Looking down from the starting blocks of a Red Bull Crashed Ice course is a fairly intimidating experience.
The ferocious fourcross tour sees the world’s best ice skaters battle it out around the globe. Four riders push off at once on the crazy course, and at speeds of over 40mph, any mistake can prove lethal. Only the fastest progress to the next round of races. The rest usually end up bloodied, broken or in the back of an ambulance.
The event made its British debut in Belfast on 20 February, and before the competitors had even stepped foot on the ice, you could tell there was going to be carnage.
Below the Northern Irish skyline lay a wickedly winding course, heaving with horrors along the way. The ‘Dutch Mountains’ saw the skaters forced to go airborne early on. By day the kickers looked malicious, by the end of the night near enough half of the field had been close enough to give them a lick.
If you made it through that segment, ‘Waves’ were waiting to send you soaring once more, and a wallride on the final corner ensured it was never too late to get flattened by a rival flying at 65 km/h.
Indeed, when you’re standing at the starting point, it barely registers that before you even get to those obstacles, you’re going to have to fling yourself down a giant drop and stick an insanely steep opening section – all while fending off three stacked rivals who can boast a brutal body check.
Seriously, the thing looks more intimidating than Kim Kardashian’s backside would to a wooden stool, although at least someone wins at the end of Crashed Ice.
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A turn out of around 24,000 was the result of a whole lot of hype around the Belfast event. The guys at Red Bull have a knack of setting the course up around stunning landmarks – in this case Belfast’s Stormont parliament building – and given the fact that it takes over a month and 337,000 cubic litres of ice to put together, the locals are bound to notice what’s going on.
When they find out, and get to see some of the footage from the freezing frenzy that’s going to be hitting their area, it’s hardly a surprise that tickets for the event shift themselves rather quickly.
The sport falls in line with plenty of other adrenaline-driven sports in that it’s immediately captivating – the power, the danger, the “I-would-definitely-die-if-I-tried-that” factor – and it attracts world class competitors as such. Olympians even.
Scotland has had an active team on the tour for a few years now, and in Belfast they were joined by the one and only Alain Baxter, the most successful Alpine skier in the history of the United Kingdom.
Baxter famously took third place in the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City in 2002, but was forced to give back his medal after being deemed to have taken an illegal substance. The athlete was later cleared of all wrongdoing.
On that occasion he caused further controversy by dying a Scottish saltire into his hair. This time he was representing the Bravehearts team, so he didn’t have to. He had one on his helmet instead.
“It’s exciting to combine the skiing and ice hockey that I’ve done in the past,” he said. “The speeds, the turns, the jumps – they all add to the excitement.
“I saw it years ago and always fancied a shot, but it’s not the easiest sport. The downhill sections and turns seem fine, but the skate park style features can catch me out a bit. I took a knock early on so had to rein it in a wee bit and calm it down.”
Alain missed out on competing in the final day by one spot. Not too bad considering this was his debut, and that some of the other guys in the field are former and current ice hockey players with Crashed Ice tracks in their back garden.
The Bravehearts did still have representation in the finals though. Callum Boyd made that certain, and the Edinburgh Capitals ice hockey player was more than happy to see his sport hit the UK for the first time.
He said: “Being in the UK is awesome but a lot of people haven’t even heard of it before. When people see it they always say they can’t believe they haven’t seen it before. This has just boosted the profile so much.
“It’s such an adrenaline-packed sport though, and as soon as people see it they say that it’s awesome and they love it.
“When you’re going down the run it is crazy – everything just goes out your mind and you just go blank. There’s so much adrenaline that you’re not really thinking, you’re just doing it.
“It’s the same watching. It keeps you on your toes because it is just so mental. You don’t know what anyone is going to do in the race, whether they’re going to fall, what jumps they’re going to hit, what line they’re going to take.”
It certainly kept the Northern Irish crowds entertained, and apart from a few issues over the visibility of the track after such a big turnout, the reviews were heavily positive. Calls are already being made for the tour to return to the UK in the next few years.
Should that happen, and should a British slot become a regular fixture, Crashed Ice would almost definitely pick up a cult status.
The sheer speed and simplicity of the sport makes it infinitely accessibility for viewers. You’ve got to be built well to take on one of these things. You’ve got to be able to take a hit, and you’ve got to be able to get straight back up if you do hit the floor.
It makes for an exhilarating watch. It’s a quick fire sport, but in the couple of minutes it takes the guys to finish a heat, the high speeds, the power, and the physical contact prove absolutely captivating.
Indeed, it could well just captivate the whole of the United Kingdom if it comes back in the next few years.