Ice Cross Downhill returns to its roots this weekend in Riders Cup Rautalampi and the following weekend in Red Bull Crashed Ice Jyväskylä/Laajis as athletes fight for World Championship points on natural ice tracks. Team Finland's Paavo Klintrup knows the natural ice tricks like the back of his own hand.
"The ice itself it's not that different compared to artificial ice, but the temperature differences makes skating different," says Klintrup.
Paavo Klintrup (in front) might know the tricks of natural ice a bit better than his rivals. Picture: Predrag Vuckovic/Red Bull Content Pool
The pack of Red Bull Crashed Ice athletes arriving in Finland this week has had a chance to get familiar with the Jyväskylä/Laajis track in extremely low temperatures. Athletes have experienced even lower than -25 degrees.
"On this kind of super-low temperature the ice gets extremely hard and the surface can crack more easily. The blades have to be very sharp in order to cut properly in the hard ice," says Klintrup and he emphasizes the importance of equipment in the tight elbow-to-elbow race. "Coming closer to 0 degrees the ice gets immediately softer – the blades cut the ice more easily, but especially the tight corners and jump landings can suffer some detrition."
Klintrup says that the changing conditions of natural ice can only have an interesting and positive effect on the races:
"Having only one minus degree is enough to keep the ice good – and now we have truly had some proper frost. For the Red Bull Crashed Ice weekend it is forecast that the temperatures will stay comfortably under zero so the ice lasts well and it's not too cold to skate."
Klintrup and other world top skaters have trained this week on the record-breaking long track which is expected to really test the athletes' stamina. 630 meter-long with 17 turns and 66 meters of vertical elevation really is as tough as can be expected.
"I have to say that the track is extremely long and gets to my thighs. There's a couple of tight chicanes where you have to go full throttle and select your lines wisely. The rollers at the end give no mercy and just before the finish line you have to prepare yourself for a very challenging and tight last turn while going steeply downwards," says Klintrup.There's no time to relax on the Laajis track. Picture: Samo Vidic/Red Bull Content Pool
Three out of four Red Bull Crashed Ice races this season – Quebec City, Munich and Saint Paul – are raced on artificial ice freezed by an extensive cooling system. The stop in Jyväskylä is the only one on natural ice. After a rainy autumn the track squirming down the Laajavuori hill has developed its thick ice during January's low temperatures. Klintrup says that the ice needs a bit more time to form into 100 % race condition.
"The track surface is still quite rough. During the muddy conditions last autumn the surface didn't have time to get even before the winter. Also the low temperatures makes building the ice a difficult task as the ice freezes so fast and the water coming down the hill forms into candle-like bumps. The ice still has time to even out before next weekend as we get to train a lot on the track though."
630 meters, 17 turns, 66 meters vertical drop. It's an unprecedented challenge for the athletes.
Klintrup cannot wait to compete on the track.
"Despite the cold weather, training on the track has been so much fun. With glowing-red faces the international athletes came down the track every time with a big smile. Knowing that Arttu (Pihlainen) designed this track, it's for certain that this one is a fun and smooth ride. You don't get bored with this. Home race and proper spectator areas – friends and family – now it's really time to come and see the race!"
Red Bull Crashed Ice Jyväskylä/Laajis on January 29th-30th. Get your tickets now here