Rumours that Ice Cross Downhill World Championship leader Kyle Croxall’s racing skates got lost in transit by Canadian air luggage handlers ahead of the season finale on Saturday turned out to be only partly true but nevertheless put the spotlight on what is the most important single piece of equipment in the sport – the skates – as well as on the high-tech treatment they receive before almost every run down the track.
Kyle Croxall said his form-fitted skates arrived when he did at Quebec airport even though another bag belonging to the Canadian firefighter went missing. But the prospect of Croxall having to race in Saturday’s season finale without his own trusted skates left Red Bull Crashed Ice experts wondering because the custom-fitted, form-baked skates are practically irreplaceable.
“My skates are here and all good,” Croxall said, ahead of Friday’s Elimination Round. “Another bag is missing.” Croxall has won two of the three races this year on his high-performance skates, which, along with the other 120 racers', are being sharpened by a team of skate specialists before almost every run down the high-speed, obstacle-filled track.
Jasper Felder, who won 7 races in his 10-year Red Bull Crashed Ice career, said it was every racer’s nightmare to have their skates go missing before a big race. He said he tried to have two pairs with him and some, such as Germany’s Fabian Mels, pack their skates in their carry-on luggage.
“If you lose your skates it’s like losing your weapon,” said Felder, now a TV analyst for ice cross downhill. “You can a use borrowed helmet, you can use borrowed pads. But if you lose your skates on the flight over you’ve got a mess on your hands. It’s really important to have your own skates.”
'I wouldn’t want to be in anyone’s shoes who has to race without their own skates'
Felder and skate experts said that a special type of skate has been developed over the years for ice cross downhill, a variation of hockey skate that meets the special demands of the high-speed downhill sport. Some skates, such as Croxall’s, are made of hard composite materials and thus need to be form-fitted. The skates are softened as they are oven-heated to 80 degrees Celsius for about five minutes. They are then tightly laced up on the athlete while still hot to be moulded to the individual’s foot.
“Nowadays skates are made with so many composite materials so you have to form fit them,” said Jasper. “And not having your own skates is a real nightmare. I wouldn’t want to be in anyone’s shoes who has to race without their own skates.”
Red Bull Crashed Ice athletes have a skate specialist on hand in the warm-up tent next to the starting area available to sharpen their blades before every run. Mathieu Latour has six sharpening machines that need about 1 to 2 minutes to fine-tune the blades, a procedure he does up to 1,000 times each race weekend.
Latour said that the ice cross downhill blades that range from 263mm to 288mm in length (and 2.9mm wide) are unique in that about 60mm of that length is on the ice all the time – compared to the more rounded hockey blade that has far less has contact with the ice. The ice cross downhill blades also have more of a square heel that gives the racers extra balance and stability compared to hockey blades that are designed for quick turns, pivots and changes of direction. The bottom surface of the ice cross downhill blades are also sharpened to a variety of different curve angles depending on the temperatures and the condition of the ice.
“These skates are specially designed for ice cross downhill,” said Latour, the official skate sharpener at three races this season and at a total of 12 years. “The squarer heel and the greater profile - that is the more contact with the ice they have - gives the racers more stability going down the tracks. Hockey skates have less profile. There’s no flat spot, it’s all curved. Ice cross downhill skates wouldn’t be good for hockey because you can’t turn as sharply with them. But hockey skates aren’t as good for this sport because you can’t go downhill as fast and with as much stability.”