A few weeks ago, I was talking with my sister-in-law when she mentioned a giant, artificial sledding hill that was being constructed near the Cathedral in St. Paul. She noticed the spectacle while running errands, and assumed it was being built for the upcoming 2012 Winter Carnival. Oh, how excited she was to bundle up her kids and bring them down for a little family fun time on the makeshift sledding hill!
Well, this I had to see for myself. So a few week’s ago, I took a drive past the Cathedral to see what was going on. Sure enough, there it was. Except this wasn’t some small, little sledding hill. This thing was massive. Before me stood a monstrous, winding track that started near the top of the Cathedral, and wound its way around to the street below, extending a good 500 feet in the process. I couldn’t believe what I was looking at. If these hills were meant for sledding, they weren’t meant for kids and families. They were meant for crazed adults with a fetish for bruised bottoms. As I drove away, I made a mental note to remind my brother and sister-in-law not to take their kids sledding there.
About a week or so later, I was wandering out of my favorite local establishment when I noticed a poster near the entrance. It read: “Red Bull Crashed Ice World Championship 2012: Their Guts, Your Glory.” While the slogan itself didn’t do much for me, the accompanying picture did. There, on the poster, was an illustrated drawing of what looked like four hockey players skating straight downhill on a narrow track as it curved its way around the Cathedral steps. And that’s when it hit me: What I saw near the Cathedral wasn’t a sledding hill. It was a downhill race track…for skaters.
After that, I carefully began paying attention to any and all promotions for the event. I watched commercials. I read newspaper articles. I even googled it looking for videos of similar events. What I found out was impressive. First, this thing that would soon be taking place was actually a sport with an official name—Ice Cross Downhill. It got its name from the different sports that it blends together—skating, Nordic and downhill skiing, and snowboarding. Furthermore, much to my surprise, the sport had been around for quite some time—twelve years, to be exact. In fact, it has been around so long that it already has an official “Mecca of ice cross downhill”—the city of Quebec. In terms of its origins, it began in Austria, (which also happens to have the only permanent ice cross downhill track in the world), when some crazy person decided he wanted to ice skate down a luge course. You know, for fun. And in an instant, the sport of ice cross downhill was born.
So how big is the sport? Well, pretty big. When the sport debuted in Munich a few years ago, 50,000 people turned out to watch the competition. Similar crowds are expected in St. Paul this weekend. Furthermore, competitions have been held all over the world, including the Netherlands, Sweden, Canada and Germany. And the sport has already established a yearly World Championship. Not bad for something born out of one man’s stupidity a decade ago.
Well, this weekend, the fun all comes to St. Paul. The races, which are sponsored by Red Bull and are part of the Crashed Ice Racing Series, start on Thursday and continue through Saturday. The track, which begins two stories above ground and includes a hairpin turn consisting of a steeply-banked, 16-foot wall (the highest wall ever constructed on one of these tracks) starts next to the Cathedral, runs over a bridge that crosses John Ireland Boulevard, and ends near I-35E. And if you don’t think that sounds all that bad, keep in mind that racers are expected to reach speeds of 40 mph—while jostling with other competitors for positioning.
Once the excitement begins, spectators are in for a treat. Individual time trials will cut the field from 128 competitors down to 64, and then the 64 finalists will race side-by-side, four at a time, down the 16-foot wide racing chute until a winner is established.
If you plan on going, expect a crowd. Event planners anticipate anywhere from 40,000-60,000 spectators for Saturday’s final. And if you’ve ever tried parking in that area for any major event, you know how difficult that can be. Still, if you have the time, and have the patience, this looks like it could be worth the time and effort. At the very least, you’ll see some fast skating and nasty spills. Oh, and leave your sleds at home.
Joe Buri is a former high school athletic director who currently works as an attorney in corporate America. In addition to writing for TC Huddle, he also volunteers as an assistant varsity basketball coach at a local Twin Cities high school. Once dubbed “The Human Stump,” he considers holding former NBA forward Devean George to 39 points a highlight of his collegiate basketball experience.