The Sky is the Limit

Published
Dec 8, 2022

Words
Mandy Lamont

Photos
Marcus Kessler

The freeriding scene in Australia has been growing steadily over the last few years. Reaching a pinnacle with some of the biggest booters being built in Australia at the inaugural Crankworx in Cairns. I caught up with Shannon Rademaker over an incredibly tasty zinger burger at Mansfield Coffee Merchant on his return from Cairns where he was contracted to manage the slopes courses. A job he was qualified to do thanks to his experience running the first slopestyle events in Australia.

Freeriding in Australia

Freeriding has always been around in Australia with dirt jump parks and back yard set ups. But slopestyle hasn’t existed in a competitive level in Australia, not until recently. With a background in BMX racing as a kid, Shannon always dreamed of creating a freeride event in Australia. In the summer of 2018 the opportunity arose. With some dirt coming out of a construction site at Mt Buller, the resort was supportive of inviting a bunch of riders to put on a show. Slope Jam went down 2018/19 Mt Buller summer opening weekend.

Highline's conception

Keen to keep things going, the concept of Highline was conceived. Shannon got in touch with the Freeride World Tour Organisation. The following year the first official bronze FMB event went down at Mt Buller as part of the Bike Buller Festival 2019. “We put in a few more features, got some judges and sponsors behind us. It was a real education for the riders and for a lot of people in Australia around how this works. There’s obviously a scene and a demand for riders wanting to compete. And a goal for riders to get points through FMB sanctioned events to go onto bigger events with a pathway to Crankworx. I thought cool, how do we continue to grow this? We’ve got some momentum here.” Highline was now alive and kicking. The name growing and becoming a brand itself. Managing to squeeze in another event at Mt Buller in 2020 before all hell broke loose.

Build it and they will come

Wanting to drive this further but unable to continue at Mt Buller, Shannon went in search for a new location. Ending up on a friends property with existing gravity tracks who were super supportive of his concept. At a time when riding your bike in Victoria was illegal and with half of his business shutdown during covid. The owner of ATC Mansfield, Mt Buller and Bright was unable to do his usual work of coaching, guiding and tours. So Shannon spent the first wave of covid building slope courses.  “The retail side was going strong and obviously bikes were a big thing. I thought, I’ve got an opportunity to build a course.  There’s a quarry next door with heaps of dirt, my friend had an excavator, so I just started digging and moving dirt to plan for the 2021 festival.“

Over many months and many tens of thousands of dollars from his own pocket, Shannon built a brand new featured course for a bronze FMB event. The first event on the new site in Mansfield became a festival in itself with slopestyle, downhill and whip off.  “It was amazing! Great venue with heaps of media coverage and the riders were stoked. With a festival vibe in its own right. It just went off and grew from there.”

Receiving bushfire recovery grant funding to grow the festival long term making it sustainable and taking it to another level, they were able to move it up from bronze level to silver. A big step and Highline was now gaining international attention.

Highline, the world's first women's FMB sanctioned slopestyle event

Highline 2022 had a lot of firsts, the first women’s FMB sanctioned slopestyle event in the world and Australia’s first ever silver event, and the vibe just went off. 2023 will be a silver event again with a women’s event, dual slalom, speed and style and with more tracks, the gravity event will be a super enduro. Encouraging riders to multidiscipline, Highline will also crown a King and Queen in 2023, the best over all disciplines.  Bringing the festival vibe again there’ll be heaps of food, exhibitors, more spectator interactions and more fun for the riders.

Opening up for mtb camps

“I’m getting asked a lot for open ride days but the weather this year hasn’t been in our favour. There’s a lot of maintenance that needs to be done and I’m doing it all with my own time and money to keep this place alive. I’m a bit hesitant to open it up just yet because I strive to have quality products ready for the festival and, in time, more open days. Like the Momentum Women’s camp we had earlier this year.  We want to have more camps for freeriders with coaches to build that scene and really get into that environment, but it’s all time.”

Still managing his main business (ATC), Shannon also works for PBIA running coaching courses. He was recently contracted to manage the slopes courses at the first Crankworx in Australia, has staff to support in his shops and not forgetting his family.  “I’ve got a lot on my plate, but it’s manageable and it’s fun, that’s the beauty of this industry, it’s a fun industry.

Shannon's Passion

I’m just so passionate about this industry and providing new opportunities for Australians. The biggest thing for me is just being part of the growth of the industry in Australia across everything that I love myself. Whether it’s around coaching and development of riders so they can have more fun on their bike. Selling good products to riders so they can have a good time and keep their bikes running. Putting on events that get people to new disciplines and have fun. And then to spectators, to show that you don’t have to go overseas for this stuff. You can get it on Australian soil and experience what you’d see in a video in the flesh. Because you can’t beat watching riders do their thing in the flesh, the sheer size of it.  You can’t see that in the video.”

Two months in Whilstler

Recently spending two months in the MTB dreamland of Whistler with his wife and 4 daughters, escaping winter 2022.  “We’d worked so hard and I was so fatigued by the end of last summer. It was an idea we’d had for years and with kids old enough and manageable, we could enjoy it.  Two months of our lives just riding bikes, hanging out with family and catching up with mates. I needed to reengage, revive, find the love for biking again, and to come back mentally and physically stronger.  There was plenty of quality family time too, so it ticked all the boxes.  I definitely recommend it to anybody.  You’ve just got to live life, get out there and do it. We’ve definitely inspired a lot of families to do the same thing, enjoy life and switch off.  An experience my girls will talk about for years to come.”

“During covid the bike industry took off and now we’re seeing sustainable growth in the industry. I can’t believe we came out the other end in a good way. We’re one of the lucky survivors to gain from it. I’m very fortunate to be in a position to still have a business after the bushfires and covid.”

The future of Highline

Moving forward, Highline is here to stay. Keeping that unique freeride scene going and growing it here in Victoria. Crankworx in Cairns has just added another level to it on Australian soil. The timing of the freeride scene is now. It’s a good space to be in.  “The other good thing about Covid is that everyone built dirt jumps and bought jump bikes, so everyone is into that sport now. That’s the other feeder. The amount of kids and teenagers that are going to come through in the next 10 years. If they continue and want to compete, Australia is going to be up there with the best in the world.”

Shannon's goal

“My biggest goal and my other motivator with Highline is the feeder. I want to provide a pathway for Australian riders to gain enough FMB points and have a feeder for them to achieve their goal of competing at Crankworx.  So far there’s 3 Aussies Mike Ross, Luke Parker and Gaelen Slaney who had an opportunity this year to compete overseas because of Highline. My goal is to help them achieve their dreams by putting on comps so they can get more points. And keep their points going so they can get to Crankworx and bring through the new riders as well.  The sky is the limit.

Shannon’s advice, ride bikes have fun and be merry.

For more info on Highline see their website here

You might be interested in reading about Mike Ross here

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