Less than six months ago I had never heard of Crashed Ice. I happened to be sitting in the break room at my full time job with a coworker one night, when a story about this awesome looking event came on. I was hooked instantly. When we got back to the office, I immediately pulled up whatever info on this I could find- video, the main website, photos, anything. This event was Red Bull Crashed Ice, and I shared it with everyone I knew.
When we first arrived Thursday afternoon, I had no idea what to expect. I had watched every YouTube video I could find, but this course looked insane. The uphill sections from the videos didn’t look nearly as high as Pete’s Corner, and the You Betcha Hill looked a lot steeper than what I had viewed. I later learned that this was the most technical course built to date and it showed. Seeing videos of amateurs “skate” down previous courses, they would usually make it to the end of the course. Watching the American time trials on this day though, it looked like some of these (I’m presuming average to decent) skaters had strapped on skates for only the second time in their life. This course was tough. On this day, not a lot of the skaters made it around Pete’s corner on their first attempt. The ones that did, didn’t look graceful.
Friday afternoon was the International time trials. Now these skaters looked a bit more seasoned than our local guys. They skated faster, took the jumps and bumps better, and overall looked more graceful. But, they still ate alot of ice and took some nasty falls. We had an awesome spot at the bottom of Pete’s Corner, right after the Double Jump, about 1 and 6 made the Double Jump without going down, and not very many that made it looked pretty. It was very obvious at this point, this was not an easy course.
Later that night the qualifying heats took place to get down to 64 competitors for the main event on Saturday. Now we get to see some actual racing. The skaters are more familiar with the course and the lesser skaters have been weeded out. By the end of the night, 64 skaters who battled the hardest and some who received the luckiest breaks, made it on to the main event. At this point, not only was the course still technically challenging but the ice had taken a severe beating as well. Some areas had gouges from blades that looked to be an inch wide and up to an inch deep in some spots and that alone would be enough to take out an average skater. These guys are doing this at up to 40mph with three other people bumping into them on an enclosed course.
Almost right up to the time trials, we had an unusually warm winter here in Minnesota, with almost no snow. Mother Nature gave us the cold right when we needed it to help the ice stay hard, although they can apparently keep the ice on the track up to 60 degrees farenheit. Which brings us to Saturday. Mother Nature gave us another winter present, snow. If you have ever skated, played hockey, or watched hockey while it is snowing, you know that snow really slows down the pace on the ice. This could make things a lot more difficult. Luckily, just hours before the main event started, the snow let up and crews were on the track shoveling off the few inches that fell.
The main event started, round 1, 64 skaters, 16 heats, 4 racers per heat with the top 2 in each heat advancing. At this point, one really sees that the skaters know the course. The packs are tighter, the time between races are shorter and everything is moving at a faster pace. After round 1, there was an intermission period with a dj and a killer light show on the Cathedral. Round 2, 32 skaters, 8 heats, with the same 4 racer format. Even tighter packs and faster times. Now, quarter finals. 16 racers and 4 races. No down time between round 2 and the quarters. The crowd of 80,000 is loving it, braving the Minnesota winter outside and cheering on the racers. The packs of 4 racers going down are really tight by now, it really is down to whoever loses an edge first or doesn’t land a jump right. The semi finals start and it truelly is the best of the best. It’s at this point that the ones left are gaurenteed points for the overall championship. The top 2 in each semi advance to the big final, while 3 and 4 advance to the small final. Before the finals start a couple of guys from Nitro Circus raced the course on tricycles way to small for a grown man. I was in amazement as they had enough momentum to make it around Pete’s Corner. You Betcha Hill gave them problems. One racer threw his trike on top and climbed his way up along the boards. The other had less luck trying to carry it to the top, losing it over the boards. Both finished and it was impressive. On to the top race…
The championship race consisted of 2 Finns, including last years champion Arttu Pihlainen, and the Croxall’s, 2 brothers from Canada. It was an intense race, with an upset and slow-mo reviews (Aaron covered this really well, read his post below for details). I am really happy I was there to witness this first hand.
With the success the Red Bull Flugtag had and the 80,000 that turned out for Crashed Ice, don’t be suprised to see another Red Bull event here soon. This was the 3rd time Crashed Ice has been in the USA, all three times in Minnesota, 2 in Duluth prior. With Red Bull inking a deal with NBC to air Red Bull events and the success this past weekend, I expect to see more Americans invovled in Crashed Ice and hopefully start placing. As of now, the Canadians and Europeans are holding the upper hand. There’s enough hockey players and extreme inline skaters out there to help change that.
Let’s get Team USA on top!