Rough Landing

January, 24, 2009
Jan 24

Though he didn't stick it clean, Levi Lavallee pulled both rotations on his double backflip during Next Trick. Upon returning to earth, LaVallee tried in vain to stick the trick but was jarred and thrown from his sled on impact. This made the dark horse, Dane Ferguson, the winner of the event for his unique Twist Off (more on the champ shortly). Still, LaVallee seemed please with his accomplishment and the crowd seemed please to see him walk away from the stunt in one piece.

Joshua DuplechianLevi in the second rotation of his double backflip attempt.

Hibbert Cruises

January, 23, 2009
Jan 23

SnoCross qualifying just wrapped up and Tucker Hibbert won his heat by a 12 second margin to pave the way for a third straight WX title in the final tomorrow.

Tim MutrieYes, occasionally Terminators do crack smiles.
Danny Ebert won the other qualifying heat as the top five riders in each heat of 12 earned berths to Saturday's final. The riders who failed to qualify tonight, including Levi LaVallee who finished 6th in the heat won by Ebert, will race again in tomorrow's Last Chance Qualifier.

In the first heat, Ebert, Robbie Malinoski, Garth Kaufman, Brett Bender and Matt Morin all earned front door berths to the final. In the second heat, Hibbert dominated (no surprise there) followed by TJ Gulla, DJ Eckstrom, Dave Allard and Matt Piche rounding out the top five.

Robbie Malinoski: "Fun course man, pretty techy. I was third and [Brett] Turcotte was second. He crashed and I had to jump right over the top of him. My ski almost drove into his head, but I went right over him. If I hadnt, I would've killed him."

Tim MutrieHibbert climbed atop on the freestyle landings to get a good view of the first SnoCross qualifying heat tonight.
TJ Gulla: "I got a good start even though I had a back gate pick number 10. But the sled's running real good. Catching Tucker? You just gotta be smooth. If I push too hard, it leads to mistakes and the thing it's gonna take is being consistent. He just turns the same lap times again and again and if we can come out together I've still gotta ride my own race to be successful."

Tucker Hibbert: "I felt really good out there. I watched the first heat from up on one of the Freestyle landings and saw where the good lines were and where to go if I had to pass somebody. But right now the sled is running pretty dang fast and I can't say enough for the guys working on it. It's like a rocket. For the final, I just want to do the same thing. Find the good lines early, and I know the sled is gonna be fast, so it's just about lining it all up.

Dane Digs In

January, 23, 2009
Jan 23
Tim MutrieDane makes some last minute adjustments shovel-style for Next Trick.
At least three ESPN cinematographers have been following Levi LaVallee around all day in anticipation of his planned double backflip attempt tonight in the Next Trick contest. Dane Ferguson, on the other hand, is unencumbered by such distractions. So Ferguson was doing some last minute fine-tuning, by shovel, on the take off for his Next Trick jump this evening.

"I want my right ski right there," said Ferguson, patting an upper section of the quarterpipe-type snow hit with a shovel. "But ultimately I'm going to get up into the air, assess my situation, and try to stick it."

Ferguson laughed, adding, "Yep, that's the plan."

"As for LaVallee's plans," Ferguson said, "I hope he opts to do his superflip instead. But if the weather's good, and it has improved considerably from white-out snow earlier, I have 100 percent faith in him."

What's Next?

January, 23, 2009
Jan 23
Tim MutrieLevi LaVallee hit his special ramp -- modified for his planned double backflip attempt -- exactly four times this afternoon.
Levi LaVallee hit his specialized ramp for the double backflip exactly four times during the first and only practice session for Next Trick this afternoon. And as soon as the session wrapped up heavy snow began coming down.

LaVallee's first hit off the mod ramp sent him long to a hard impact at the bottom of the landing's transition. The ramp was then pushed back 10 or 15 feet and LaVallee hit it again, this time casing the knuckle for hard impact No. 2. A third hit—just another straight air to get the feel of it—resulted in another hard landing. But it was starting to feel more to LaVallee's liking.

Mark KohlmanDaniel Bodin looked confident after his first practices on the BAR.
Riding over to Sam Rogers, LaVallee said, "It's butter smooth. You can't even feel the landing." Rogers shrugged, saying with a laugh, "It didn' look butter smooth to me, but I'm not Levi LaVallee."

One spectator put it this way: "Looks like he's just falling out of the sky. Then smack."

LaVallee explained, "The landing's exactly how I thought it was gonna be: hard. So I probably won't hit it too many more times because you land so doggone hard. But I've got to get the speed dialed in."

Later, LaVallee hit the jump for a fourth time. Again the re-entry looked violent. "Holy crap," said LaVallee after pulling up to family and friends. "That was insane. I'm glad I'm so short because I can't really be any more compacted. Geez Louise, the one I knuckled felt better than that!"

The plan is to re-cut the landing to a steeper pitch in hopes of lessening the impact for tonight's big Next Trick final. We shall see unless we're in a full whiteout.

Daniel Bodin made his first acquaintance with the BAR jump today. "I feel way better now after hitting the big one," he said. When asked about the passage of time during hang-time off the BAR, Bodin replied, "Long enough for the whole Swedish national anthem, I think." Then he laughed, saying, "That's a keeper, no?" Yes.

Jimmy Blaze hit the BAR jump about 50 times far more than any other rider during the Freestyle and Next Trick practice session. "The jump's big," he said. "I wish I had another five months to practice on it."

Heath Frisby was the first rider to flip the BAR jump yesterday. Today, Joe Parsons flipped it at least seven times in a row with variations like no handers and super flips. To date, Frisby and Parsons remain the only riders who've flipped the big one.

Tim MutrieAfter practicing a few hits on his quarterpipe hit for Next Trick this afternoon, Dane Ferguson, right, reviews video with Sebastian Landry.
Dane Ferguson practiced a few modified Twist-Offs today in preparation for tonight's Next Trick. Ferguson, a longtime Ski-Doo devotee, was riding a Yamaha sled borrowed from friend and fellow Freestyle competitor Jeff Mullin since Ferguson's Ski-Doo hasn't been running right for several days now.

"The power is better, but I've got to figure out the balance points," Dane said. That was after a couple attempts in which Ferguson and sled went their separate ways in mid-air. Ferguson was OK after the minor wrecks, and the sled's exterior panels were only cracked in several places. "That sled just got signed into my name yesterday," said Mullin. "But I know what it's like being on sh**ty equipment and that's why I'm helping him out."

At a Freestyle riders' meeting prior to the Freestyle and Next Trick practice sessions, a number of riders voiced their displeasure with the timed nature of the Freestyle contest. "I don't want it to come down like last year when Levi got two more jumps because he's faster," said Frisby. "Because that's got nothing to do with freestyle." Ferguson added, "Especially when my wife can do those two tricks!"

Sport Organizer, Joe Duncan said the rules are the rules. For now runs are 90 seconds each but that may be reconsidered for next year. Ferguson noted that at Sweden X last spring organizers scrapped plans for timed runs like WX and instead defined a run as 12 hits with the first and last hits counting double. "And they only did that because they knew Levi was coming," he said. "And nothing against Levi, but we're not all racers."

"It should be about style, not speed," said Frisby. "Otherwise it's bulls**t."

LaVallee, for the record, was not in attendance.
Mark KohlmanDane Ferguson throwing one away during Next Trick practice.

Levi's Next Trick?

January, 23, 2009
Jan 23
Getting ready for tonight's Next Trick, here's Levi LaVallee letting some secrets out of the bag in this video courtesy of Red Bull.

Ross Martin Update

January, 23, 2009
Jan 23
Here's the official word on Ross Martin after yesterday's crash:

Trevor Brown, Jr.Ross Martin, seen here in better days.
"Winter X SnoCross '06 bronze medalist Ross Martin had a nasty crash about halfway into the practice session. On the first uphill section of the track, he soared over the 80-ft. step-up jump and tried to triple the three whoops leading to the top of the track. He came up short. The back end of his sled clipped the top of the third whoop and nosed into the snow. Martin slammed to the ground. He was transported off the hill and went to Aspen Valley Hospital where he was diagnosed with a pelvic fracture. He was later transported via ambulance to a Denver-area hospital."

There you have it. Get well soon buddy.

Levi's Ramp

January, 23, 2009
Jan 23
Tim MutrieIt screams "Double Back" don't it?
It's foggy and rainy in Aspen this morning—a strange brew for January at 8,000 feet in the central Rockies, and especially when a double backflip is on the menu.

Levi LaVallee's jury-rigged ramp for the double was moved into the Freestyle course at some point overnight, setting the stage for the first official Next Trick practice session later today and the big show tonight. There was also work being done this morning with a backhoe to level the lone snow-hit on the Freestyle course (more on that later as we find out).

Given the day's forecast—rain and snow sprinkled with a (fill in the blank) percent-chance of historic gnarliness—we tried to get Levi's take this morning on his super-modified ramp, current conditions, the day's prospects and so on. But he didn't answer the phone. So we reached out instead to Justin Hoyer, who was sitting in up-valley traffic heading toward WX for the day.

Wet snow and rain—yeah or boo?

Tim MutrieMmmmm ... hydraulics ...
Justin Hoyer: "Not too worried about it, though it is rather crappy out. It's more of an annoyance than anything else. Maybe your grip gets slippery, so it kinda sucks, but I don't think it'll stop us from riding, especially at X Games. If I was at home, I definitely would not be riding. But now's not the time to be bothered by weather."

Please explain Levi's special ramp for the uninitiated?

"It's a modified superkicker and, from what I can see, you can adjust the height and maybe even the angle in the middle. There's lots of cool jacking systems in it. It looks pretty cool like somebody put some thought into it, with all kinds of adjustments. If I was ever going to think about doing a double flip I'd think about something like that, where you can change the pitch and height. Because, being the first to do it, you never know what you'll need. So that was smart way to go about it."

Burandt's Take on Next Trick

January, 23, 2009
Jan 23
We caught up with Chris Burandt who gave us a little peek into what he thinks might go down in tonight's Next Trick comp.

One Small Step for (Sled) Mankind

January, 23, 2009
Jan 23
Joshua DuplechianJoe Parsons exhibits the style that brought him gold.
For hardcore followers of freestyle snowmobiling, Joe Parsons' victory tonight in Speed & Style represented a victory for the sport itself.

Parsons, the sport's emerging golden boy, who turned 21 yesterday, knocked off defending champ Levi LaVallee in the head-to-head final with a bold run that included two flip variations under pressure: superflip and a no hander. A collection of Alaskan devotees gathered at ringside, including the Turnagain Hardcore crew of Jimmy Blaze, Dane Ferguson and the brothers Landry. They roared their approval when the scoring calculated Parsons scoring higher in style while LaVallee won the speed portion. Overall points swung the gold Parsons' way.

Not to say LaVallee isn't well liked or respected. But Parsons epitomizes a new school of freestyle a world apart from racing and its unofficial coming out party was tonight. "Parsons killed it, just killed it," said Sebastian Landry. "We're seeing the future right now."

Parsons himself had to agree. "It's definitely a victory for freestyle," he said. "I'm proud to be part of it."

Joshua DuplechianParsons has officially arrived.
And it would seem this is just the beginning of things to come for Parsons. He has two more events to go: Next Trick on Friday and Freestyle on Sunday. "It's not the end of anything," he said. "But Freestyle, to me, is the most important. I definitely want to do well there because that's what me and Friz [Heath Frisby] and everybody else who takes this seriously have trained for all year. It's that Freestyle gold."

Cory Davis took the Speed & Style bronze with a win over Frisby in the final. Frisby, for his part, nearly wrecked himself and did total his sled in his semifinal loss to LaVallee when he couldn't find his footing on the landing of an Indian air superflip on the first hit of the style section. He slammed his head into his bars but regained the handle in time to rally the next combo ramp. Such bravado also earned kudos from the Turnagain Hardcore contingent.

That left Frisby without his top sled against Davis, in the bronze match up. So Davis took advantage. "Never thought I'd be so happy with third place," Davis said later. Frisby wasn't fazed though. "You know why I'm here and what I train for to win freestyle," said Frisby.

Similarly, LaVallee, the only rider slated to compete in all four sled-events, said he's too busy to dwell on defeat or victory for that matter.

"I knew Joe was going to be fast; he's an old SnoCross racer," LaVallee said. "And I'm disappointed that I made a couple bobbles out there. But Joe rode his butt off and hats off to him for sure."

And with as much stuff as I've got going on this week," LaVallee continued, "a silver medal's pretty dang sweet. I don't even have time to really think about it anymore. I've got SnoCross qualifying and then Next Trick tomorrow, so I can only look forward."

Indeed. For slednecks, these games are only beginning.

Joshua DuplechianLevi LaVallee had the speed all night but he couldn't top Parsons' style.

Fast guy, Fast interview

January, 22, 2009
Jan 22
Tim MutrieCatching up with Hibbert in his trailer just after SnoCross practice.
Tucker Hibbert is fast. So here's a fast interview with the fastest guy on a sled following the first official SnoCross practice this afternoon.

How was the first practice?
That was the first time I was on the track, so it was good to get out there. There's a few little adjustments we'll make to some corners and stuff, but overall the tracks pretty good.

Whatever you've been doing this season is working. What are you doing?
It's just going really good. I'm not doing anything different now than I have been all year. I felt really good out there and you always have a little nervousness in you and don't know what's gonna happen, but I feel good after that practice.

Blair Morgan isn't here at WX for the first time. Thoughts?
It's definitely a bummer not to have Blair here. He's always one of those guys that at X Games you know he's gonna be strong. It's been different all year without him out there, for sure. But we're trying to put that behind us and focus on the task at hand. Hopefully we can get a win. We'll see what happens.

Will you be racing any more SnoCross after Winter X?
Yep, one more National race after this in Brainerd, Minnesota.

You're gunning for your third straight gold will it happen?
It'll be three in a row if I can get it. But I don't want to get ahead of myself either. You always are nervous, especially at X Games. Anybody can win. It's not like a normal race. Some guys ride better here and some guys ride worse. It's more of a surprise than anything at this race. You've gotta look out for everybody.

NOTE: Racer, Ross Martin took a tumble during the session and was taken off the course in a ski patrol toboggan. Martin was sitting upright and talking with medical personnel as he was being packaged in the toboggan, and he was taken to Aspen Valley Hospital via ambulance. We'll have more for you later pending official word on his condition.