After jumping a snowmobile 412 feet over San Diego Bay, and severely injuring himself the year before while training for that jump, it seemed rather unlikely that the converted freestyle jump at this year’s X Games Aspen would intimidate Levi LaVallee.
As it turn out, it didn’t. LaVallee beat a small but star-studded field to win the gold medal in Snowmobile Long Jump Saturday afternoon in Aspen, Colorado. In doing so, LaVallee became an overdue repeat winner – the last time a snowmobile long jump elimination contest was held at a Winter X Game was in 2010, and LaVallee won then too.
The Eliminations Begin
The Snowmobile Long Jump rules are simple: all racers start at the same point and get two shots at the ramp. Their best score is what counts. Each round, the competitor with the shortest qualifying jump was eliminated, then the starting line is moved back 10 feet and the remaining competitors jumped again.
Six competitors were scheduled to compete in the long jump competition at this year’s X Games, but one was eliminated before the competition even started. Washington’s Joe Parsons had sled problems and couldn’t clear the minimum 100-foot mark in practice, so he was disqualified before the event went live on ABC-TV.
In round one, freestyle ace, backcountry hero and ESPN X Game commentator Chris Burandt went first, participating in his first X Games since 2010. Starting his Polaris 145 feet back from the tip of the ramp, the Colorado-based competitor spun his track a bit on the start, then he hooked up and jumped 115 feet, 2 inches. He hooked up better on his second attempt and reached 117 feet, 2 inches. This would be the minimum mark the others would have to clear.
Alaskan Cory Davis took to the ramp next. He was one of the longer jumpers in practice, and the 25 year old took himself off the bubble on his first jump, going 121 feet, 3 inches. His second jump was a mere 114 feet, 4 inches, but his first jump was ahead of Burandt so he was safe.
Heath Frisby pulled up next. The winner of 9 previous X Game medals and the only competitor to ever pull off a front flip on a sled in competition, he came up short on his first jump on his Ski-Doo, landing at 103 feet and 10 inches. Run two was worse: 103 feet, 2 inches. He was firmly on the bubble.
Next came Levi LaVallee. He immediately set the high mark, carrying the nose of his Polaris high in the air coming off the jump and landing at 123 feet, 10 inches on jump one, then 126 feet, 9 inches on the second jump. He clearly knows how to do this.
Colten Moore rounded out the first round with a jump that nearly matched LaVallee, sending his Polaris 123 feet 1 inch on the first attempt. This all meant that Frisby was done.
Whittling Down The Field
The starting line was moved back to 155 feet when four competitors came back for round two. This time Davis went first, launching his Cat in the sun and landing it 121 feet, 11 inches later in the shade. His second run was even more impressive: 125 feet, 4 inches.
Next, Levi’s snarling 600 came to the line, and he again seemed to launch with a higher nose than his competitors, and landed at 133 feet, 3 inches – more than safe for another round. He was followed by Moore, the winner of Freestyle gold on Thursday. He looked like he failed to hook up on the run up to the ramp on his first run, and he went a mere 118 feet, 8 inches. His second run was an inch short of 10 feet longer: 128 feet, 7 inches. He also was safe, and Davis was on the bubble with one driver left.
That driver was Burandt, who threw his Polaris 122 feet, 7 inches on the first run – longer than Davis’ first run, but short of the second run that mattered. Burandt’s second run also came up short – measuring 121 feet, 6 inches. The legend was eliminated.
That guaranteed medals for the three remaining competitors who moved on.
The starting point was now moved back to 165 feet, and LaVallee would go first. He launched 137 feet, 4 inches in his first jump, and topped that with 139 feet, 6 inches on his second. The Texan Moore ran next, going 130 feet, 3 inches on jump one, 132 feet, 11 inches on jump two – impressive jumps, but they would place him on the bubble with Davis coming next.
Davis’ first jump would be all he needed, as he cleared 135 feet, 1 inch and left Moore holding the bronze medal. Davis and LaVallee would fight for gold.
Go For Gold
LaVallee holds the world record for jumping a snowmobile. He is an X Games darling. He also put up the longest jump in each round so far. Clearly, he went into the final as the favorite, but Burandt reported trackside that Davis thought he found an edge in the semi final that might allow him to challenge Levi.
Davis started 175 before the ramp this time, and tossed his Cat 142 feet, 5 inches on the first run, then topped it by a half foot on his next run: 142 feet, 11 inches. LaVallee would need the longest jump in this competition so far to earn gold.
For LaVallee, that hardly looked like a challenge, though. He ended this early, putting up a casual jump of 147 feet, 5 inches, and then giving high fives to members of the crowd before his score was announced. When it was, another gold medal was hung around LaVallee’s neck, the sixth in X Games history for the Minnesota-based competitor.
X Games wraps up on Sunday and includes two snowmobile events, SnoCross and Adaptive SnoCross.