The news last week that Daniel Bodin (2011 Snowmobile Freestyle and Best Trick gold medalist) and Levi LaVallee (2008 Snowmobile Freestyle gold medalist) will be watching from the sidelines and nursing injuries at Winter X Games Aspen has further opened a world of possibility for the remaining competitors in a sport in which no rider has ever topped the Freestyle or Best Trick podium more than once.
ESPN caught up with LaVallee, who broke his tibia Jan. 12 while training for Winter X Games, for his perspective on what to expect.
Congratulations, first and foremost, on your Red Bull: New Year No Limits jump and your new world record. I'm sorry to hear we won't be seeing you ride at Winter X Games to follow up on that momentum.
The New Year's jump couldn't have gone much better, and I was super excited, but -- it being the middle of my season -- I couldn't celebrate too long. I got on a plane, headed home, and actually had a race like five days later. Then I started practicing my freestyle stuff getting ready for Winter X Games and, unfortunately, took a spill into my foam pit and broke my tibia about a week ago. It's a little disappointing, but it could be worse.
There have been some other injuries heading into Winter X this year and the result is going to be a smaller field in both Freestyle and Best Trick. How do you think that will change things on the podium this year?
It's definitely going to be a little different and, like you said, it won't be the exact same people on the podium this year, so it will be neat to see who steps up and takes claim of it to make it on the podium. I think it's going to be a great show, because the top handful of snowmobile guys are so motivated and so driven to progress the sport and do something bigger and better than what's come before, and they're gonna be out there pushing things. I think we're going to see some stuff that's going to blow our minds.
Do you think all the recent injuries are a reflection of the progression in the sport?
Oh, definitely. The progression in the sport has been pretty ridiculous. I mean, when snowmobiling first came to the Winter X Games, just doing a backflip alone was kind of the big trick. The second year, that's when I first got into the freestyle side of it, there was a couple of flip variations, but they weren't very consistent and didn't really play a part. But then by the third year, when I showed up ready to attempt the double flip in Best Trick, there were all kinds of guys showing up with flip variations and flip combos, and it seemed like everybody had stepped up their game. That's all it took for the sport to get going, and all of a sudden it was like, "Holy cow, that's what you need to do to be competitive," so you start doing whatever it takes to learn those new tricks. Once you start learning different tricks, your confidence starts going straight up and you start looking outside the box to be different and go bigger than all the other guys. That's what progresses it, and in just a few years it's gotten to where it's a lot harder to hang in there at the top level.
With you and your teammate Daniel Bodin both out, who will you have your eye on as you're watching from the sideline?
Justin Hoyer is always a top-level guy: He won the gold in Freestyle in 2010 and has won silver a couple times, and I would say he's probably the favorite. Heath Frisby has been in it since the beginning and is always capable of winning: He won Best Trick in 2010, and if he comes out there and puts together a good, solid run, he could very well be on top again. Same with Joe Parsons he's won at X Games before and has been on the podium a bunch. And the Moore brothers, Caleb and Colten, they always show up ready to go and have been on the podium, so it really could be anyone's game. It's exciting because there's never been one dominant guy in snowmobile freestyle and it's always wide open, so we'll just have to see who can pull through to come out on top.
I know you wanted to get that double backflip down clean. Do you think we'll see it from any of these other guys in Best Trick this year? Who's claiming it? Hoyer?
There's so many rumors headed into X Games this year, and I know that everyone who's being talked about is capable of doing these new tricks and maybe even the double flip, but who knows? I'm really excited to get to X Games and see how it all unfolds.
What was it like to have all that exposure for snowmobiling on New Year's Eve and in the lead-up to your jump with Robbie Maddison, getting to go on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" and all that?
The Red Bull "New Year. No Limits." jump was a huge opportunity and such a huge stage to showcase the sport and what we're doing, and because of that I was able to go around and do all these other things I never thought I'd be doing. Like, I'm sitting there in rehearsal with Jay Leno just laughing like, "Holy cow. I'm a small-town kid and here I am in Burbank, California, about to be on 'The Tonight Show'!" It was pretty crazy for me. But to be able to showcase what I'm doing -- and, more so, to showcase snowmobiling in general -- was a great opportunity, and Winter X Games is always a great opportunity for the sport to grow, too. Hopefully somebody looks at it and wants to give it a shot and we'll be seeing even more new faces on the podium in a year or two.