When Andrew Bergeson bought his house in Cottage Grove, Minnesota, his neighbor gravely intoned one overarching community rule: Out here, people buy acreage lots for a reason. That reason may be privacy, it may be the silence, or it may be the glacial beauty of the adjacent golf course in winter, when it’s covered in several feet of snow that serenely leads down to the banks of the frozen Mississippi River.
Bergeson nodded. He understood. Because when he bought this house he had his own reasons. First, it was exactly equidistant between where his wife, Samantha, works up near Minneapolis, and where he works as a nuclear power plant operator a half an hour south.
And with two acres of land and a steep hill, he and his younger brother could build a really kick-ass 600-foot-long downhill ice cross course in the backyard, complete with ramps that could launch them up to four feet in the air, double kicker jumps, and a sloping turn that finishes perfectly adjacent to the main road after the two reach speeds of 35 mph. It would be the ideal location to set up an at-home training facility in their bid to achieve global domination of the sport’s championship series, Red Bull Crashed Ice.
He didn’t tell his neighbor that right away, of course.
It takes a certain type to participate in downhill ice cross. Physical skills aside, it appeals to someone with the double banzai belief that hockey just doesn’t have enough startling elevation changes, and that downhill skiing would be much more satisfying if it was done on something less stable than skis—say, blades.
Since 2010, Red Bull Crashed Ice has hosted the downhill ice cross world championships, a series of events where elevated ice tracks are built in city centers and an elite group of skaters compete against each other to be the first to reach the bottom. It’s a mad scramble that includes several hundred feet of elevation change and course features that require guts for glory: rolling hills, kicker jumps, step-ups, and queasy, centrifugal-force-baiting corkscrews. In 2014, there are four stops in the series: Helsinki; Moscow; Quebec—and in Bergeson’s other backyard of St. Paul, Minnesota.
Since downhill ice cross is in its infancy, there’s no generally accepted training regimen, no practice drills that have been used for generations, no three-ring binders full of laminated workout routines to check off. There are precious few permanent downhill ice cross tracks in the world, and they are all located in Europe: Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Finland. For American competitors, doing the sport means doing it yourself.
Two years ago, Bergeson was paging through the newspaper during a down moment in his night shift at the nuclear power plant. He saw a small advertisement seeking local athletes to try out to qualify for Crashed Ice. There was a postcard-sized photo of skaters in action—and Bergeson was sold. He called his younger brother, Danny.
“It was 11 o’clock at night, and I’m like, ‘Dude, you’ve got to look at this,’ ” Andrew says. “ ‘I’ve never heard of this! This is the thing!’ ”
“This is insane,” Danny replied.
Andrew eventually cajoled his brother into signing up for the qualifier up in Duluth. It was a hectic buildup to the event—with Danny still a college student and the tryouts being held during finals week. Duluth is more than a three-hour drive away, which meant Danny had to drive and then complete a term paper while sitting in his car outside of a Caribou Coffee and hijacking the Wi-Fi as Andrew kept threatening to go to a bar unless he wrote quicker.
It all worked out in the end: Danny turned in his paper on time and finished first in the qualifier; Andrew finished third.
This will be the third season that Andrew, 27, and Danny, 23, have competed in Crashed Ice. Through trial and error, they’ve learned some techniques and seen progress—but they still aren’t happy with their standings in the competition. In 2013, Andrew finished 39th in the world rankings and Danny 55th out of more than 225 competitors. “The first race, I did it just to try it,” Andrew says, “but since then I’m not going to go out there unless I’m trying to win.”
In the family room of his house, there is a group of framed photos hanging on the wall: Andrew and Samantha at their wedding, groups of friends and family. One frame has space for three photographs, and right now it features two pictures dedicated to Crashed Ice: a shot of the finish line and one of Andrew, Danny, and Samantha goofing off in the cold. The top spot in the frame remains empty.
“That one without a picture? That’s for the podium,” Andrew says. “That’s the goal.”
Here, then, are the essential elements of the patent-pending Bergeson Brothers Training Regimen to excelling in downhill ice cross:
1. Spend upwards of 100 hours building a Crashed Ice track in your backyard. Water it down often to get the ice to freeze to the perfect consistency. Practice every night after work, even if you have to wear a headlamp and set up spotlights alongside the course.
2. Kindly share a mouthguard with your brother after you goad him into attempting bigger, crazier jumps, so he doesn’t blow his teeth out if he crashes.
3. In the offseason, head over to the local skate park to practice by rollerblading—and ignore the taunts from middle school snots on their skateboards and their attendant soccer moms. “Little kids can be nasty,” Danny says.
4. Get a tiny piece of paper and change the labeling on your refrigerator’s ice cube dispenser so instead of churning out crushed ice, it gives you “crashed ice”—and serves as a reminder every single time you get water to keep your eyes on the prize.
5. Love it. “I think about it every day, every time I’m training,” Andrew says. “It is fun and games—but we’d like to make it more of a sport.”
It helps that both brothers are Minnesota born and bred, and have been skating since they were 3 years old and skiing for years—making it almost a natural evolution to downhill ice cross. Both played football at Augsburg College and have an ingrained habit of preparing for competition. “I did unenjoyable football weightlifting for four years,” Andrew says. “Any time I put into this, I don’t consider it work.”
They have been injured: Andrew dislocated his shoulder during a Crashed Ice event in the Netherlands; Danny tore his MCL in Quebec during the final race of the 2013 season after he got tangled in a step-up jump. There are risks—and the financial stipends and sponsorships only allow them to break even on their costs. Are their families concerned that their hobby could throw the rest of their lives out of whack?
“My parents are surprisingly into it,” Andrew says. “The first time we competed, someone [went big] on one of the double jumps and broke their leg, and I was like, ‘Ugh, my parents saw that.’ Afterwards, I was like, ‘What did you think when that guy broke his leg?’ and they were like, ‘Nah, we knew you were better than that—you weren’t going to look like that guy did.’ ”
Sitting at the dining room table, Danny gapes at his brother. “Well, that’s hilarious, because I saw Mom and Dad right after that and they were like: ‘Make sure you go for it! You’ve got to clear it!’ ”
This is the off-ice dynamic between the Bergeson brothers—Andrew is effusive, extroverted, and chatty, Danny more laid-back and contemplative. At a restaurant near their home, it is Andrew who leaves Danny’s cell phone number for the cute trainee waitress on the bill as his younger brother, embarrassed, speeds out through the front door of the restaurant like a man on fire. (Editor’s note for anyone at The Tavern Grill who happens to see this: Andrew is really sorry he transposed two of the digits to Danny’s number and he didn’t mean to leave a fake and you should really ask him about his younger brother next time he comes in.)
On the ice, however, Danny is the aggressor, the one who guns down the hill, the first to try a jump backwards on a whim. Andrew usually wheedles him into going for something big—making a double jump into a single—and then Danny goes out and lands it. Which forces Andrew to do the same thing, proving that there is no training partner that compares to sibling rivalry.
“Anytime I beat him, it’s like I’m getting first,” Danny says.
So how did Bergeson’s neighbors react to the course? Some of them tease him about wanting his autograph, and the folks across the street sit in their car with the heat on and watch the brothers practice.
Others on the block ask Andrew if he ever intends to use the track for sledding. (No, but they once did a couple of skate runs down the hill naked after a dare from their brother-in-law. The poor choice may have been doing the au naturel turns at 2 p.m., just as the little kids in the neighborhood were being let off of the school bus in front of their house. “I actually don’t know where the video of that is now,” Danny says.)
And the neighbor with the ominous warning about respecting the privacy of acreage lots actually turned out to be very supportive.
“He said I could build the course all the way up next to his front door, if I wanted,” Andrew says. “But I’d have to drag myself back to my own property if I got hurt.”
Snow day: redbullcrashedice.com
Check out the March 2014 issue of Red Bulletin magazine (on newsstands February 11) for more articles. To read the magazine on your iPad, download the Red Bulletin iPad app. Follow Red Bulletin on Twitter for more.