LACONIA — What’s it like to skate at high speed down a frozen track that starts several stories above the right field bleachers, features several jumps, drops and hairpin corners and ends at home plate at Boston’s iconic Fenway Park?
“It was pretty incredible. It was pretty intense,” said Laconia’s Tom Missert, who earned a chance to participate in the ice cross downhill event Red Bull Crashed on Friday night, with championship rounds held on Saturday.
Missert, a photographer and house painter who turned 26 on Monday, was able to get three practice runs on the 1,150-foot course, then two chances to put down his best time. Then, in front of a packed park on Friday night, he lined up with three other skaters to run the course simultaneously. The top two skaters advanced to the next round.
Missert had scored well in an open tryout, which was a hockey rink full of obstacles. That gave him the chance to compete in a second tryout at Loon Mountain on an ice course built on a ski slope. He finished first overall in a field of 24 competitors.
Still, those experiences didn’t compare to standing at the starting gate and looking down at Fenway Park.
“The first practice run, I was like, ‘Holy crap!’” Missert said. The course was fast, but he was able to get some comfort with the speed and the features in time for his first official heat.
Missert’s heat included two experienced competitors, yet he found himself right on their heels. Then came a section with three successive drops, and Missert passed everyone.
“It didn’t last long, though,” he said. After a hairpin corner, another of the experienced skaters accelerated into the lead, leaving Missert fighting for second place as he approached a 20-foot downhill followed by an eight-foot spine feature. Missert thought he could shave some time by jumping over the spine and bending his knees over its peak, thereby hitting its downhill section sooner. The gambit failed, as his knees collided with the spine’s peak, sending him tumbling to the ice and stuck in third place, which is how he crossed the finish line.
“I feel like I did alright. I only went down the course six times, and I was expecting a little more practice runs. The amount I did, I did pretty well,” he said.
A hell of a time
Missert is at home on skates, having played hockey since he was a kid. He also had experience skating and snowboarding on ramps and jumps similar to those in ice cross downhill, a sport popular in Canada and northern Europe and that promoters like Red Bull want to grow in the U.S.
He figured that he would be able to hang with the experienced skaters on the professional downhill skate cross circuit. Now, he’s convinced that he could. So, is he going to pursue the sport?
“I’d have to really look into it. I’m definitely considering it,” Missert said.
Looking back on his heat on Friday night, he said that he probably would have advanced to the next stage had he stayed on his skates. The skater who finished ahead of him in his heat also fell after Missert did, which would have given him the chance to skate into second place. “But I had a way gnarlier fall and it took me right out.”
Another thing he learned on Friday night: downhill skate cross is fun.
“It was a blast, I had a hell of a time,” Missert said. Especially when he was on the course with three other skaters.
“That part of it was really fun. If I do pursue it, it will be for that reason, to compete with the guys, ‘cause that was a blast.”
He’s going to consider his options over the coming days, and determine if he wants to pursue sponsors, put up with the travel, and start at the bottom level of the sport.
Even if he decides against it, he said he’s glad that he pushed himself to excel in the tryouts, and that he has an opportunity to consider.
“I made a lot of connections, so I’m happy with that,” he said.