St. Paul hopes to become permanent Crashed Ice host

BY foxsports • February 20, 2014

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Coasting up and down the ice-covered bridge stretching across John Ireland Boulevard on Thursday, Team USA ice cross downhill coach Charlie Wasley looked more at home than he had walking down the street earlier that morning.

St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, on the other hand, handled the terrain a little more awkwardly. Taking part in his annual testing of the Red Bull Crashed Ice course along with some his constituents, the town's chief official lurched his way down the track's second steep decline several times.

Three years of this have taught Coleman not to be too bold.

"The first year, I thought 'what's the big deal? How hard can it be?'" said Coleman, a decent skater and hockey player by weekend warrior standards, "and it turned out it was incredibly hard and painful."

Starting Thursday, Crashed Ice returns to St. Paul for a third straight year. It doesn't possess the longevity of the Minnesota Wild in the heart of the State of Hockey. It's not nearly as much a fixture as the city's annual Winter Carnival.

But it's an event Coleman and the Twin Cities have attempted to make their own. For good.

"This is insane," said Coleman, who took office in 2005. "This is kind of like, if you look at the halfpipe in the Olympics or some of those crazy events there, this is every bit as crazy and as much fun. This has been a great partnership with Red Bull, and we hope we keep them coming back."

More than 100 American skaters -- 81 of them from Minnesota -- tearing down an ice-laden obstacle course at speeds of up to 40 mph. Upwards of 100,000 spectators over a three-night period. National television exposure, thanks to a new deal with FOX Sports 1. Individual races, team competitions, tumbles, triumphs and hairpin turns that challenge enterprising daredevils coming from an array of extreme sports disciplines -- hockey, speed skating, downhill skiing, even mountain biking.

All against the backdrop of the monolithic Cathedral of St. Paul.

"It's the best stop of the tour," said Wasley, an Edina native and former Gophers hockey player who helped form Team USA in 2010. "It gets the most amount of fans at it. I think it's got the most technical track.

"You talk to, at least the U.S. guys, most of them are from Minnesota or around here, so they get pretty excited to participate in front of their home crowd."

That group includes Lakeville native Cameron Naasz -- the only American to win an individual competition in the fledgling sport's 13-year history -- and Rochester product Reed Whiting. That pair and 108 other domestic-bred athletes will challenge Austrian ringer Marco Dallago and Canadian brothers Kyle and Scott Croxall for the second of four championship crowns handed out this year.

The season kicked off Jan. 31 in Helsinski, Finland and stops in Moscow, Russia before concluding in Quebec City, Canada March 20-22.

Quebec has become a permanent home for Crashed Ice, hosting an event each of the past eight years. St. Paul hopes it's on the way to establishing something similar.

Conventional marketing wisdom would dictate Red Bull move events around as often as possible in order to reach more markets and lure network heads with a variety of made-for-TV settings.

Chris Coleman, Mayor of Saint Paul, rides the course in front of the media at the Red Bull Crashed Ice World Championship stop in Saint Paul on Feb. 19.  

But, in this case, there's also something to be said for not trying to fix the unbroken. Provided it remains that way.

"I'm obviously biased because I'm from here," Wasley said, "but yeah, definitely would love to see it stay here year after year. Quebec's had it for more years than we have it. I think with everything we have here, a lot goes into the decision on why things stay or go, but I would love to see it."

Said Coleman: "They usually don't go back to the same spot, with the exception of Quebec for the finals, but they've just had tremendous success here. So the best way we can get them coming back is everybody come out on Friday and Saturday night and fill up the place and stop and have some drinks on the way over or on the way out and just have some fun in St. Paul."

The proceedings were set to commence Thursday afternoon with a set of qualifying runs for the U.S. skaters. Friday, the international pool will be narrowed as well. Sixty-four competitors will move on to Friday afternoon's elimination round, from which 32 advance to Saturday night's finals.

Participants will speed down the 1,410-foot course -- which includes a 131-foot vertical drop near the start -- in four-man heats.

Essentially, the top two finishers advance until a champion is determined.

FOX Sports 1 will show the championship round in its entirety Monday, Feb. 24 starting at 8:30 p.m.

Snow in the forecast through Friday night could hinder crowd numbers and cause traffic issues. And it's not the only logistical hurdles event organizers have to clear.

John Ireland Boulevard has been blocked off for weeks while crews erect the temporary track. That's a minor pain for neighbors and churchgoers, Cathedral of St. Paul pastor Rev. John L. Ubel said.

But even for the national Catholic shrine, the benefits far outweigh any cost.

"I'm delighted with the working relationship we have with Red Bull," Ubel said. "We're a St. Paul landmark and a fitting background, and not just for Catholics.

"We'll get people that walk through our doors that never would have otherwise. It's usually just to warm up, but it allows them to see how beautiful our church is, too."

When Red Bull first mulled the notion of coming to St. Paul in 2011, Jam Productions principal Jerry Mickelson and Coleman took a look at the Cathedral and adjacent land as an option. A light snow had fallen recently on the Twin Cities, and Mickelson told the mayor the scene looked "better than Disneyland."

So the event production company, Red Bull, the city of St. Paul and the archdiocese of Minneapolis-St. Paul formed an accord that's lasted for three years running.

"The first year, we weren't sure what to expect just in terms of the crowd response, and then you had 100,000 people out here," Coleman said. "Then the second year, I thought 'well maybe it was a first-year phenomenon, maybe we'll have half that amount.' And we ended up having 115,000.

"So it's one of those things where everybody says 'if you haven't seen it, you've got to come out and see it,' and if you've seen it before, you want to come back."

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