Thomas Missert really just wanted a Red Bull jersey.
It’s the reason why he originally tried out for the Red Bull Crashed Ice pre-qualifiers in December, a chance for ice skaters to showcase their speed and technical skating skills by racing around a series of flat-ice obstacles at a rink in Boston.
Turns out, the tryouts were at least partly a disappointment.
“They never gave the jersey,” the 25-year-old from Laconia, N.H., said. “So, I was like, all right, I’d better at least go to the finals.”
And so, Missert was one of 48 ice skaters on hand at Loon Mountain Resort in January, vying for the chance to compete in February’s Red Bull Crashed Ice event at Fenway Park.
The competition in Boston will pit some of the world’s best ice skaters, racing four at a time, shoulder-to-shoulder, and gaining speeds of more than 50 miles per hour. All this down a 2,000-foot ice track starting some seven stories high atop the right-field bleachers, navigating down the first-base line, and crossing home plate only after a series of twists, turns and jumps that the likes of Mookie Betts has never had to deal with.
Missert ended up securing one of the wild-card slots available at Loon, skating down the 600-foot track of downhill ice with a time of 15.62 seconds, just narrowly beating out Canada’s Michael Romano, who finished in 15.99 seconds.
“It was pretty surprising, actually. I didn’t even think that I was even going to come close to getting it,” Missert said.
Perhaps the best way to describe the scene is to imagine what a miniature World Cup downhill course might look like.
Frankly, it looks treacherous enough that one might buckle if told he or she had to navigate the downhill course on skis. After all, this is normally the site of Loon Mountain Resort’s Little Sister and Seven Brothers trails, a pair of normally genteel slopes that look anything but when covered in ice.
But on this frigid day in January, it was instead the site of an introduction to the world of ice cross downhill, which means Missert, female winner Katie Guay (18.02 seconds) and the rest of the competitors went from showing their stuff on flat ice to experiencing the downhill ice terrain for the first time.
“It was intimidating,” said Guay, a 36-year-old from Mansfield, Mass. “I’m an average skier, but definitely like a good challenge. So, sometimes standing on the top of a steep, black diamond, that fear sets in. It takes a little extra effort to turn the skis downhill and go for it and embrace the adventure. It was that same exact feeling standing at the top of the starting gate as you get at the top of a mountain on a difficult trail.”
While the downhill experience might have been new, it wasn’t as if this were the first time Guay or Missert have laced up skates. Guay, who player her collegiate career at Brown University, also served as an on-ice referee in the Winter Olympics last February in PyeongChang, South Korea. In 2015, she was the first woman to officiate at an NCAA Division 1 men’s game.
“I’ve played hockey all my life and I definitely love skiing, but hockey consumes my schedule, so I don’t make it out to the mountains quite often,” she said. “But downhill ice cross brings that same adrenaline rush that you get when you fly down the mountain on skis.”
Guay said that the singledigit temperatures in Lincoln, N.H., brought her back to her days of playing hockey on the pond, the first of many locales the blades have traveled over the years.
“My skates have had a passport to see the world for the last 10 years or so, and now my skates are taking me to new heights. Literally.”
Missert, meanwhile, has had experience at nearby Gunstock as the ski area’s parks photographer and videographer, a factor that might have given him a certain edge against the competition at Loon.
“I’m really good at skating,” he said. “I’ve grown up hitting jumps and stuff like that, hitting rails on any of the park stuff anywhere. So it wasn’t like it was as intimidating as it was for some of the other competitors.”
But how will the heights of Fenway be any different? Or, exactly how much more of a challenge will a 2,000-foot course be than a 600-foot one?
“Good question,” Guay said. “My skates were definitely shaking on that (Loon) course. That’s the fastest I’ve ever gone on skates. My goal was just to get down as fast as I could and I just gave it my all and didn’t really think about the shaking skates as I was kind of achieving speeds that I had never been on skates.
“I think there are a lot more technical components to Fenway. So, it’ll be a new challenge for sure.”
The ballpark is definitely the attraction for these skaters, feeling lucky enough to perform in a sport finding new turf at Fenway Park.
“When I heard Crashed Ice was coming to Fenway, I just had to take a shot at it,” Guay said. “Being from Mass., Fenway is a special place in my heart, and to be able to be there on skates would just be awesome.”
Missert admitted that he’s a better skater than a skier, but it seems that’s the skill you’d have to master in an event like Crashed Ice. But the height and length of the Fenway course doesn’t frighten him. Yet.
“I don’t think I’ll be intimidated until I get up on top,” he said. “I get chills thinking about being at Fenway and like competing, so I can’t wait for that.”