Seventy kilometers per hour (43.4 mph) doesn’t seem all that fast–if you’re driving a car that is–but it is on skates! One of the most popular spectator action sports, the Red Bull Crashed ice event in Quebec draws thousands of spectators to its track.
Can you imagine how it feels to fly 400 m (437.4 yards) over a twisting, turning track with only thin blades under your feet? While you’ll never find me giving it a try, Quebec’s Crashed Ice extreme speed skating event was thrilling to watch.
Red Bull Crashed Ice is an ice cross downhill sport that’s been around for longer than most of us realize, even if we’re followers of extreme sports, like we are in my family. The first event was held in Stockholm, Sweden (incidentally that’s where I’m headed in July for TBEX Europe) back in 2001. The event I attended in Quebec this November was the 10th annual one for the city.
Quebec City is the perfect venue for this downhill event, since the track is built using the natural terrain and sheeting it over with 100% artificial ice. For me, the juxtaposition of this to-the-limits extreme skating contest, against the centuries old stone fortification of the city walls, made me think about how times have changed–or have they?
Quebec City, as I learned back in my fifth grade social studies class, was founded more than four-hundred-years ago in 1608, by Samuel de Champlain. Living in Canada back then was far from easy, and nearly 2/3 of the men died the first winter. That didn’t stop the hardy French though, and more people came, including missionaries and eventually even women, so that by 1627 there were 100 people there.
These men and women, who embraced the harsh climate of the new world, took on some pretty extreme challenges and pushed themselves to the limits while establishing a new community. In some ways, while today’s extreme sports participants have different reasons for what they do, they’re pushing themselves to the limits too.
Red Bull Crashed Ice Track in Quebec
I was lucky enough to talk to Martin Genois, the production manager for Quebec’s Crashed Ice track, on my visit. He said Quebec’s course is one of the most technical on the four-event series, and allows skaters to get up to speed quickly.
The track, according to Genois, takes about four weeks to build. I know I arrived in Quebec a couple of days before the event–in fact my flight from Toronto had a number of people involved with the Crashed Ice skaters on it–and there was a real flurry of activity going on even though the artificial ice had already been laid over the wooden flooring and plastic mats filled with liquid coolant.
From my vantage point at the extremely comfortable (and convenient!) Hotel Marriott Quebec, right across the street, it was like watching a time lapse movie as the final touches fell into places.
Watching them set up the lights was particularly fascinating. A big part of this Red Bull event is stage show, unlike many other winter sports events I’ve attended. I have to admit that I’m a self-proclaimed junkie when it comes to light shows, whether they’re in Vegas or in Quebec, bouncing between the ice track and ancient stone ramparts. My favorites were the purples and greens, but you can check them out for yourself on this Red Bull Crashed Ice video: http://www.redbullcrashedice.com/en_INT/video/quebec-city-unforgettable-again
Extreme Racing on Skates
I’ve attended a lot of professional sporting events, but Quebec’s Crashed Ice was the first that was free to the public. That, of course, makes it hard to know exactly how many people packed around the track during the two evenings of the event–but estimates are as high as 80,000 people.
What I do know is that there was a moving mass of bodies everywhere I went! The thing about this kind of event is that it’s extremely safe for spectators, so we were able to line up so close to the track we could feel the cold radiating off the ice, and hear the swoosh of skates cutting into it, as the racers worked their way around the course.
I made my way completely around the track, even stopping at the finish line to check out what happened at the end of a race–and if you’re wondering about those skates, they’re not stock off the shelf like you and I would wear. They’re modified for speed and safety as you might expect.
If you have watching one of these action sports in person on your bucket list for this winter, you have three more chances:
- Jan 8/9, 2016, in Munich
- Jan 29/30, 2016, in Finland
- Feb 26/27, 2016, in Saint Paul, Minnesota
And there’s always next winter to watch the racers against the backdrop of Old Quebec!
I’d like to thank Quebec City Tourism and Quebec Tourism for hosting my visit to Quebec Canada so I could cross the Red Bull Crashed Ice event off my must-do list! If you’ve been at one of these events, please share your experience with us.