Downhill skating fun to watch, hard to do

The first stop in the Red Bull Crashed Ice World Championship will hit Saint Paul, Minn., this week.

Thursday through Saturday, The Cathedral of St. Paul will serve as the starting line for a wild downhill ride on ice skates. Saturday night’s main event is expected to draw a crowd into the thousands.

Competitors  won’t just be racing for the title — they will be crashing, flying, jumping, sliding and battling for the victory.

The race course is a 382-yard ice luge, with sharp turns and jumps at speeds of more than 40 mph. Racing four at a time, skaters will begin near the Cathedral and descend more than 131 feet before they reach the finish line. The ice canal is filled with “bumps, jumps and obstacles,” according to the Red Bull website, and only the top two athletes per heat will advance to the next round.

This is just the beginning, however. The top four American skaters will have the opportunity to represent Team USA in the global Red Bull Crashed Ice World Championship.

It’s a dangerous and crazy-looking sport, and competitors do it all in nothing but hockey gear. Skaters are outfitted with helmets, hockey pads, jerseys and pants.

Ben Grotting, a former Division I hockey player for the University of Wisconsin, will brave the course.

“After seeing the ramp, I am scared for my life but still too excited to compete to back out.” he said. “We are being asked to go down a steep, frozen hill at speeds of over 40 mph with body contact, jumps and sharp turns. What could possibly go wrong?”

Through regional and national qualifiers, about 100 athletes have qualified to participate in the event. The top racer will earn 1,000 points, while the 100th-place finisher will earn just 0.5 points. After the St. Paul race, the skaters will travel to The Netherlands, Sweden and Canada, where they’ll do it all again. Points from each competition will be tallied, and the skater with the most at the end of the series will be named the 2012 Red Bull Crashed Ice champion.

There are very few rules in the event, according to the Red Bull website, though skaters are prohibited from intentionally causing other racers to fall, slow down or leave the course.

This year marks the first time the event has been in the United States since 2004, when it was held in Duluth, Minn. Admission is free to the public, unless fans want to pay $15 for a premium viewing area, and gates will open at 4 p.m. each day. Races will begin at 7 p.m., and organizers expect competition to end at about 9 p.m. each night.

Jenny, one of the FOX Sports North Girls, will take a spin down the course Thursday.

The main entrances to Red Bull Crashed Ice are located at Marshall at John Ireland Boulevard and at Selby and Summit.