Stepping away from the ice, into the warming tent, pressing a hot cup of coffee into my hands. My fingers look bright red in spots, and bone white in others. There is constantly banter in quiet tones and a dozen languages. No, I didn't fly the coup for an international pick up game, I am sitting at Red Bull Crashed Ice in Saint Paul, MN. Aaron and Kenney are out on the course, taking photos of the international preliminaries, and I am enjoying the warmth to type.
It's an interesting coincidence that Tuesday it was 50 and sunny, and then Thursday it was 14 degrees F, with 22 mile an hour winds…. just in time for the U.S. Preliminaries. Once again the winter decides to show up when we need outdoor ice.
If you are not familiar with crashed ice, think of a downhill ice-cross race on skates, designed by a madman. Now, put four guys on this ice, and let them bump, deke, and scramble to be the first to the finish line. Repeat an insane amount of times until there is one clear winner. Fast paced, perilous, combining aspects of hockey, racing, roller derby, and riding ramps, this has got to be the most astounding skating I have had the pleasure of witnessing. Granted, I just saw the prelims, so there was only one skater on any given section of the course. Tonight the full tilt boogie starts up. Then all bets are off.
To say these skaters are tough is an understatement. Even during their qualifying runs, they are pushing the speed often to dangerous points, catching an ice mogul wrong, or a down hill turn, or a 2 foot drop followed by an immediate steep downhill…the crashes are epic, and sometimes hard to watch. But the racers shake it off, and keep going. To an outsider like myself, it appears that the ability to maintain your momentum while getting your skates back on the ice is second only to being able to balance through a hairpin turn on a 16 foot wall.
Seeing someone superman off of a bump, after navigating what they named “Pete's Corner” perfectly, you almost feel the physical and emotional pain. Add into that a crowd cheering, jeering, pounding on the boards, or heckling. There is no thought from the crowd about nationality at this point. Some of them are there for the great displays of athleticism, some for the wonder of something new, some for the amazing wipe-outs, Some just to see what all the hubbub is about.
It's great to see how many people are ready and willing to bundle up and watch these men barnstorming an Escher-esque carnival ride of unforgiving ice. Especially before any of the vendors are open, any of the cameras running, and the main event still more than a day away. Seeing other people with media passes practicing a 6 bladed remote control helicopter camera makes me think we should have done better than Aaron's Nikon and Flip, but live and learn, right?
I only had a brief idea of what this event would be like. It involved skating and racing, some hills and turns. And we were going to have media passes. Now I know I needed a clip board, and better eyes to read the numbers off the jerseys, so I could put names and countries to the helmets,sweaters, and breezers flying by for a second, maybe two. If you blink, your screwed. You hear the creaking as the skater is approaching the top of the hill, then a flash of color, then they are around the next turn and gone. Or they are climbing over the boards from taking a bad fall, and pumping their fists in the air to get the crowd to cheer louder for them, and their effort they just put in on that ice-way of chaos designed for the race. Sebastien Morissette skating for Canada did just that, as the whole hillside erupted for him, as staff were putting the guards on his blades, sitting at the top of the wall after a particularly nasty fall from gaining too much air.
It's not just the tendency to lose your ground from a jump. Losing an edge while coming down the winding slope can put you head first into the boards. Not having enough speed for an uphill segment, and still leaning in can shoot your feet out from under you. Misjudging a wall segment at the top of a hill… this is pure adrenaline as a spectator, and has to be amazing as a competitor.
I do not recommend just going out to try this. Chris Coleman, the mayor of St. Paul that helped bring the event here, attempted part of the course. Check the Pioneer Press for how that went, even though he had a blast. If you get a chance, go check it out. We will have more updates from more of our commentators as the next two day's events unfold.
Thanks to Red Bull for all the courtesy, and allowing us to help cover Crashed Ice Saint Paul 2012.
-The Meat Beast