shared the process of scouting these new lines, the complicated route finding on the descents and the challenge of the varying conditions from top to bottom. They were confronted by rockfall and scree fields, and rewarded with the most perfect, howl-eliciting dirt.
With such heavy action, it's easy to overlook the ascents these guys undertake in the movie. Director Jeremy Grant shares that the hiking shots are the first thing to get cut in the editing room, but we noted the savagery of hiking up the face, often right up the runs they planned on coming down, with their bikes slung over their shoulders. Not to mention the film crew, huffing it right up behind them. Another fascinating fact from the movie: turns out Axel Heiberg is like kryptonite to drones – the island's location, so close to the magnetic North Pole, wreaked havoc on their GPS systems, causing them to crash into the nearest rock face – a malfunction that Grant learned a National Geographic crew had experienced filming on the island as well. The Arctic Winds made their presence known as well: Despite 24-hours of daylight, the crew opted to film during the "night," when the winds died down and the threat of getting blown sideways off a jump was lessened.
Despite these challenges, the action in this movie clearly conveys that Axel Heiberg delivered, with legendary descents, ideal terrain conditions for jumps, and, as Storch enthusiastically interjected, unusually long runouts – clearly, the crew found the Shangri-La of mountain biking. But when asked after the screening about the potential for future missions, Grant, who's made his mark with mountain biking films like Where The Trail Ends (2013) and Rad Company (2014), said, "This is what makes this place so unique – almost every film I've done ends with this line or sentiment that we've just scratched the surface, that we'll be back. This one doesn't. We'll never be back there." He cited the logistics required to pull it off were one-of-a-kind, including safety, the remoteness, and the permits required working with the people of Nunavut, who control the territory. All of this comes across in the movie, but the finality in Grant's answer was still unexpected. Storch backed up Grant's sentiment on this being a one-time mission, “You could spend years up there finding new lines – it's so vast and there's so much to it and it's the perfect terrain – but I don't think we'll ever go up there again to ride bikes or probably anyone else.”
The movie also has a secondary storyline touching on the effect global warming is having on the landscape, with the work of glaciologist Dr. Laura Thompson at the forefront. Viewers are left with a new awareness and reverence for this area's pristine beauty and obvious fragility.
North of Nightfall succeeds in bringing us along for an incredible exploration and adventure, pushing the boundaries of big mountain freestyle, and opening our minds to the still untouched and wild parts of the world. The film will be available worldwide today via NorthofNightfall.com. North Of Nightfall will also be screening all summer; catch the movie in a theater near you. This is definitely a big screen worthy production.
All Photos By Aaron Blatt/Red Bull Media House
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