Louise Ferguson is standing on a patch of dirt above one of the biggest features she’s ever faced. She’s confident, but nervous. She’s never experienced anything like raw terrain at the Formation site in Virgin, Utah, and she’s about to roll into the crux of her line for the first time—a huge double drop running straight down the gut of the mountain.
She and Cami Nogueira, a fellow Formation rider with whom Ferguson is sharing a line, talk about approach and roll-in speed. Nogueria asks her if she wants to go first, and Ferguson obliges.
“I kind of wanted to get it done,” Ferguson says. “Cami’s done it before, she looked really good. I was thinking if she went, I’d be up there by myself.”
“Clear!” yells the spotter from the fire road below. Ferguson rolls slowly up to the edge and drops. The canyon is silent except for the sounds of her tires scratching down the rock face.
She greases the line in flawless style, and the crowd gathered at the bottom erupts in cheers, while she hugs her diggers and fellow riders in relief and celebration.
“It’s so much chiller than I thought,” she says, then: “It’s so scary with all the cameras.”
Ferguson, 25, is not used to this level of attention. She’s a first-time athlete at Formation, an event she watched from afar in Fort William, Scotland, where she grew up, then Queenstown, New Zealand, where she’s lived for the past two years. Ferguson was pivotal in the development of Mons Royale’s Future Ground women’s freeride event in New Zealand—which came together after she landed her first backflip—but an invitation to Formation wasn’t even on her radar.
“It came out of nowhere, I was really surprised,” she said. It also came right after she found out that she was finally able to line up a number plate for the Fort William World Cup, a longtime goal, through her new Nukeproof/SRAM team, a contract she landed last December. The events are only a week apart, and couldn’t be more different in terms of terrain (Fort William is one of the wettest places in the British Isles; Virgin, Utah, is, uh, not), but Ferguson couldn’t say no. She’s ridden the track, having grown up in the Highlands, and though she’s been competing as an elite in DH and enduro for years, she’s never raced a World Cup.
“I’m just trying to relax,” she said. “I’m trying to just forget about that for the week and concentrate on this. I also think the more relaxed you are, the more you enjoy it and also I think the better I ride. Once I get there, I’ll try and focus, and change my bike so it’s a bit more set-up for downhill. I’m excited to go from a big group of girls here to meet an all new group of girls in the race scene as well because I’ve followed them on TV for ages.
“I’m just hoping I qualify, then I’ll see what I can do from there.” Ferguson also has an entry for Leogang, but with the Crankworx series also on the calendar, she might have some decisions to make.
Right now, it’s all about Utah and embracing something completely new. Formation is overwhelming, even for returning athletes, so for a first-timer without a lot of desert experience, the prospect of navigating exposed ridgelines and raw big-mountain lines could be downright terrifying, but Ferguson has been taking it in stride. She teamed up with Nogueira on a line that would suit her propensity for techs and steeps.
“It’s my first year, I didn’t want to go crazy and pick something that I was going to feel really uncomfortable with,” she said. “I wanted to challenge myself but not take on too much. I picked something down the fall line instead of the ridge, it’s just more me. The jumps will be a challenge, but they’re not crazy booters, just fun, playful. Aesthetically, I think it looks really sick.”
“She has a calm, level approach to this, it’s just chill,” says Alex Showerman, a first-time Formation digger who’s working with Ferguson. “She’s also very measured. We’ve had a lot of conversations about her first time here, building a line that just is a really solid strong line and it’s been really helpful with understanding the mindset to stepping into this terrain. I’m really grateful to have worked with her, and see her as a first-time athlete work through this. That’s really helpful for me to see—ok, take this really big overwhelming thing and break it down.”
With the double drop ticked off, now she can focus on the rest of her line, and beyond.
“If I can come back next year, I’ll have more vision of what’s possible,” she said. “Trying to picture something when there’s no landing is kind of crazy. Whereas now I can see some of the girls have built stuff I’m like, ‘Ah alright, OK. I understand how that’s possible and how you can be more creative.'”