The biggest Gravity Event in Europe
THE BEGINNING OF AN ERA
The iXS Dirt Masters Festival had its beginnings in 2006, when the idea of setting up a mountain bike festival came up. The inspiration for this project came from the legendary Crankworx in Whistler, Canada. The festival should take place in the middle of Germany, be unique and stand out from the mainstream. When André Baumbach was doing an internship at Mountainbike Rider Magazine, Frank "Lippe" Weckert came along with the task of developing a concept for it. A short time later they were both sitting in Winterberg and convinced first Georg Brinkmann, the owner of the bike park at the time (note: now run by his son Nico), and then Michael Beckmann, now mayor of the town of Winterberg, at the time still head of the tourism office. Thus the foundation stone for the iXS Dirt Masters was laid.
A format should be created in which pro athletes as well as amateurs can compete with and against each other and thus prove their skills. Not only German athletes should be addressed, but also European and even beyond. Everyone should get the chance to pursue their passion, share these moments with others and experience absolutely top-class mountain bike action live.
After the German Slopestyle Championship in the Bikepark Winterberg as a small test event, the idea became reality in 2007. At that time, the bike park had become one of the best-known mountain bike spots in Germany. Due to its good location and the excellent infrastructure for tourism, Winterberg was the perfect venue for the festival.
At its premiere in May 2007, the festival was already a great success. The event was attended by a total of 20,000 visitors. It was clear that the bike scene had been waiting for such an event and that the story should definitely be continued. As partner and title sponsor, the Swiss brand iXS has been on board since the very beginning and is thus a constant companion and important supporter of the event, not least because Peter Hostettler and Pascal Haf have always taken on a responsibility towards mountain biking that cannot be valued highly enough.
The focus of this Gravity Festival was clearly on the sporting aspect. However, there should also be a musical framework and an area for exhibitors to get in direct contact with visitors.
The iXS Dirt Masters initially consisted of three different events, the iXS German Downhill Cup, the Felt MDC 4Cross Cup and The Cut Slopestyle Contest. Athletes from Down Under were already represented at the second edition of the festival. This shows how well and quickly the event was able to establish itself in the bike community. Two years later, the iXS Rookies Downhill Cup celebrated its debut and has been a permanent fixture ever since.
A highlight of the 15-year history in Winterberg was definitely the award as gold event of the FMB World Tour in 2012. A unique Slopestyle contest was offered under the title Red Bull Berg Line. This event was also part of the festival weekend in 2013. Unfortunately, the SKS Slopestyle Contest in the same year had to be cancelled due to bad weather conditions. Fortunately, at least one of the two Slopestyle contests could take place.
GREAT NAMES IN HISTORY
The winner of the iXS German Downhill Cup this year was one of the most renowned downhill riders in the world, none other than Gee Atherton (GBR). The two-time world champion was immortalised alongside a number of international greats in the festival's winner statistics. The list includes Aaron Gwin (USA), Mick Hannah (AUS), Sam Blenkinsop (NZL), Andrew Neethling (RSA), Marcelo Gutierrez (COL), Brook MacDonald (NZL), Sabrina Jonnier (FRA), Tahnée Seagrave (GBR) and Tracey Hannah (AUS).
An incredible success for the then still young Valentina Höll (AUT) was the Rookies Cup in 2014. Vali took part in the U15 age group at that time and was able to put down a hell of a run. Her time was better than that of the U17 and the women winner. Even back then, her talent could not be overlooked and somehow you can also say that the iXS Dirt Masters was one of the stepping stones for the Saalbach racer, who has now reached the top of the world.
In 2016, 10 years of iXS Dirt Masters were celebrated and this year was like none before. The weather was mixed during the first few days, but without any major peculiarities. Sunday, however, had a surprise in store: Never before had there been snow at the iXS Dirt Masters and until today it has remained an exception.
BACK TO THE ROOTS
The number of spectators at the festival grew with each year and thus the festival also attracted more and more party-loving guests. This went so far that the focus was no longer on sport, but on partying. So in 2017, a radical change was needed. The campsite at the festival site was converted into day parking for visitors and/or athletes. In addition, the concerts were dropped and less evening programme was offered. With these measures, those responsible organisers were able to turn the tide once again and put the main focus of the guests back on the expo area, the tracks and the sport. The high number of 38,000 visitors showed that the revised concept worked. Nevertheless, the concert history is quite respectable, after all, some really big bands did the honours at the Music Night, certainly worth mentioning are Peter Pan Speedrock, Bloodlights, H-Blockx, Die Happy, Get Dead and Donots.
And for all those who were there for the very early editions, we would like to take this opportunity to remind you of the legendary Upforce Freestyle Motocross Show, where Basty Wolter, Stefan Bengs, Kai Haase and Co delivered incredible action right next to the stage.
A PIONEER AND PRESERVATIONIST
Especially in terms of the development of the sport, the festival was often trend-setting. One example of this is certainly the topic of enduro, which was integrated as a format very early on, starting in 2010, and the first races at that time made a not inconsiderable contribution to the development of the discipline in Germany. Not only did the rulebook have to be created initially, but Winterberg, for example, was also one of the places where Racement used the Sport Ident transponder technology as timekeeping for the first time, which is now the global standard. But it should also not go unmentioned that despite the more or less association-made decline of the discipline of Fourcross, the organisers of the festival stick to the format year after year and thus contribute a little to the preservation of this discipline. Incidentally, it is also remarkable how the number of individual races and contests has developed over the years. It all started with three individual events, while in 2019 there were no less than eleven different events in four days. One can only hope that it will be possible to return to the old glory and intensity after the pandemic.
SHAPED BY CONSTANT CHANGE
But now a little more towards the present. The year 2018 also had changes in store for the iXS Dirt Masters Festival. After the adjustments made in the previous year put the focus back on the sport and this was also well received by participants and visitors, the task now was to continue seamlessly. In order to improve not only the sporting offer but also the side events, more well-known companies were brought to Winterberg. They were to make the expo area even more attractive.
There were also changes in the sporting arena. After several years, an Enduro race was held again, a round of the Enduro One series. This tour stop was the most visited stop of the entire series in 2019, with no less than 750 participants. In addition, the goal of making the festival even more family-friendly was set. A first step was the Family Challenge in downhill, and a year later a real Kids Race was added.
The final day of the iXS Dirt Masters 2018 put the iXS Downhill Cup to the test. At the start of the Open classes, the weather was still good and everything was still dry. However, it started to rain during the Pro Masters, which actually wouldn't be a big deal. However, in the Elite Men class, the weather conditions got progressively worse and it poured with rain. The course turned into a brown brook, so that one should have actually changed the sports equipment from a bicycle to a boat. In any case, these were no longer regular conditions, but everyone present took it with a sense of humour and so this race will certainly be remembered by many for a long time.
MORE COMPREHENSIVE THAN EVER BEFORE
One year later, unfortunately due to the pandemic, it was the last normal iXS Dirt Masters Festival so far and it was as well received as never before. This weekend, about 40,000 guests came to the Bikepark Winterberg to watch the various spectacles. Of course, this record also had to do with the excellent weather, after all, all days were characterised by glorious sunshine. Only the Slopestyle Contest fell victim to the wind on Sunday.
But that was not the only highlight of the iXS Dirt Masters in 2019. Never before have so many different sporting events been combined in one weekend in Winterberg. A whole eleven different competitions were held at the thirteenth edition of the festival. With such a variety, there was certainly something for everyone.
It is also pleasing that well-known faces from the bike scene keep coming to the iXS Dirt Masters, taking part and being enthusiastic about it. Fabio Wibmer (AUT) has already taken part four times, but was only able to take part three times because he had to miss a year due to injury. In his opinion, there is no event in the whole year that is as crazy as the Warsteiner Whip Off in Winterberg. It is a complete escalation and the atmosphere is unrivalled.
Ben Deakin (GBR) has also been to the festival four times and has experienced it as sheer madness. He feels that the general atmosphere is that the competition comes second and the main thing is to hang out with friends, do lots of runs and spend time on the bike. Ben is also a coach himself and sees the importance of the festival in the younger age groups. Because at the iXS Dirt Masters, the younger age groups should simply have fun and be able to participate without pressure.
The visitor magnet par excellence is probably the Whip Off, which celebrated their debut in 2013. This discipline was usually held on Saturdays in the early evening. Participants describe it as an amazing feeling to be able to whip in front of such a large crowd and to get beer showers from all sides during the airtime. The memory still gives you goose bumps today. After the contest, the hill is stormed by the visitors and some athletes prefer to flee quickly. Admittedly, this is not exactly what the organisers want to see and so the safety precautions are improved from year to year, but somehow these emotions are also unique.
To date, the iXS Dirt Masters Festival has established itself as the biggest gravity event in Europe, which is not only suitable for participants or MTB fans, but also gladly welcomes friends and family. This development is also thanks to the bike park and co-organiser, which has been working more and more on developing the infrastructure since the first edition in order to be able to run such a big event smoothly. And one point has not yet been mentioned, the festival is only possible because behind the scenes a three-digit number of employees, helpers and supporters are there with heart and soul and often go beyond what is normally affordable to ensure that everything runs smoothly. Thanks to the paramedics, the bike park crew, the organising team, the fourcross crew, the people from iXS, Red Bull, the bobsleigh centre, the hostel, thanks to the electricians, the cleaners, the security, the marshals and also to the support of the town of Winterberg with the police, fire brigade, public order office and tourist information.
Two names are also inseparably connected with the festival, namely Sabrina Ungemach and Christoph Deik, who prepare the festival as an organisational team throughout the year.
Unfortunately, the pandemic has somewhat derailed the annual continuation of the festival. In 2020, the event even had to be cancelled completely. Last year, we originally planned to go back to May, but then it quickly became apparent that things had not returned to normal by then as we had hoped. However, with a lot of commitment and huge support from the city of Winterberg and the bike park, we were then able to hold a three-day festival in September that felt pretty normal and was a real highlight of the Corona-ridden period.
We currently hope that the issue will be manageable in the future and that we will experience a festival in May 2022 that does justice to the fifteenth anniversary.