Red Bull Crashed Ice racers chomping at the bit to get on Edmonton track
Some of the most popular names in downhill ice-cross racing are in Edmonton for what could be the season's fastest race.
Barrelling down the track at 60 km/h is not uncommon for these racers, and the speeds could be even faster with Edmonton's newly designed track.
"This track looks awesome!" said Canadian racer Scott Croxall, who finished second at the 2015 Edmonton race and is currently sitting at the top of standings heading into the last race of the season.
Croxall has competed in Red Bull Crashed Ice since 2009.
He has consistently finished in the top 10 since 2013. On Saturday, he hopes to add an Edmonton win to what has been one of his best seasons yet.
'A bunch of variables'
"The standings are super tight, I'm sitting in first but only by a couple of hundred points. So there's a bunch of variables that can happen, and I'm just going to try my best and get on that podium and get as many points as I can."
Since coming onto the scene in 2012, Naasz has had Croxall in his sights as both skaters compete for bragging rights as the sport's best.
"In 2012, when the event first came to Minnesota, I was just a rookie [and] I had no idea what I was doing," said Naasz. "And he was already one of the top athletes in the sport."
Naasz quickly rose to become the first Red Bull Crashed Ice skater to win back-to-back titles in 2015 and 2016.
"For the last five, six years we've kind of been pushing the sport together just through our competitive relationship," he said. "It's been a fun ride, especially over the last three years when it's been him and I battling for that championship."
While Naasz and Croxall share the spotlight these days, many others are trying to take it away.
Edmonton native Gabe Andre, 36, is considered one of the sport's grizzled vets.
"A lot of things have changed over the years," Andre said. "The tracks have changed, the athletes have changed. But I'm really happy and honoured to be a part of all of this."
Andre expects to have about 20 family and friends watching him compete in Saturday night's race.
An oilfield worker by day, he shocked the sport in 2006 in Quebec City by beating out seven-time champion Jasper Felder of Sweden, who won Red Bull's inaugural event in 2001.
"In Quebec, I saw the track and thought, 'What am I getting myself into?' I ended up getting in a good zone and ended up winning, and the addiction began."
Two-time world champion
A similar addiction has helped propel Jacqueline Legere of Saint-George, Ont., to the top of the sport.
She has spent the last six years crashing and banging her way to the top, claiming the world title for the last two years. She got her start after seeing races on Youtube and decided the sport was for her. This weekend she has the chance to become a three-time champion.
"It's exciting, and it's keeping me on my toes, and I'm excited to see what happens," said Legere, who works as a stunt performer for film and television when she's not competing in Red Bull races.
For her, the rush starts once she gets into the gates and looks down the track.
"It's incredible to see that many people, it's like a sea of people," said Legere, who raced in Edmonton in 2015 as a newcomer to the sport.
Are the Olympics in the future?
For the racers, taking the sport to the next level is a major goal.
Sports like snowboard cross and ski cross are popular events during the Winter Olympics. Naasz said representing his country in his sport would truly be a dream come true.
"Snowboard cross, ski cross, those sports are exactly the same sport as ours, we're just on ice. I would absolutely love to see us competing for medals in the Olympics in 2022. That would be amazing."