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Thursday, December 15, 2011
Updated: December 27, 9:37 AM ET
LaVallee's grand entrance

By Tes Sewell

In December 2010, Levi LaVallee launched 361 feet on his snowmobile in Fontana, Calif., shattering the previous world record for distance jumped on a snowmobile. He was training for the annual Red Bull "New Year. No Limits" event, which was set to air live on ESPN on New Year's Eve. But then, during the final phase of testing before the live event, it all went wrong when the snowmobile came crashing to earth, injuring LaVallee and canceling the event. Now, LaVallee is all healed up and ready for another "New Year. No Limits." But this time he'll be flying alongside Aussie daredevil Robbie Maddison, who will be going for a distance record on a motorcycle. LaVallee spoke to ESPN during his first week of testing for this year's event. How's the training going so far?
LaVallee: The first day of jumping went really well. We started off, obviously, a little nervous because the last time we did this thing, it was not ideal. So we started at a small distance and nailed the first couple. We had some small issues that we had to work out, but I think we are on the right track for when we start going bigger distances. It was refreshing to get the first day out of the way and just be like, "Hey, you know how to do this and you know what's going on."

What actually happened the night of the crash last year? What went wrong?
On the night of the crash, we had been practicing all day. Things were going well, but I had one little "bog" in one of our day jumps. It was minimal and the sled picked right up, but I said, "Hey, did you guys hear that? I think the sled just bogged a little bit." The guys said, "No, we didn't hear it," and I was like, "Maybe you're right, maybe it didn't," because I was trying to avoid any negative situations. So we went on and jumped again. On my last jump, I hit the brake and rapped the throttle again, but unfortunately when I hit the gas it gurgled and never really picked up. Being that I had just hit the brake to pull the front end down, it just continued into a nosedive. By the time I got to the ground, it was straight up and down, so it was impossible to ride out and I had to bail off.

Levi Lavallee during training for the 2010 Red Bull "New Year. No Limits" event.

What was the biggest you had ever jumped in your riding career before this project?
I think the biggest jump was maybe 220 feet -- it was in the backcountry in Alaska. I hit the one jump pretty fast; they called it the world-record jump because Paul Thacker was going really big on it back in his career. It's a different idea doing these distance jumps. Everything is so calculated. I have to make sure everything is spot-on because if just a little thing is off, it turns into a lot off by the time you land 300 feet later.

So you're a distance jumper now and obviously an accomplished SnoCross racer and a gold medalist in the freestyle world, too. Does the fact that you do so many disciplines help or hinder you?
The background I have in racing helps because I am so tuned-in with my sled. That's what makes the fast guys faster, because they are tuned-in to every little thing. When I moved into freestyle, I picked it up so well because I had all the sled skills and I knew how to ride. It was just a matter of getting comfortable doing the tricks. When I got to distance jumping, I knew I had the skills and it was just a matter of going that fast and feeling comfortable hitting a ramp at 100 miles an hour.

Lavallee will be going for another World Record on Dec. 31.

The accident obviously slowed you down a bit. What's happening with your SnoCross career now?
Obviously, last year I missed the entire season. Fortunately, this year I am healthy and I'm eager to get back to racing because that's my passion. After being out all season, I missed freestyle and I missed doing the distance jumping, but the thing that really ate me up was going to the races and watching the guys racing. The competitiveness in me wanted to be out there with them. I'm looking forward to this year and just getting back on the track with the guys. I'm not putting too much pressure on myself right away because I know I have been out and I know the guys are getting faster.

So you're coming back to Winter X Games for Best Trick and Freestyle, right?
Yeah, I'm glad that snowmobiles are still involved with the X Games, and it is going to be fun because the freestyle guys are going to embrace the fact that they are the main show as far as snowmobiling is concerned. It's going to be fun seeing what everyone brings to the table.

"Being in the air and seeing [Robbie Maddison] jumping ridiculously far on a dirtbike next to me and not veering over, that will be a pretty intense moment, that's for sure."

--Levi LaVallee

It's a big enough task to fly over 300 feet, but at this year's Red Bull "New Year. No Limits" you have another guy flying next to you. What's it going to be like doing a jump with Robbie Maddison?
It's going to be so much fun getting to do this with Maddo because I know what his plans are and he is one guy that is always thinking big. It's just an honor to be able to do this event with him. He's a superstar and a legend.

What about the pressure of timing it so that you are both in the air together?
It will be a lot different. Typically it's like, "OK, go now" and within a couple of seconds you take off -- you have a little leeway. With this, when they say "Go," you move. We are going to be practicing that, and hopefully we can get it where we have the right start times and we're in the air at the same time. That's where the second problem starts: You're in the air and you look over and "Holy moly, there's a dirt bike flying next to me!" Being in the air and seeing him jumping ridiculously far on a dirtbike next to me and not veering over, that will be a pretty intense moment, that's for sure.