A bunch of years ago I had a winter weekend booked in Quebec City*. Night had fallen by the time I drove past the stone walls and cannons that protected the old city when I directed my car up a steep road towards my hotel. A minute later I found myself driving into a throng of people (figuratively) who filled the avenue from sidewalk-to-sidewalk (literally) and they were all marching in my direction.
It was clear that either some event had just ended or something big was about to begin. I slowed my car to a crawl and rolled down my window. “Hey, what’s going on?” I asked the first person who looked my way.
“Grache d’ice!” he yelled with a smile.
Oh right, French. I caught someone else’s eye, “Hey man, what’s happening?”
And again I got the same response: “Grache d’ice!”
“Do you speak English?” I asked hopefully.
“Yes, I am speaking English,” he responded. “It’s Crashed Ice,” he repeated.
“Ohhh,” I thought to myself, trying to trick this same self into believing that I knew what any of this meant.
And that’s how I first heard of the death-defying Red Bull-sponsored extreme sport called Crashed Ice (I’m just going to assume that Crashed Ice is a copy-written name and that it should be capitalized, as opposed to, say, “hockey”). Unfortunately I had pulled into Quebec City on that night so long ago just in time to miss the final event and though on the following afternoon I gaped in horrified wonder at the imposing ice slide that snaked down the hill outside my hotel I didn’t get to see any actual races that weekend.
But on March 4th, 2017 I did.
As part of Canada’s 150th birthday celebrations Red Bull sent their crew to Ottawa for the first time. They spent a month setting up a downhill ice-skating track on top of the Rideau Canal locks next to the Château Laurier hotel that was nothing short of an engineering wonder. Complete with jumps, bumps, twists, and turns, it looked like a frozen Coney Island roller coaster but instead of two metal rails running it’s length the iced track was painted into four positively suicidal skating lanes.
On the final day of the multi-day event I was working virtually across the street at the NAC which gave me a big head-start on parking. At the end of my workday I walked home, bundled myself and m’lady up in pretty much all the clothes we owned and, dressed as if prepared for a month-long arctic excursion we set out on the two-kilometre walk back downtown.
Unless one purchased VIP tickets that allowed for viewing Crashed Ice from a heated platform perched over the track (an option I did not opt for), the event was free (and cold and had very inadequate views). We took in a few races from somewhat afar, watching the skaters careen down the sloped obstacle course from top to bottom. Of course from such a distance the brave competitors were the size of tiny sliding, crashing, and careening ants, though highlights were available on the big screen.
After a half dozen heats (ironic name for such a race) we bellied up to the boards for a closer look, which afforded us short, fast bursts of close-up action upon an otherwise empty fifty feet of track. And while we lost the ability to watch the entire race from our closer vantage point (or even see who crossed the finish line first, if at all), it was still way more fun being close enough to hear the grunts and see the fear in the competitor’s eyes.
Though truthfully it was only good enough to keep us onsite for maybe an hour, tops. When we both had our fill of the ultra high-paced insanity that is Crashed Ice we just strolled across the street to the heated garage underneath the NAC and drove home in our warm, cozy car (with heated seats).
*The excursion was actually centred around an overnight stay in the Quebec ice hotel which was really, really fantastic. I should tell you about it sometime.