Former snocross racers, quad hucksters and freestyle motocross junkies looking for something to do in the winter have jumped into the melting pot that is snowmobile freestyle. Competitions outside Winter X are very scarce and only the very best are able to call it a living. The rest bridge the gap with jobs in landscaping, auto repair, concrete and sled dealerships. One athlete describes himself and his competition as a "random mix of people." Snowmobile Freestyle is in its fifth year as a discipline at Winter X, and the competition has never seen a repeat gold medalist; the talent pool is deep. Example: Heath Frisby, one of the sport's leading innovators, has never finished higher than third. Throw in a few hungry new kids and a couple more determined veterans, and the 2011 contest could easily record a fifth unique gold medalist.
I think they'll be doing gnarlier backflip variations and more stuff off the snowmobile, like body varials. But I have the same thought as everyone else: 'What the heck are they going to think of next?'
--Chris Burandt, 2007 Freestyle gold medalist
Snowmobile freestyle has become so popular at Winter X that in '09 it spun off a next trick comp (now best trick) and in 2011 speed & style will return for a third time, with a new format, after taking one year off. However, with popularity comes publicity, and with publicity comes the need for privacy. For 10 years now, sled riders have mastered nearly every trick previously invented on bicycles and motorcycles. Now they quarantine themselves at indoor foam pits and remote training grounds to develop new material. Although many of these riders will first swing a leg over a bike to learn and practice, it's come to the point where, to win, these athletes must now invent their own stuff and stop looking to motorcycles for innovations.
Last year's big tricks included Frisby's tsunami flip, Justin Hoyer's failed underflip and the Moore brothers' body varials. The 2011 freestyle and best trick competitions will undoubtedly see more fresh moves from several riders. What those tricks will be is still a mystery because, unlike in previous years, in 2011 the riders are not required to disclose to sport organizer Joe Duncan what they will try in competition. Duncan doesn't expect "anything crazy" because he's yet to be asked for a special ramp setup for any one rider. "This is why I'm so happy to be in the announcer's booth now," said 2007 freestyle winner and current ESPN color commentator Chris Burandt. "I think they'll be doing gnarlier backflip variations and more stuff off of the snowmobile, like body varials. But I have the same thought as everyone else, 'What the heck are they going to think of next?'"
Ask the riders until you're blue in the face, because short of stalking the training compounds of Hoyer, Frisby, Joe Parsons, Daniel Bodin, the Moore brothers, et al, Burandt's prediction is about the best intelligence to be found. Defending freestyle gold medalist, Justin Hoyer replied to a hint request with a jubilant "Wouldn't you like to know!? I really can't say anything at this point. It'll be really exciting. I may or may not crash." Hoyer, who has been feverishly working over his foam pit, will compete in both freestyle and best trick. He said winning the gold medal was stressful, the hardest thing he's ever done. He's trying to forget last year because "it doesn't matter anymore, it's done." That was last year. Victory in 2011, he said, will require cleaner, more extended tricks because the judges are going to be searching for more than just innovation; they want perfection.
Frisby, the 2010 best trick winner, acts indifferent to releasing his contest plans. Last year he won with a tsunami flip, a trick he pulled a few weeks prior at a New Year's Eve exhibition. He believes leaking information helps further the sport. "Everyone saw [the New Year's Eve tsunami flip] and said, 'Wow, we need to step our game up,' and I thought it was a rather exciting X Games because of that," Frisby said. "I do it for the love of my sport because I've been in it since the beginning. I could really care less what people know I'm doing." When pressed for info on his 2011 run plans, Frisby laughed and said he hasn't let anything out because he hasn't done it: "Don't want to jump the gun."
The Texan twosome, Colten and Caleb Moore, rode snowmobiles for the first time in December 2009. One month later, Caleb wore a freestyle bronze medal around his neck. The brothers have an ATV racing and freestyle background and wanted to compete in Winter X. With Polaris as their primary sponsor, they were able to get sleds to try and, with only a few days' practice, they were invited to Winter X based on submitted videos. They're back with more practice and seat time, but now that they're established they will keep their ideas a secret. "We're looking to add the 'wow factor' in this year," Caleb said. "We have a thing or two that no one has ever done on a sled." Caleb echoed Hoyer's thought that the judges will also want runs that are smoother and more fluid, not necessarily the biggest and craziest. Younger brother Colten has been busy on his quad performing for the freestyle motorcycle-based Nuclear Cowboyz tour, but he is confident he will get enough seat time. "My brother and I are going to be coming with mayhem," Colten said, "and everybody better keep their eyes open."
This preview is incomplete without mentioning Daniel Bodin, who has finished fourth in all four years of freestyle competition. A monster Hart attack flip earned him silver in best trick 2010, his first Winter X medal. Joe Parsons is going after three medals, and he'd especially like best trick gold to go along with his 2009 freestyle and speed & style gold medals. Last year, he showed off the Parsby, a backflip to Frisby air (body landing backwards on sled). It helped him earn silver in freestyle and fourth in best trick. Both riders are heavy medal favorites.