Editor’s note: What is the craziest sporting event this side of the 1,500-mile Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Alaska? The correct answer is the Red Bull Crashed Ice challenge held in St. Paul Jan. 12-14. Here is one survivor’s tale, that of 27-year-old Jon Palmeri ’07.
Competing in the Red Bull Crashed Ice was a great experience, and racing in front of 80,000 fans in your hometown is something that was just unreal, and I can only hope to experience it again. To be honest, the run went by so fast and I was so focused, I didn't really take it all in, but from seeing the pictures and video replay of the event, I can say I was amazed at how many people were there.
Overall, I placed 44th out of 64 on Saturday and finished sixth among the U.S. guys.
I've been on hockey skates since I was 2 years old. I've played competitively all the way up through college. I was a part of the state championship team at Totino-Grace High School in 2002 for the Class A title. I've had the chance to play with a lot of great guys over the years, several who are in the NHL and a few who are playing on the Minnesota Wild currently (Nate Prosser, Mike Lundin and Jared Palmer).
I had a great hockey career and had the opportunity to play in the USHL to pursue a Division 1 opportunity, but at that crossroads I decided I wanted to go to school, pursue a degree in business and start working. I toured a lot of schools and never realized St. Thomas was right in our backyard (as my family is originally from the Boston area and didn't know of St. Thomas). I graduated in 2007 with a degree in Business: Entrepreneurship.
I entered the event because I had a friend who participated last year in Canada. He had some unbelievable pictures of racing through the city of Montreal. I was told this was Red Bull Crashed Ice, a sport that consisted of an icy man-made track with obstacles, inclines, sharp corners, steep drop-offs, etc. I thought that I would be well-suited for this type of event as I've been on skates for the better part of my life.
Fortunately, I was able to meet the cut-off and qualify for the event by qualifying in one of seven qualifiers across the United States to determine finalists for the St. Paul Crashed Ice event.
I had to fly out of town on business the day of the St. Paul qualifier, which was Dec. 13, so I drove up to Duluth to qualify on Dec. 12. Qualifiers also were held in Chicago, Madison, Detroit, St. Louis and Kansas City. Each qualifier allowed 200 entrants and took 15 of the fastest skaters to complete their track. I qualified No. 2 overall throughout all U.S. qualifiers, sitting at 25.33 seconds.
This qualifier was done on a flat ice surface that incorporated turns and obstacles to jump and dive over. It was a way to separate potential competitors in terms of speed and overall skating skills, balance and coordination, but in no way prepped us or was a good pre-run for what was to come at the Red Bull track in St. Paul.
Fortunately, I have an extensive background in winter and extreme sports – hockey, skiing, snowboarding, motocross and BMX racing. I have seen motocross tracks that, honestly, made the St. Paul Crashed Ice course look very simple. This allowed me to get the overall first look and fear out of the way, which I think was a shocker for most as a significant number of qualifiers quit after the first day of practice.
The Red Bull track was about being fast and smooth, just like BMX, yet we were on skates. You wanted to minimize air time and spend each second you could striding or gliding – staying in contact with the ice by all means possible. (This might seem contradictory with the pictures of a lot of people in the air over the “double jump,” but you actually are faster and save time by being on the ice striding or gliding than you are in the air flying over obstacles.)
The first time down the track (during practice) was the biggest rush of adrenaline I could ever imagine. Looking out over the city from the top of the ramp was unbelievable, but you were quickly brought back to reality as we were soon to be launched out of the starting gates to a blind drop-off and then hit a big kicker jump midway down.
The speed was tremendous and the forces acting on your legs on the descent to the jump and during the launch were incredible. We had two practice runs before entering time trial runs (individually), where we would go down the track as fast as possible; that time was used to seed the Americans against the international competition. The course was roughly a quarter-mile long, featuring speeds up to 40 mph and a vertical drop of 131 feet.
The trickiest part of the track, in my opinion, was the double jump, which was taking victims run after run. I had a few crashes there and also one high-speed crash on a wall where I actually put my skate through the boards. The odd part was, I didn't get stuck – the skates punched a hole in the plastic boards and my momentum kept me moving down the next icy ramp. I really wish I was wearing a GoPro helmet cam for some of my practice runs to catch the action.
My time trial was clocked at 45 seconds flat, placing me seventh out of 128 U.S. qualifiers; however, the top three guys had participated in several other Red Bull Crashed Ice competitions.
Yes, there were some sore spots after the first day of practice and time trials, but overall, not too bad. I was in the top two of my qualifier race on Friday night, so I made it into Saturday's top 64 qualifier, which combined 19 Americans with 45 experienced international competitors. All of our competitors had run tracks before, had coaching staff and overall were much more experienced and prepared than we were on Saturday.
All in all it was a great experience. Placing 44th was quite an accomplishment; each time you crossed the finish line you breathed a sigh of relief that the run was done and you were in one piece, and I certainly would like the opportunity to race again. I'm hoping to try and qualify for a meet later this winter in Montreal (if I'm lucky enough to win the lottery for the qualifying event in Winnipeg). It’s a ton of work and time, but I had faster time trials than the two guys who made the Red Bull USA team, so I know I can beat them; unfortunately, I was just in a much tougher seed on Saturday. Chances of qualifying are slim, though, as the race had more than 20,000 entrants last year.
I am back to the real world now with the same job at MP Tech Group that I had immediately out of college. Together my father and I represent several manufacturing companies in the area of sales.