By Jason Heaton
on 2.26.14
Photo by Gishani

While all eyes were on Sochi as the Olympics wrapped up, another exciting winter sports event was happening this past weekend in St. Paul, Minnesota: the Red Bull Crashed Ice championships. Crashed Ice is Red Bull’s (generally apt) name for the up-and-coming sport of ice cross. And though it may be a made-up sport invented to sell energy drinks, it wouldn’t be terribly surprising to see it in the Olympics one day.

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Ice cross is like hockey meets ski cross meets NASCAR. Four skaters, dressed in full protective hockey gear, fly out of a starting gate five stories high and race down and around a 400-meter ice track. Along the way, negotiate jumps, rollers, 180-degree turns and huge descents, not to mention dodging each other. The resulting melee is intoxicatingly exciting.

Teams from around the world, including Finland, Germany, Switzerland and Austria, were in St. Paul on a tour of championship races that includes stops in Moscow, Helsinki and Quebec. The weather was classic Minnesota — 10 degrees Fahrenheit with a stiff breeze and a fresh half foot of snow on the ground. But the cold didn’t stop an estimated 120,000 fans from lining the track’s boards, faces painted, Red Bull and other adult beverages clutched in mittened hands.

This was the third year Crashed Ice visited St. Paul, and it’s easy to see why it keeps coming back. Besides the fitting climate, Minnesota’s capital city may be the most scenic venue on the tour. The track is set up on on a hill with the imposing presence of the century-old St. Paul Cathedral looming behind the action, a serene and reverent backdrop to the bright lights and thumping music that is the signature of any Red Bull event. Pretty girls wandered the grounds passing out Red Bull; there was a Swatch booth peddling watches. This is winter sports for Millenials.

After multiple rounds of heats that winnowed the field of racers from 64 down to four, it was time for the final race, and a crescendo of cheers accompanied a massive cloud of Red-Bull-scented exhalations as racers from Canada, Austria, Finland and the U.S. set off from the starting gate. It was a close race, but in the end it was the Austrian Marco Dallago who passed under the inflated Red Bull arch first. A hurried awards ceremony was conducted on the ice (did we mention it was cold?) before the bass started thumping again and 120,000 frostbitten fans headed to the after party, which would go on for another three hours. This was Red Bull, after all.

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