January 28th, 12:31 am
Levi Levallee took the event no one thought he could, including him. For details on the Snowmobile Freestyle finals, click here.
This Just InJanuary 27th, 6:05 pm
Bodin just wrecked attempting a knack flip in the warmup for Finals. Jimmy Blaze, who qualified 5th, may be tapped to step in to the main event. Stay tuned for more details...
Nordgaard has reportedly gone to Aspen Valley Hospital, over concerns about possible complications from his contused larynx. He will be there overnight.
Meanwhile, temperatures are rapidly dropping, and the Freestyle course is turning into an ice rink.
New BloodJanuary 27th, 4:34 pm
Chris Burandt will not have a gold-medal repeat this year in Snowmobile Freestyle. In this afternoon's elimination event, Burandt failed to rekindle the magic that established him as the top trickster in WX '07he finished second-to-last, in 9th position.
So, with Aleksander Nordgaard also out (contused larynx and right wrist), Heath Frisby is the lone medalist from last year to still be in the mix.
Good friends Frisby and Joe Parsons will meet in one semifinal heat tonight, while Daniel Bodin and Levi LaVallee will face off in the other. Parsons qualified first, with a run that included his buddy's namesake trick, the Frisby Air, followed by Bodin, who still seemed to be shaking off the after-effects an earlier wreck, followed by LaVallee and Frisby. Jimmy Blaze missed the cut, with a fifth-place showing.
"You know, this game is really mental," said Burandt of his finish, "And I've had a hard time getting my head into it. I wasn't fully prepared for this yearand it showed. But I've got a lot of big plans for the future and this game's getting pretty risky. If I'm hurt, I can't support my family, so I need to stay on that."
Wild man Dane Ferguson launched off course and into the crowd during the first of his two runs during elimination. Making matters worse for the X Games rookie, Ferguson then got clotheslined off his machine by a rope as he attempted to navigate back into the field of play. He was finesense of humor well intact.
"Now I know I have a 3-minute time-out if I need it," he laughed after collecting himself back in the pit area. On Ferguson's second run, he flipped the first three hits, but a hard landing on the last one snapped a belt on his sled. "A hundred-dollar belt took me out of X Games," he said. "Oh well."
Before abandoning his sled on course and strolling back to the pits, Ferguson climbed onto a berm and pulled off his goggles, helmets, neck gator and a few layers of shirts and tossed them into the crowd. He finished in 7th.
•Bodin described smashing into the backside of the huge step-down jump wall this morning: "I didn't know that they moved the ramp 20-feet back, so when I came off, at first I totally froze up. I saw what was happening, but I didn't know what to do. But at the last second I jumped off the sled and hit the walllike a concrete, rock-hard wallwith my feet and my arms. I felt like every bone in my body was gonna break. But I can still walk, and I'm pretty much 100 percent now."
•LaVallee cased the landing on the lip of the huge step-down jump on his second elimination run. He bounced off the sled, but popped up immediately, sprinted back to his sled and hopped back on. He did not, however, continue his run.
•Frisby crumpled his primary sled during a boggled landing of an otherwise splendid "super flip" in practice this morning. That left him with a brand new, unfamiliar sled for the elimination round. It didn't seem to phase him, though.
•Bodin admitted he was having trouble remembering what tricks he wanted to throw when. The solution? The Swede now has a sheet of paper listing certain tricks duct taped underneath his handlebarsjust like a band's set list.
•Alternate Paul Thacker was tapped to compete in Nordgaard's spot. He finished in 8th position.
Freestyle snowmobile practice bag-o-tricks itemsJanuary 27th, 2:07 pm
•This just in: Nordgaard is out and alternate Paul Thacker is in. And the freestyle elimination starts in less than an hour.
As to the contest itself, Ferguson added: "I could just do without all the pressure and the cameras and the interviews. It adds a different element to it, and puts more pressure on you, and it almost seems like it's harder to do the things you're not really good at."
•Heath Frisby showcased a slick-looking "super flip." Frisby also wrecked his sled on a bad landing this morning. Apparently it was a brand-new sled that he had less than one hour on.
•Levi LaVallee was showing off his lucky charm this morning. It's a T-shirt. Actually, it's just the collar of an old "No Fear" shirtthe rest of the shirt has long-since rotted away. When Levi got the shirt, some 13 years ago (he's 25 now), it read: "It ain't about the size of the dog in the fight, it's about the size of the fight in the dog." Levi wears it every time he climbs onto a sled.
Ferguson also showed off his own personal talisman: An old tattered hoodie that he wears under his helmet.
•Thacker said most landings off the bigger jumps generate about 9 Gs. According to a gauge mounted on his sled, the G-Forces spiked to 31 Gs when he impacted on the lip of the big downhill jump. "It hurt," he said. "It definitely bottomed out, and that's hard to do."
Thacker also discussed some of the consequences of pulling immense tricks on a snowmobile: "Three years ago I did my first back-flip in Alaska. I crashed the first timestuck the second one. A year later, I went up and did it again. And crashed. I tried to get away from the sled, landed back on top of it. Handlebars came underneath my helmet, kind of went in the corner of mouth, banged me up pretty good. It knocked all my teeth out, broke my nose, my eye socket, my cheek bone, my right ankle, my leg left, my left arm and a couple of ribs. So two weeks ago I went to [Justin] Hoyer's foam pit in Wisconsin, flipped a couple of times, and then a week ago I learned to back-flip again to snow. Now I've probably done close to 100--probably 50 since I've been here."
•Toward the end of practice, Bodin roared back into the start area on his sled. He skidded to a stop next to Thacker. "Can I still ride?" Bodin yelled over the roar of his Polaris sled. A piece of broken plastic was dangling from his helmet. "No, we're all done," Thacker replied, with a broad smile. "No, man, you're goodget back out there." Some 12 minutes later, Bodin pulled another flip.
Communication BreakdownJanuary 27th, 12:35 pm
Snowmobile Freestyle favorite Daniel Bodin wrecked into the backside of the huge downhill gap jump first thing this morning during a practice session. Defending Silver Medalist Aleksander Nordgaard cased the landing on the same jumpsmashing his face and throat into the handlebars of his sled in the processand alternate Paul Thacker had problems there, too, impacting with enough force to record 31 G's on a G-force gauge mounted on his sled.
"Me and Daniel crashed really hard there. I got my throat right into the handlebars. As you can hear, I can't talk," Nordgaard said. "I also kind of messed up my wrist yesterday, so I can't take the impact on the landings... So it's a hard time right now. I don't know what to do."
Nordgaard crashed again later in the practice sessiona gnarly looking wreck over the front of his bars once again. "I was going to do a one-hand seat grab. But I guess I'm not feeling OK after all these crashes. I'm not fully concentrated. So I missed a grab and just slammed right into the bars again. So now my chin is cut up. Aahhhhh, I don't mean to complain but that's how it is," he said.
I asked Nordgaard if had spoken with Bodin since his backside smack crash off the downhill gap jump. "No. I guess no one has. I hope he's OK."
"But I saw him crash," he added. "I was sitting here and saying to the X Games people that they didn't tell us they moved the ramp. And they were saying, 'Oh we did.' And then I saw Daniel go boom, into the wall. I said, 'No you didn't, looking what's happening.' I don't want to complain. I don't want to blame other people, but this time it's not my fault. [pause] I'm sick of blaming myself for crashing."
Regarding the re-positioning of the take-off ramp, Joe Duncan, event official, told EXPN.com: "Some of the guys didn't get the information. We talked about it at the driver's meeting, but they didn't understand that it was happening last night. You know, our faultwe should've told each rider individually. But they did all get a chance to go out and look at the course before the practice started."
January 26th, 8:00 pm
SnoCross Finals coverage here.
Four Stroke StokeJanuary 26th, 3:58 pm
This just in from the SnoCross prelims: Blair Morgan is out of the running, and thanks to Yamaha rider Steve Taylor, tonight's Final will be the first in history with a four-stroke sled in the field.
In the second Round 2 heata.k.a. the "last chance qualifier"Dave Allard won the hole shot and cruised out in front of the pack for all 10 laps. Robbie Malinoski held off a charging Ryan Simons to take second. And at least three riders never managed to clear the first turn, due to a nasty-looking crash involving Andrew Johnstad, Chris Kafka and Katejun Coonishish. Coonishish was the last to get to his feet, and he was helped off the course by medical staff.
Said Johnstad of the crash: "It was kind of a chain reaction. Everybody started getting swapped up 'cause everybody's going to the inside there. Kafka [got turned] into me. Then I flipped over, and he flipped over, and that was the end of the story for us."
Taylor suffered a cart-wheeling wreck yesterday during Round 1 qualifiers. He praised his crew for working through the night to get his sled running againthat sled, a Nytro, now is the aforementioned four-stroke. And, let's say this again: it's the first four-stroke snowmobile ever to get into the WX Finals.
Who's Holding?January 26th, 12:58 pm
Who knows what we might see this Sunday night in SnoMo Freestyle. That's the allure and intrigue of high-stakes contests.
"I think we're going to be seeing some types of back-flip variations, and I know [Daniel] Bodin has some stuff up his sleeve," Chris Burandt, the defending gold medalist, said today. "But there's also some surprises usually, because people like to keep things on the down-low before the event to play with people's heads... I've been trying to lay low and stick to my gamebig extension tricks, nice clean back-flips and having funand not get wrapped up in what everybody else is doing."
With five jumps, the course should look similar to last year: three super kickers in a row to start, followed by an uphill snow hit, and finally a large step-down kicker (about a 90-foot gap). In the opening elimination round, each rider will get two runs, with the four highest scorers advancing to head-to-head heats. In those heats, each rider gets one runthe winners advance to the Final, the losers enter the consolation round for the bronze. Both the Final and Consolation rounds will also be just one run.
Riders like Burandt, LaVallee, Parsons, Rogers and Frisbywho all competed in the Speed & Style Thursday nightwill have the advantage of already hitting two of the jumps. "Our time on course is an advantage, but none of us have seen the whole thing," said Burandt. "And there isn't a lot practice, so we'll look at the course tonight, have a long practice tomorrow, and then we're onto the elimination."
Morning PersonJanuary 26th, 10:36 am
X Games artistes of the SnoMo realm aren't early risers, apparently. Today's early-morning practice session for SnoMo Freestyle was scrapped. The first official practice will run from 5 to 6 p.m. tonight, insteadonly it's now one-hour long rather than the previously slated two.
Some bag-of-tricks items:
•Daniel Bodin is reportedly primed to throw his "super flip" trick this weekend. It's a dicey back-flip variation that promises to score well. Jimmy Blaze also has been trying this trick, though last month he wrecked spectacularly attempting it, so we'll see if he goes for it tonight.
•Heath Frisby's sled is equipped with stirrups... and he's one of the only riders who throws no-handed back-flips (in addition to the Kiss of Death, or KOD). Coincidence? We think not.
•Jimmy Blaze will likely unveil his new-look "pro model" helmet tonight. Featuring a flat, baseball-hat-style bill, Blaze developed and patented the design with his longtime friend Giles Landry, of High Life Films and Turnagain Hardcore. The new brain bucket won't be available for another two months, and Blazeafter burning through designs and prototypes over the last 15 monthsfinally took possession of a suitable, ride-ready prototype from a factory in China on Friday.
"It's totally differentan anti-racer. I like it," said veteran freestyle rider Kourtney Hungerford, who is an alternate for the contest. Hungerford was curious to know whether the bill could be rotated slightly to a cockeyed alignment, but for the moment that element remains in development...
Half-Marathon MenJanuary 26th, 9:49 am
Tonight's SnoCross Final has been extended to 25 laps, making it the longest race in X Games history. With each lap spanning about .5 mile, the total distance should approximate a half marathonwhich makes it far longer than any of the elite National SnoCross events, too.
Thoughts on the extended play:
•Ross Martin: "You're going to want to go into the Final as calm as you can, because it's gonna be a long one. But you should be able to come through the pack decently. So it's gonna be the guy who's the fastest and who's in best shape."
•Brett Turcotte: "After 8 [laps] in the qualifier, I was doing a full sprint, so 25 laps is gonna be tough. But I think with the longer race it'll be a little bit more like motocross where you can settle in, pick your lines, and slowly start picking away at people."
•T.J. Gulla: "It's on, man. It's on for the final. I'm gonna bring it. And hopefully we'll have some good racing. I know Tucker's running good, so we'll see. And Levi's gonna be tough, too. He's got fitness for 25 laps. And Ross Martin, he's got fitness, too. So it's gonna be between five, six guys who can run 25 laps like that. Like I said, manit's on."
Yellow JerseyJanuary 25th, 11:15 pm
He turned the fastest laps in practice and when it really counted Friday night during Round 1 qualifying for SnoCross.
Tucker Hibbert's uniform may be green, black and white, but make no mistake, Hibbert is wearing your leader's yellow jersey. Racing in the first of four 8-man qualifying heats, Hibbert won the hole shot at the start and kept pushing through all six laps. At just over six minutes, Hibbert's time bettered the next best of the night (T.J. Gulla) by more than 12 seconds, and the runner-up in his heat (D.J. Eckstrom) by more than 15.
Brett Turcotte, Levi LaVallee and Gulla also won their heats to earn spots in tomorrow's big final, and Eckstrom, Ross Martin, Zach Pattyn, and Shaun Crapo also secured berths in the final with second place finishes in their heats. The rest of the field, meanwhile, including 11-time X Games veteran Blair Morgan, must face off in Last Chance Qualifiers tomorrow afternoon.
•Morgan's sled got snagged in a fence at the first corner as he and Gulla charged for the same real estate in the turn. The sled flipped onto its side, ending Morgan's hopes of qualifying through the front door. "I had a good jump and going into the first corner I thought I had the hole shot. But I kind of checked coming into the corner and tagged with T.J. a little bit and it pushed my ski into the fence, hooked it, and flipped me right over," said Morgan. "We were both going to the same space. It's just one of those things, just going for the same line."
•Gulla's perspective: "A lot of bumping and grinding. I had the first gate pick and I lined up pretty close to the inside and figured one guy would line up inside me, but not two, which is what happened. I didn't want to be tight to the hay bales there and knew those guys were gonna try to get a jump on me and push me out. And, hey, I just held my line and didn't give an inch, and it worked out. There was a little bit of rubbing and leaning on each other, but nothing significant."
•Following that initial scrape, Gulla cruised to a comfortable 10-second win ahead of Pattyn. And that's a good thing for Gulla, considering he suffered two notable wrecks earlier in the day during practice. "I should've tamed it down ... but I was trying to get a section dialed, made a miscalculation and it clipped me, clipped me hard. I was sitting in the trailer before this round and I was just spinning. I didn't know what I was gonna do, but luckily we had enough time in between practice and now that I was able to get my head back on straight," Gulla said. In the earlier wreck, Gulla jammed his right thumb. "I haven't gone for X-rays yet and besides we gotta race tomorrow. If it's still bothering me after, which I'm sure it will be, I'll go to the doctor then."
•While Hibbert's run was reminiscent of watching a runaway train, and his steely countenance rarely betrays any emotion, he admitted he was nervous prior to the start. "The qualifier makes me more nervous than anything else. The final is not a big deal for me as far as getting nervous. Getting in there, though, that's the big thing," he said. "But then I got a great start, and that's what I wanted to do. It made it a lot easierI was able to have a clear track ahead of me, and focus."
Martin, Morgan, HibbertJanuary 25th, 4:55 pm
We caught up with three of SnoCross' top gunsRoss Martin, Blair Morgan and Tucker Hibbertfollowing the second official practice session this afternoon:
EXPN: How do you like the course?
Martin: The track's pretty good. There are a lot of big jumps out there, but that makes for some good racing. I just can't wait to get rolling tonight.
EXPN: So how big are these jumps?
Martin: I don't really know. But they seem pretty big when you're going over 'em. You're in the air for, I don't know, three-to-five seconds. And that makes it totally different track from what we normally run on. This is pretty much just jumps, and it's pretty smooth, other than the big jumps. We're used to a pretty rough track.
EXPN: Who are the legitimate contenders?
Martin: Myself, TJ [Gulla] and Tucker [Hibbert] have all been running really well this season, but none of us are unbeatable, and I think it's gonna make for some good racing. The podium's been filled with us three pretty much so far, but we've got a long season left, and there will be other guys stepping up once they get more comfortable. I think we'll just have to wait and see what X Games 12 brings.
EXPN: What makes X Games unique for SnoCross?
Martin: You get all pumped up knowing it's once a year. Plus, it's the biggest televised event for us, and everybody's watching.
EXPN: A friendly vibe among competitors... or not?
Martin: Once the flag drops, it gets pretty serious.
EXPN: How's the course?
Morgan: It's a good track. It's a little shorter than usual, but it's pretty technical and there's some cool rhythm sections. And there's always the big downhill jump, so it's pretty fun. It's always important to get a good start, but this one is a little bit short and it goes into a right-hander [turn]. That's kind of oddwe don't have too many right-hander first corners, but I think it'll be fine. There might be some people tangling up, but I try to stay out of that. [Laughs]
EXPN: Who's the rider to beat?
Morgan: Tucker's been riding really well at our regular national races. And we've been struggling a little bit with set up, but I think we've got something good this time.
EXPN: These are your 11th X Games. Is it good to be back?
Morgan: It's always fun, and it's nice here in Aspen. We don't usually come to the mountains too often, but we're just coming from a race last weekend in West Yellowstone, so we've been up at elevation for a little while now. Usually we're at lower elevations, like in the Midwest. It's a lot tougher up here at elevation.
EXPN: How has the SnoCross season been shaping up?
Hibbert: So far things have been going really great for us. I've won, I think, six or seven main events in the races leading up to this X games, so for me, [I've got] a lot of confidence coming into Aspen.
EXPN: Who are you going to be watching out for?
Hibbert: Definitely TJ Gulla is riding really strong this year. Blair Morgan has been off a little bit, but he looked good in practice today, and there's a lot of guys that could be challengers for the win for sure. I don't count anybody out because there are a lot of fast guys here.
EXPN: Is the course to your liking?
Hibbert: The start is a little different, but it shouldn't be any big problem for us. It's also not very long, so it's gonna be a short shoot to the first turn. It'll be important to have good reaction time off the start and get a good spot with a lot of traction.
EXPN: You're here to win, no?
Hibbert: Our goal is definitely to win and to try and get the gold medal again. So that's what we're working toward. But that's what everyone else here is hoping for, too, so it's not gonna be easy.
EXPN: Last year you ran out of gas after crossing the finish linewill that be repeated as well?
Hibbert: We'll definitely make sure we've got enough gas. But for as much work and time as we put into racing, we want to make sure we're not running around the track with any more weight than we need. It's all about saving weight and gaining speed. We'll definitely be cutting the gas right to the mark again, but hopefully not quite as close as last year.
Hail MaryJanuary 25th, 12:14 pm
Paul Thacker has the day off today. He also has a rather pronounced limp, owing to his wreck in Speed & Style practice last night. "I'm feeling pretty stiff," he said.
Thacker was going for a back-flip, but his rocket of a sled turned into a dud. "I went to give it the gas off the ramp, but there just wasn't anything there," said Thacker. "I don't think we had it warmed up good enough."
Thacker managed to get clear of the sled before it impacted, butt first, bending the handlebars and crushing the tunnel at the rear. The incident left Thacker sled-lessbut only for a moment. Fortunately, freestyle rider Aleksander Nordgaard offered his sled for Thacker to use in the Final.
"You know, if this stuff was easy, everybody'd be doing it," Thacker said of the crash. "And it's all good. I'm still here at X Games, and I'm still walking, so we're gonna go give 'er hell."
Thacker is still an alternate for Sunday's freestyle contest. In the meantime, he confirmed for EXPN.com that he has firm plans to go for another world-record distance jump next month.
Thacker's words: "On February 16th we're gonna do another distance jump at Canterbury Park in Shakopee, Minnesota. Three-hundred feet is the minimum we're shooting for, andweather permittingwe're gonna try to make a run at Robbie Maddison's record [322.5 feet]. I'll be doing the distance jump and Delene Dippel is going to try to do a female-world-record distance jump, so I'll be helping her with that, too."
Last winter at Canterbury Park, Thacker launched a 245-foot jump. And apparently he was just getting warmed up.
Peaks & LaValleesJanuary 24th, 11:59 pm
Check out the Speed & Style Final story posted elsewhere on site. Yes, you read that time stamp up there right. See how dedicated I am to bringing you real-time coverage? You're welcome.
Guns BlazingJanuary 24th, 12:53 pm
Libelous. Slanderous. Venomous. Outrageous statements keep rolling off the tongue of Jimmy Blaze Fejes.
"Look, there's just been this continuing animosity," says Blaze, explaining his long-standing bad-blood relationship with the some of the Slednecks crew. "And now I'm just taking a different approach and systematically educating the public on how [lame] Slednecks is."
With that comment, Blaze guns the engine of his flatbed dually pickup with 375,000 miles on it and peels out onto the highway. It's lunchtime and Blaze has invited Lauren Dalke (from Go Fast Sports) and I along for a run into town to Blaze's favorite local BBQ joint. Lauren and I sit double-shotgun in the front seat.
Blaze is unusually feisty today. He tore the front bumper off his truck last night, after crashing through a mountain pass guardrail (and nearly launching off a cliff), and the simmering Slednecks feud is weighing heavily on his mind.
"Look, we've done some sh*tty things to each other in the past and I'm not gonna deny it. I was a dick and I'm good at being a dick, so I did what I knew would hurt their feelings," he explains.
Blaze is a freestyle snowmobile rider. But his out-sized persona is more like a blend of rock star, showman, and WWF champ meets Alaskan frontiersman. He fears nothing, consequences included, and as a UFC enthusiast and former Alaskan state high school wrestling champion he has never shied away from conflict. He also doesn't count many friends among his snowmobiling brethren, a number that only seems to be dwindling.
Blaze has been at the receiving end of epithets--and the hurling end too, of course. (For example: "I mean, if he was on the side of the road on fire I wouldn't even pull over to piss on him.")
"But you know, the whole thing gets a little trying sometimes. And I don't know if I'm really going about it the right way. I think I like being more controversial than most, but I don't know," he sighs. "What would you do?"
Once we pull up in front of the Hickory House, on Main Street in Aspen, Blaze parks illegally and produces an Alaska-issued handicapped placard from a visor sleeve. With a grinhe has, after all, been injured badly and frequently latelyhe sticks it on the rearview mirror.
And besides, there is at least one freestyle rider in Aspen who Blaze still likes.
"Daniel [Bodin]. I've known him for a long time, and he's just a really nice person--a genuinely nice person, and that's what I like about him. You know, there's a language barrier there, and he doesn't know English that well, so he just tells you exactly what he thinks. There's no sugar coating anything. And that's just such a big relief from a lot of people in this industry who double-talk. You know me well enough that if you want to know something, I'll tell you," he says. "And that's why this whole thing is kind of like a moral dilemma that somehow I've got to figure out."
The smack talking will surely continueand in that category Blaze is undisputed King. But with the freestyle contest slated for Sunday night, the last night of X Games, Blaze may be wise to, for once, just let his riding speak for itself.
Nordgaard Has A ColdJanuary 24th, 12:49 pm
More details emerged from the cloud of exhaust in the Snomo pits following the second official practice for Speed & Style today:
•The head-to-head quarterfinal match-ups will feature Paul Thacker vs. Heath Frisby; Chris Burdant vs. Sam Rogers; Cory Davis vs. Levi LaVallee; and Joe Parsons vs. Steve Martin. A coin-flip will determine lane choice among the pairings.
•Scoring-wise, riders learned that only three jumpsthe two superkickers, and one flagged snow hiton the course count toward their freestyle score. Heath Frisby elaborated: "The rider who wins [his heat] get a perfect 50 on that score. And the rider who's behind loses one point for every second that he's behind [in that heat]. Then the freestyle hits make up the rest of your score. So you want to win [the race] if you can, but if you can't, you better throw three really big fing tricks or you're gonna be down the road."
•LaVallee was thought to be turning the fastest laps during the morning session, while Parsons, Frisby, Rogers and Burandt were looking the most stylish.
•Speed differential: "I'd say I'd be at least five seconds behind Leaper [LaVallee], at the very least. He and Joe seem to be two of the fastest guys out there," said Frisby.
•The pairings: "It's just gladiator style. All out, destroy everybody," said Rogers.
•Mechanicals: "I just overshot the triple jump and had a bog. I pinned it expecting power, but it just kind of fell flat. Luckily, it was enough to get me over the big [120-foot] gap. If I'd a bogged any sooner, I'd have probably back-sided into the wall, and that'd been really bad. The problem is when I hit bumps real hard it's shooting too much fuel into the carburetor so it runs really bad for a second. Which is bad, really bad. But we're getting it figured out... Hopefully we can get it figured out before I break my body," said Paul Thacker.
•Aleksander Nordgaard, last year's silver medalist in freestyle, was in the pits today. "I have a cold," he said. "The flu, I think." Nordgaard has another full-day's rest to look forward to before SnoMo freestyle practices begins Saturday morning.
Jolly RogersJanuary 24th, 10:00 am
Nineteen-year-old Sam Rogers, of Billings, Montana, arrived in Aspen yesterday in a fully-loaded GMC pickup truck bearing the Montana vanity plate STUNTIN. Since he could barely wedge one sled in the back alongside all his gear, he had his buddy Paul Thacker haul down a second sled for the occasion.
Going by appearances, Rogers is one this year's have notsnot that he's looking for pity. He is, quite simply, stoked to be here. "This is just pretty much [my] normal deal: Load up in a pickup and roll out to the events," said Rogers.
"I am getting some help wrenching on my sleds from Thacker's guys [Bikeman Performance]," he added, "and they did some mods that gave my sled a little more horsepower, so it should be good enough to get me through. It's really not such a bad situation. I can just go out there and do my own thing and not be too stressed out."
Of course, ample space for potential advertisers is still available on Rogers' sled. "Oh yeah," he said. "This event is huge and it opens up all the doorsbecause once you're in X Games, you're a hot item, and it just makes doing demos and getting sponsors and all that a whole lot easier. It's good for the sport, too, in general."
Yeah, piece o' cake, really.
Stylish SpeedosJanuary 23rd, 7:30 pm
Levi LaVallee has two primary snowmobiles at his disposal for these X Games. One of his sleds is rigged for freestyle, the other is his usual light-speed mount for the snocross race.
"But I do have some backup rigs in case things just go horribly wrong," LaVallee said with a chuckle tonight during the first official SnoMo practice session.
The kickoff event, Speed & Style, is also a new X Games competition. And since it merges elements of racing and freestyleer, sickness and quicknessin an entirely new format, even the first practice session failed to help some riders understand just how things may play out in the final tomorrow (Thursday) night. Good thing there are two more practice sessions scheduled before the big show.
The course includes two super-kicker ramps (70-feet), an uphill mogul section with a 75-foot snow hit, a triple jump, and a monster 120-foot downhill snocross-style jump. The field: Chris Burandt, Heath Frisby, Levi LaVallee, Joe Parsons, Paul Thacker, Sam Rogers, Cory Davis and Steve Martin.
I listened in as the lads talked with friends and crews in the start area:
LaVallee: Heath and I just nearly traded some paint in one of the side-by-side sections. It was pretty close. And it's practice, so it's all well and good when you hit the ramps at the speed you're comfortable with, but this is totally different for me. When I see that [starter's] flag drop, I'm used to going balls to the wall. But here, it's like, whoa, this feels awfully fast to be screaming into this huge kicker rampand it is. So I'm trying to dial it back at the same time.
Davis: I'm struggling with slowing down for the freestyle hitsbecause I'm in race mode. So that's gonna be my thing, just trying to keep it balanced.
Burandt: Levi just pulled a flip. That's the first one I've seen him do, and it looks good. As long as you can get around, and maybe get an arm out there, it's all good. We're all just trying to figure this thing out. Obviously, you want to be fast when you need to be, but you need to be slow when you're hitting the ramps so you don't overshoot the landings.
Gulla: It's not really as snocross-y as I thought; no real technical sections. It looks like another freestyle course.
Thacker: To be honest, we're just trying to get the gist of it now. I have no idea how it'll play out. We've got ripping fast race guys, the sickest freestyle guys and then you've got me. I'm not sure where I fit with all this. [Laughter] To me, those super kickers are more like super-dooper kickersmore pop than usual. And on the uphill mogul section, the snocross guys just rip up that. But I don't.
Why You RaceJanuary 23rd, 4:50pm
Foul weather delayed the West Yellowstone National snocross open-class race by one day, so the great migration of SnoCross team semis didn't arrive in Aspen until 4 a.m. yesterday.
TJ Gulla, one of the top riders this season, was spotted outside his trailer yesterday afternoon. He was in a good mood... until we asked him if, considering the aura of invincibility surrounding Hibbert these days, the X Games SnoCross was a race for second.
Gulla: No, not at all, I definitely don't feel that way. We had the Canterbury races the weekend before last, and Tucker was running really good, but he was able to be beaten. I beat him in the last open final. Ross and I both did. That's crazy to say we're racing for second. I wouldn't be here if I was racing for second.
EXPN: What do you think about the X Games?
Gulla: It's a lot different from regular events. The track doesn't get as rough because we don't have as many riders. And most of our tracks don't have such big jumps, and they're not as wide and smooth and fast. But we all like coming here. Big jumps and big down-ramps mean we're not flat-landing stuff like we are at our normal tracks. And we've always got good rhythm here. I always look forward to it, for sure.
EXPN: What about the new Speed & Style event?
Gulla: I don't know, man. Levi [LaVallee] is the only person I know who can do freestyle and snocross, and do both well. Usually you're either good at one or the other. And freestyle is totally not my gig. [Laughter] I can throw a whip out and that's about it. I'm kind of confused about how it's gonna work. But Levi brought the super kicker out to our snocross track out in Minnesota and we've all been hitting that in between motos and stuff, so before you know it, half our team will be out doing the speed and style. Hopefully.
Alternate RouteJanuary 23rd, 3:30 pm
Last year, Daniel Bodin hopped four flights inside of 24 hours to get from his native Sweden to Aspen, on the slim chance that he might actually be invited to participate in X Games. Ah yes, the unenviable role of the "alternate."
When his luggage was lost somewhere over the Atlantic, Bodin persevered, because he still had certain things to be thankful for. Like the prospect of crashing on somebody's floor in Aspen. ("I never thought I'd actually be here," Bodin says. "So the hotel...") And riding a totally unfamiliar Polaris sled (graciously donated for the occasion by a local enthusiast who Bodin had never met before).
Then Kourtney Hungerford wrecked in practice and Bodin was tapped for the slot. Of course, he was ready to go.
Well, sort of ... All of his clothesfrom helmet to bootshad been conjured up from friends (the pants would eventually spring a gaping crotch-tear), and his total experience pulling back-flips pre-dated the contest by some eight days, with fewer than 10 successes total.
Bodin's unlikely-participant-to-serious-contender story continues this year, only the roles have been reversed. With his fourth-place finish last year, Bodin secured his invitation to WX 12. And not only does Bodin have a genuine support trailer this year, it was the first one to be set up in the freestyle snomo pits yesterday. Sure, it's not the factory-team super-buff semi variety popular in the snocross pits, but it's a trailer, nonetheless.
Meanwhile, while Bodin's stuff has arrived at the X safe and sound, Bodin himself has yet to be spotted. One of his crew confirmed that Bodin and fellow competitors Jimmy "Blaze" Fejes and Dane Ferguson have been holding up nearby, off McClure Pass, training freestyle together, and won't be coming to Aspen for a few more days. So it appears that Bodin has a few more things working in his favor this time around. Whether any of it matters, though, remains to be seen.