The story of the first Mile High Battle

You can’t understand the first Mile High Battle without understanding the first Colorado blading website. The year was 2000. The location was Boulder, Colorado. Tyler Higgins and I had been talking about starting a website for a little while, and with the downtime afforded us by dorm life at CU Boulder we decided to make it happen. If memory serves, it all came together pretty quickly – Tyler cranked out most of the backend system and database while I spent time on the flashy Flash. fiftytwoeighty.com was registered in fall of 2000, and the site was online shortly thereafter.

Fiftytwoeighty was ahead of its time. We had a forum where we hosted some aspiring trolls, a soapbox which gave anyone in the community a chance to get something important off their chest, a comedy page, various image galleries, a collection of early videos, a curated list of skate spots, and a directory of other early rollerblading websites. It would take other, larger sites, years to develop all the features we had. In truth, we had no idea what we were doing, Tyler and I just wanted to make the kind of website we would spend time reading.

In concept the site was meant to be a gathering place for the Colorado blade community. Back then, we were all arranging sessions by calling each other on the phone. You pretty much only skated with people who you went to school with – and most of the people you love in Colorado rollerblading today didn’t have their driver's licenses yet. I think our hope was that people would occasionally find someone new to skate with or post a photo of something they were proud of.

Despite the occasional trolling, I think I can say without exaggeration that the site was successful beyond anything we imagined. We had nearly daily posts for the better part of ten years. Many of the people considered to be the pillars of today’s scene started out as groms on our message boards. Speaking only for myself, the site made it feel like we were really all connected, never more than a board post away from a session. Tyler’s code just worked, and the community of Colorado rollerbladers did the rest. 

I know a lot of this seems obvious now, but back then there were no smartphones, Facebook was still primarily a tool used by creepers to stalk girls they were too scared to talk to, and connecting to the internet still required your computer to sing a mating song into your landline telephone (and if that sounds made up, give it a goog, I assure you it was all too real). The idea of using a website to connect kids who wanted to rip was kind of a novel idea.

So how did we get from fiftytwoeighty.com to 20+ years of the Mile High Battle? That’s a great question.

The year 2000 wasn’t just the year that your favorite local rollerblade website was born, it was also the year of the first widely publicized street comp – the I Match Your Trick Association or IMYTA. It’s hard to overstate the impact the first IMYTA had. For the first time in our collective history, we were watching a skate contest in the streets. IMYTA was created by skaters, run by skaters, and showed off the very best in our industry, dropping a 45 minute video's worth of hammers in one day. IMYTA spawned 100s of copycat events all over the world. Some years it felt like nearly every decent sized city or town held a street comp, most modeled on the IMYTA format using multiple rounds of gradually increasing spot difficulty, culminating in some sort of ridiculous banger stunt spot that most in the town were too scared to skate.

In hindsight the locally run IMYTA/street contest seems so obvious. Seeing it in Video Groove 17 (California Industry Issue) showed all of us that it was possible. Street contests were the kind of thing nearly any community can run because fundamentally it’s just a regular day skating with good friends, only with more friends and hopefully some cash prizes. I’d like to think Jon Julio and Azikiwee had high-minded ideals like this in mind when they ran the first one, but regardless, it changed the game.

The Mile High Battle is part of that legacy. You can draw a short, straight line from IMYTA to our first apartment in 2001 as we were trying to figure out our website. Once Tyler and I saw how quickly and enthusiastically the community formed online, I think we knew we were on to something and we bet, successfully, that the community would show up if we threw an IMYTA-like event. If memory serves, it was single digits weeks between the first conversations we had about doing something and the day we ran the contest (September 23rd, 2001 if you're curious).

I can’t honestly recall how we landed on the name “Mile High Battle for the Streets”, other than the fact that everything in Colorado is Mile High something-or-another.

As you can read elsewhere on this site, the first battle was magical. I still get goosebumps when I think about what went down at the final spot. I felt like I was watching something nearly mystical. Don’t get me wrong, everyone who showed up skated hard that day, but watching Alex Broskow, Brian Aragon, and Colin Carr compete against each other for the first (and maybe only) time, was something special. No one in attendance will ever forget Alex’s true top-acid to back royale, or Brian’s fast slide (one of the longest ever done at that time!). People were pushing themselves to a level of skating that I think surprised everyone in attendance.

I personally think this moment is one of the top 5 most important events in the history of Colorado Rollerblading. If nothing else, the magic of that session powered my investment in the MHB for the next 10+ years.

As an aside, I want to say a special thanks to the Kansas boys and girls who showed up that first year. There has always been a special relationship between the Kansas and Colorado crews that can be traced all the way back to when Jeromy Morris lived in Denver. We could always count on someone from the Sunflower state to make the trip, and I’m so grateful they showed up for the first Battle. They helped turn what might have otherwise been a great local session into a truly epic event that quickly became a must-attend event for up-and-coming bladers around the country. 

It’s been more than 20 years since the first Mile High Battle. Tyler and I have long since passed the torch to my brother Luke, who has looked after it like his own child for a long, long time. It’s still one of the premiere street skating events in the country, and it continues to generate the kind of magic that’s only possible when you are having the session of your life.

I had always hoped that the Mile High Battle would become a Colorado institution, the kind of event you can count on like the Super Bowl. It is, without question, one of the longest running events in our industry – older than many of the people who compete in it. For more than two decades skaters from all over the region (and sometimes the world) continue to show up at the end of the summer to see what the Colorado scene has to offer. I think it is fair to say that the Mile High Battle has exceeded the very lofty expectations I set for it when we began.

Over the years we have partnered with various contest series, tried various changes in format, like running at night under stadium lights or hosting live music at the spots, but one thing remains true – the Mile High Battle is an event that brings people together and pushes each other to do something great, even if it’s just for an afternoon. I’d like to think that people who show up to compete or watch the Mile High Battle for the Streets will still feel the echoes of the hype that started it all back in 2001. I couldn’t be more proud of this event and I hope it lives for another 25 years.

To everyone who has ever helped with, skated in, bled for, donated to, hyped up, or just plain showed up to this event over the last many years: whether you know it or not, you are part of a long, and proud legacy of Colorado rollerbladers – thank you.

Special thanks to Tyler Higgins, one of the OGs and without whom this whole thing never woulda gotten out of our apartment.

—Adam Bender