Hockey has been called the "fastest game on ice." But it might have to relinquish that title to Red Bull Crashed Ice.
Red Bull Crashed Ice is best described as a skating race similar to a downhill ski cross. Four skaters begin in starting blocks similar to skiing and race down a man-made ice course full of steep drops, jumps and sharp turns.
Since 2010, the sport has been mostly dominated by European and Canadian competitors. That is, until Cameron Naasz broke onto the scene in 2012. Since then, he has become the first American to win a title and place first in the 2015-2016 season World Championship. On Jan. 14 Naasz took home the title in Marseille, France.
Naasz will defend his World Championship in his home state of Minnesota on Feb. 2 and 3. STACK had the chance to catch up with Naasz to learn about his journey into the fast, intense and dangerous sport that is Crashed Ice.
STACK: How did you get into the sport of downhill ice cross?
Cameron Naasz: The sport of ice cross downhill came to Minnesota in 2012. I had a friend at the time who I went to college with at St. Cloud State University. We grew up together in the same hometown and played hockey together. He was working for Red Bull as a student brand manager at St. Cloud State.
When the event came to St. Paul, they had flat ice tryouts at the Xcel Energy Center and surrounding ice rinks. I was planning on going to the event, but about two weeks before, my friend asked if I'd like to compete in it. He said, "I have a pass for you and you're in if you want it."
I called my boss, took work off and next thing you know I started competing in events. I was the top-ranked American in time trials going into the competition, and I ended up being the top-ranked American newcomer to the sport. Red Bull U.S. created Team USA out of the top four American finishers. Two weeks later, I was in Sweden competing at the next event.
What helped you transition to the sport so quickly, besides knowing how to skate from playing hockey?
I was kind of a wild child. I grew up playing every sport under the sun. Snowboarding was one of my favorites, and aggressive inline rollerblading was really popular back then. I was actually a sponsored aggressive inline rollerblader for a skate park. My mom ended up buying that skatepark, so I was there all day every day during summer break and as much as I could be in the winter during hockey season. Once hockey got a little more serious around the high school age, I had to give up extreme sports a bit and hockey took priority.
What was it like going down the Crashed Ice course the first time?
It was exhilarating. I didn't really know what to expect. Back then, when they did the training, the rookies had their own separate practice runs from the experienced athletes. So I couldn't even really watch the guys who were good at it go first. It was a new experience, but I had a smile on my face the entire time.
How would you describe the feeling of going down the course?
I feel like most people have been on skis before. It's that feeling when you're going down the hill and you don't turn and you have a bit of an out-of-control feeling. You love it but at the same time you're scared and don't know what to do until you get to the bottom. Finally you're like, "Wow, that was a heck of a ride." It's the exact same thing.
How do you practice for the events?
It's something you can't recreate, especially in a state where it's not winter all of the time. So we have to get creative. I've found the best way to train is at skate parks and BMX tracks. There's one up in St. Cloud where the track is made out of dirt but they lay this dirt glue on top of it. It's almost like rubber cement, and it turns the top layer of dirt into a type of cement. We go up there and roller blade and it simulates being on a crashed ice track. It makes your body work hard, since you're not on a slope and there's no decline. You really have to use your legs and body to generate momentum to go over rollers and transitions.
What are the most important athletic qualities to be successful in the sport?
Definitely core strength. Everything you're doing on the crashed ice track is variable movements. You don't know what's coming at you next. Your body can be off balance, flying through the air, or someone could bump into you. Having strong legs and a strong core is important to be able to stabilize yourself for situations that you're not really expecting.
How do you train to build your core and legs?
CrossFit has been huge for me. I started working out with a trainer, Andrew Swanson. He was into CrossFit, but we were working out at a normal gym. He ended up leaving that gym and suggested I try CrossFit. We had already been doing CrossFit-style workouts, but I trusted him and started doing it full time.
The number of different moves you do in CrossFit requires you to use your core and stabilizers. It obviously beats the crap out of your legs as well. Instead of doing something like Squats, I'm doing Clean & Jerks, Sntaches and a lot of different movements with weight vests and med balls to keep my body guessing.
Do you still practice skating on a regular rink?
I still play hockey a few times a week. I have a close relationship with a guy who owns a hockey training center in St. Louis Park. He has two three-on-three rinks, and whenever the ice is open, he lets me go in there with a group of other Crashed Iced athletes. We'll go up there and just play hockey and do basic drills. We'll pull the nets up against the boards and create a mock starting gate like we have in Crashed Ice. Instead of skating on flat ice we'll also pull out pads and tires and things and stack them up in front of us. You might have to jump over some pads or slide under some tires. We get creative with things like that.
What is your goal for this year?
My number one goal right now is to do what no one else has managed to do—that is, to become a repeat World Champion. No one has ever won it two years in a row. That's my major goal for the season.
The Saint Paul Red Bull Crashed Ice event will be broadcast live on Red Bull TV at 9 p.m. EST on Feb. 4. Fans from around the world can watch a dedicated 90-minute showcase of the action-packed event here.
Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock