It is the mother of all tracks – 584 meters of twists, turns, jumps, bumps and a mind-boggling assortment of obstacles. Some say Ice Cross Downhill was made for a city like Quebec, with its twisting and turning streets that wend their way from the iconic Chateau Frontenac overlooking the old town to the icy currents of the Saint Lawrence River at Place de Paris. But maybe it’s the other way around – Quebec was made for Ice Cross Downhill.
An extra 44 meters of punishment were added this year to make Quebec the longest and most grueling Ice Cross Downhill track anywhere in the world and the Red Bull Crashed Ice aces will feel every centimeter of those 584 meters during their high-speed descent with a vertical drop of 60 meters towards the frigid Saint Lawrence River. A crew of 60 workers spent a total of 7,500-man hours over the last two weeks building the track with an average width of 5 meters with a total surface of 2,430 square meters.
“The Quebec track has always been good for me,” said championship leader Kyle Croxall of Canada, who won here in 2010 when the track was 565 meters long. But Finland’s Arttu Pihlainen, who is just 240 points behind Croxall with 1,000 awarded to the winner on Saturday, also is fond of the Quebec track – he has won here three times (2008, 2009, 2011). “I like the track,” said Pihlainen, the defending champion who hasn’t won a race since last year’s finale in Quebec.
The track, which can stay chilled even if temperatures rise above freezing thanks to 36,000 liters of glycol coolant running through 9,300 meters of pipes beneath the surface, has been on the minds of racers and fans all season – this will be the seventh straight year Quebec City has been a venue and more than 100,000 fans are expected. It is widely considered the toughest course on the circuit and often separates the men from the boys – quite literally, this year, there is even a unique 30-meter segment where the track splits into two narrow bands in order to encourage overtaking and to a premium on strategic thinking.
“It’s the longest track we’ve ever had in Quebec and physically it’s an exhausting track,” said Christian Papillon, Red Bull Crashed Ice Sports Director, noting that there will be a premium on good skating skills because riders are forced to brake to almost a standstill at two points on the track. “It’s like there is one start and two re-starts. There’s a tight 360 degree turn, which is almost like a re-start and then later on they almost are stopped once again so they’re going to have to push hard twice to regain speed.”
It is only fitting that Canada – home to many of the world’s top Ice Cross Downhill athletes – has the toughest track in the world championship. It starts with a bang as the rounded ramp start launches the racers to high speeds down the first straight and over a series of nasty obstacles before the 360 degree turn. After that there is another high-speed section through a roller-coaster-like segment before they hit full speed into a long banked turn where they’ll have to deal with increases G-forces. After that is a steep “painted wall” that will demand courage, skill and balance to stay upright before the racers will have an extra long sprint finish.
During construction, workers spread 75 cases of crushed ice weighing 1,700 pounds each over the refrigerated carpet, laying down a 10-cm thick layer of crushed ice before warm water was sprayed on the ice to create a first frozen layer. After that, 16 men worked 24-hours a day for 12 days spraying water on top of the ice to add layers. The ice is five times denser than a NHL rink.