Skate or Die

Red Bull’s Crashed Ice Comes to Quebec City

  • Photo Dylan Maloney

  • Photo Dylan Maloney

  • Photo Dylan Maloney

  • Photo Dylan Maloney

  • Photo Dylan Maloney

How many Red Bulls does it take to kill a man?

I nearly found out on Saturday in Quebec City attending the Red Bull Crashed Ice World Championship—I can definitely tell you it’s somewhere in the double digits.

The sporting spectacle of Crashed Ice, a combination of hockey, luge and roller-derby, was created six years ago to add to the slew of new extreme sports in the Red Bull marketing repertoire.

To build brand image, Red Bull began using grassroots sales tactics that targeted university students and club rats. It also attempted to market itself as the anti-corporation by naming its events with the poppy snap of mayhem, rampage, trash or crash. However, with over 65 per cent of the energy drink market and over $1 billion in annual sales, Red Bull is one of the few companies that can pull off an event like Crashed Ice.

It definitely succeeded.

With no expense spared, Red Bull put on a spectacle that was not only entertaining, but showcased Crashed Ice as a sport that features a brand new set of athletic skills necessary to navigate the dangerous custom built track.

My trip began by tagging along on a McGill party bus. By the time we reached Quebec City, we were the jolliest bunch of assholes this side of Santa Claus.

What awaited us in Quebec City was troughs of ice filled with free Red Bull. Beautiful girls in skimpy Red Bull mini-dresses flanked the drinks. My photographer and I promptly filled our backpacks and made our way down to the track.

Spectators packed shoulder to shoulder banged the boards as skaters decked out in hockey gear carved their way around the tight corners. Winding its way in between cobble stone buildings, the track glowed with a light of its own.

Bodies were flying. Athletes blasted out of the start gate in heats of four. After a brief sprint, they dropped down an incline to gain speed and go ripping into a 360-degree turn. Immediately after the turn, those still on their feet sprinted down a straightaway that split into two paths.

If you were going to catch up or pass one of the few still standing, this was the time to do it, because afterward your only hope would be for the leader to bail. That eventuality was still a distinct possibility. Ice blocks, drops, jumps, narrow sections wide enough for only one skater at a time, and exposed cobblestone were some of the many reasons a skater ended up crumpled in the corner.

There are no professional Crashed Ice skaters. None of those who competed in Quebec City trained exclusively for it. On top of that, participants are only given a printout map of the course a few days before the actual race. Because of this, not only do some of The Link’s photos show mid-air facial expressions of sheer terror, but if an athlete were to take a corner too tightly, they might catch a shoulder on a piece of exposed cobblestone not illustrated on the map, or forget about a two metre drop while jockeying for position. Most would inevitably end up slamming into the boards at upwards of 50 km/h.

“The lighting is great, the ice is great, but you can never assume it’s just a straight skate down the line,” said the Finnish champion of Crashed Ice 2011, Arttu Pihlainen.

Wave after wave of skaters came every minute or so depending on how long it took to clear injured bodies from the track.

Eventually the 120 athletes were boiled down to four men and four women.

Canadians Louis-Phillippe Dumoulin and Kyle Croxall took 2nd and 3rd place in the men’s division, respectively. Afterward at the press conference, Croxall elaborated on why he thinks Crashed Ice is becoming so popular, especially in Canada.

“Yes, it caters to hockey fans and athletes but it is a completely different sport. There is a way different centre of balance, going down huge drops with a lot of speed, flailing arms everywhere,” said Croxall. “You definitely want to get out the gate first, but even being in second is a good place to be.”

It would seem that although the races were the excuse, many of the Crashed Ice attendees were there for all the other events surrounding it.

“Dude, Canadians know how to party,” said one girl in the crowd when asked what drew her to Crashed Ice.
“WOO! [Unintelligible],” her friend concurred.

Hoards of university students and organized international party tours took to the bars and clubs of Quebec City to see DJs such as LMFAO’s Dj Sky Blu and party with the athletes, most of whom, being Canadian hockey players, were out among the crowds in full force soaking up their moment of fame.

I must say that Red Bull made sure we, as press, had a great time. We had VIP access to all areas, unlimited free booze and people offering to do unspeakable things and pay large amounts for our press passes which we clutched and flashed at every opportunity.

Our coverage began at 3:00 p.m. when we left for Quebec City and ended 16 hours later with me collapsing in bed shaking uncontrollably and gnashing my teeth, with a huge smile on my face.

Yes, it’s an exuberant marketing ploy, and yes Red Bull is probably bad for you, but I’m glad to see technology being put to good use in creating these new sports. A track and event like this would have been nearly impossible 20 years ago.

Will it be an Olympic sport? Probably not.

Does it have a Canadian Nascar-y feel? Slightly.

But it still puts athletes to the test in unique and extreme ways and is one hell of a good time.

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