The search is over

Carson Storch, one of the world's best freeriders, tests out the terrain ahead of Natural...
Carson Storch, one of the world's best freeriders, tests out the terrain ahead of Natural Selection Proving Grounds, being held in Queenstown in February. PHOTOS: PROVING GROUNDS/NEIL KERR
Queenstown's TreeSpace-Mount Dewar is the future home of the Natural Selection Proving Grounds global mountain bike event.In its third year, the ground-breaking freeride event’s previously only been held at Prineville, Oregon, in the United States.

To be held on the former Mount Dewar Station, overlooking Arthurs Point, from February 12 to 18, the roster of up to 30 mountain bike athletes will be the best New Zealand has ever seen on one course.

It can already boast the world’s best female line-up and the top 14 men from Red Bull Rampage vying to get an invite.

There’ll also be a chance for up-and-coming riders to score an invite through the invite-only ‘Dream Ticket’ qualification camp.

That’s being held at Fernhill’s Dream Track on February 10 and 11.

Proving Grounds, previously described by its NZ commercial director Ed Leigh as "the Monaco of F1 [or] the Wimbledon of tennis", is designed for male and female athletes to blur the line between big mountain and slopestyle riding.

They’ll all drop in on the same course and choose their own line to showcase their abilities, competing for equal prize opportunities.

All Good Productions, an offshoot of global outdoor sports events and media company Natural Selection — which features the world’s top snowboarders and mountain bikers — has been working with the TreeSpace team to create three primary downhill trails on the 360ha south face of Mount Dewar, at Arthurs Point.

Work started last year after Queenstown businessman and philanthropist Rod Drury was approached by Travis Rice, who competes on the Natural Selection snowboarding tour.

The pair started talking about holding a mountain biking event in the southern hemisphere and, subsequently, Red Bull Rampage founder Todd Barber was flown to Queenstown to scope it out.

In March, the Proving Grounds team brought Carson Storch, Casey Brown, Brett Rheeder, Reed Boggs and Robin Goomes — some of the world’s top riders — to scout 10 locations across the Southern Lakes and pick their favourite.

From that, award-winning director Jeremy Grant and his team created a stunning 30-minute documentary, The Search for the next Proving Grounds, which will have its world premiere at Sherwood in Queenstown tonight at 6pm — entry is free to the public — before going live at 6am tomorrow on Outside Watch.

A Wānaka premiere, also free, is being held at Bike Glendhu tomorrow at 7pm.

Barber says the vision at TreeSpace is to move towards a more natural course, using the terrain to help sculpt the lines and keep evolving the event towards "as freeride a competition as possible".

"We are so lucky to have found Mount Dewar and the team at TreeSpace who not only understand our values but share them," he says.

Pro mountain bikers Carson Storch, left, and Reed Boggs pictured during the search for the...
Pro mountain bikers Carson Storch, left, and Reed Boggs pictured during the search for the Proving Grounds in March.
"We have spent a lot of time working with Tom Hey [Elevate Trail Building] on envisioning a world-class course, that is not only thrilling for the athletes, but also conscious of the natural landscape and our duty to preserve and also regenerate native species in the area."

Proving Grounds NZ promises to be a top-tier sporting event, alongside SailGP, the NZ Open golf tournament and Crankworx Rotorua.

According to the consent application with Queenstown’s council, which is "in progress", about 1500 spectators are expected onsite next February, doubling for 2025 and reaching 5000 by 2026.

Additionally, they’re predicting more than 15million viewers worldwide.

Drury says while Proving Grounds NZ will cement Queenstown’s place on the map as an internationally-renowned mountain biking venue, it’ll also demonstrate the huge economic benefit to the town.

The documentary, he says, is an indicator of the exposure world-class mountain biking events can provide.

"Last year, there were 19 video projects that I know of shot over summer, because the facilities are so good ... we’re like a fantasy destination.

"Anyone really into mountain biking anywhere in the world has on their bucket list to come to Queenstown, which is why we’ve done the ilounge [at Cargo Gantley’s] so athletes can come in and load their content up.

"All of this is part of the strategy to get the very cost-effective tourism exposure.

"Then we can just keep doing more and more events, which is what we want to do; fill up the town and create those economic benefits for everybody."