A couple weeks ago I went out to Colorado to skate and serve as the event photographer for the third annual Devil’s Peak Downhill race. I was there thanks to a partnership between Comet Skateboards and Justin Rouleau, the event organizer. Here’s what happened. (You can click each image in these gridded galleries to see the full frame)
I arrived on Tuesday before the race to get acclimated to the altitude and to help Justin with any last-minute organizing. That first afternoon, the main task was reviving Zak Maytum’s Fool Injector, an electric beer bong made from an assortment of high end racing skateboard parts and a (used) hot rod fuel pump that made its last appearance at the 2012 Buffalo Bill race. After some minor reassembly, cleaning, and electrical troubleshooting, it was ready to go. (Mercifully, unlike the original, the reincarnated version does not make your beer taste like gasoline.)
On Wednesday afternoon I headed out to a brand new pump track for a session with Aaron Breetwor and some of the new Comet Skateboards cruisers. I have slammed super hard every time have skated a pump track; so I grabbed my camera and channelled my inner Edward Weston as the sun went down. (For the curious, this pump track is at Anthem Community Park in Broomfield. It’s kinda hard to find so here’s a Google Maps link to its actual location. )
Wednesday night’s Pagan Party marked the unofficial beginning of Devil’s Peak festivities. Skaters from around the country and the world gathered at legendary downhill skater and ice climber Kevin Cooper’s high country compound for a night of reuniting with old friends, fire jumping, saw blade throwing, and Fool Injecting before getting up at 5am to skate at first light.
After a few hours of sleep, we rolled out in the dark, arriving at the top of the hill in time to catch the full moon setting. After an exchange of high fives, a group photo, and a brief elk-safety lecture from Coop and Rouleau, the assembled skaters dropped in as a huge pack.
I have been going to Colorado to skate downhill since 2010. This year was the first time I have ever really enjoyed dawn patrol. Unlike in previous years, when I endured the distinctly unnerving experience of standing on a skateboard moving at 55mph with numb feet, it was relatively warm; so I could feel my feet the whole time. Having finally memorized the road, I was no longer worried about unexpected tight corners. Aside from the mild altitude effects—Zak and Justin got it much worse—I had a great time.
I kept it pretty chill until Friday, when we headed up to Georgetown for the official start of Devil’s Peak.
Saturday dawned bright and early at the campsite and we made our way to the hill for a day of practice/freeride runs. Thanks to Justin and Ty’s excellent management, I got about ten hot laps before taking off my gear to shoot photos.
Almost every top racer in the world was in attendance at this year’s Devil’s Peak, and that was evident in the quality of the riding. Big packs of skilled riders came hauling into high speed sliding corners inches apart and for the most part, everyone held it together. It was cool to watch.
Apart from a brief rain shower that dried in minutes, the weather held all day and we got a remarkable 20 runs; plenty enough to tire us out before the Wheel of Death.
Every downhill skateboard race organizer has to find a way to balance riders’ competing desires for fair racing brackets and lots of freeride runs. Sending each rider down for an individual timed run gets you the fairest possible brackets; but that requires an expensive timing system and, more importantly, takes all day.
In the interest of maximizing freeride time, Colorado races traditionally employ a “Wheel of Death, Hand of God” qualifying method in which each rider’s name is written on a wheel of fortune, which is spun to seed the bracket. The “Hand of God” rule refers to the organizers’ use of his own discretion to manipulate the bracket however he wants, whether to separate fast riders for fairness or to arrange first-round grudge matches between rivals.
The wheel also sometimes requires riders to make ritual offerings to the Pagan gods of the high country by throwing their socks in the fire, doing a chainsaw shotgun, or having the sleeves of their shirt ripped off.
When the ceremony is over and the bracket is filled out, the wheel itself is offered up to the Pagan gods as a fiery sacrifice.
This year’s Wheel of Death started unusually early in the evening to avoid disturbing other residents of the campsite, which meant we all got a good night’s sleep before race day.
Sunday went as expected, with practice runs all morning and racing in the afternoon. Rouleau, Ty, Allie, and the rest of the team kept things moving along.
When it all shook out, Chase Hiller snagged first place. Daina Banks recovered from a first-round crash to come in, with Harper Knight third, and Riley Irvine in fourth.
I put the camera away after the podium and enjoyed the Sunday night campsite party before flying back to LA on Monday. Special thanks to Justin Rouleau, the entire Devil’s Peak crew, and Comet skateboards for getting me out there.