Preparing for a Red Bull Crashed Ice race is tough. With four skaters hurtling down the same ice track, ice cross downhill requires the highest levels of physical and mental fitness over every stage of the course. It's this physical and mental toughness that sets the professionals apart from the amateurs. But even the pros can find it extremely difficult to prepare for racing situations – every second counts on the ice track. Every single movement is critical. Riders pay the price for the slightest mistake. So thorough preparation is half the battle – but can you really prepare for races on artificial ice or on the Skate Mill at the Red Bull Academy?
Out of necessity the athletes have gotten creative with their training, and until now only very few have had the luxury of artificial ice or the Skate Mill. The vanguard of creative training are the Dallago brothers, Marco and Luca, who got to grips with a wooden downhill summer course on inline skates. Other riders, such as Switzerland's Kilian Braun, also train on inline skates in summer, but prefer different terrain. "In Switzerland there are several decent paved pump tracks that are ideal for my training," says Kilian. He's talking about how close you can get to the Red Bull Crashed Ice courses, where it's important to 'swallow' the bumps and develop a feel for the jumps. Lukasz Korzestanski from Poland shares the same philosophy: "I train on pump tracks and at skateparks, which for me is the next best thing to the ice cross downhill."
Athletes train at the Red Bull Academy. Photo: Mark Roe/Red Bull Content Pool.
Preparation and off-ice training are just as important for the ice hockey pros of the Red Bull Academy as they are for the Red Bull Crashed Ice athletes. The Skating and Shooting Center, which boasts two Skate Mills and a RapidShot hockey training system, was established when the Red Bull Academy opened in 2014 to create the best possible environment for players to develop their skills. The final touch is the artificial ice, a surface specifically designed for ice skates and therefore for 'skating'. "I need this surface," enthuses American Jack Schram. "Imagine having it throughout your house so you could skate everywhere."
Jack and Kilian, as well as Lukasz, Konrad and Robert from Poland, are five ice cross downhill athletes who are paying the Skate Mill at the Red Bull Academy a visit. None of the five have had any experience of artificial ice or a treadmill for skates. After the first tentative attempts and some instruction from Red Bull Skating Coach Andrei Lavrov, the aces begin to get to grips with the constantly rolling floor. "The Skate Mill is running at 17km/h, a fraction of the speeds they reach on the ice track," says the former crashed ice athlete with a broad grin. He uses a computer to precisely adjust the duration, inclination of up to -10% and speed up to a maximum of 30km/h to the specific training requirements of the athletes. Ice hockey players learn to keep their feet moving at all times and to move their arms and legs independently. And what about the Red Bull Crashed Ice athletes? They can use the Skate Mill to prepare for very specific racing scenarios, as the clip at the top of this page shows.
Kilian Braun in the thick of the action during the training session. Photo: Mark Roe/Red Bull Content Pool.
The guys are definitely impressed. "I experienced artificial ice and the Skate Mill for the first time today. It was absolutely fantastic and excellent preparation for the ice cross downhill," says Robert Grochowilz. His fellow countryman Konrad Beliczynski adds: "It's great training for the legs, especially when the speed is increased." Jack now knows a bit more about his weaknesses: "The machine is a beast. It exposes your limitations and your weaknesses straight away." Anton Walch, a fellow Skating Coach of Lavrov with EC Red Bull Salzburg, pithily sums up the training: "If you coast, you are toast."