'Sledstyle' pioneers wow Winter Carnival crowds in spite of injury
Steamboat Springs — No one said that bringing freestyle snowmobiling to global audiences – one cliffhanger seat grab and sprawling backflip at a time – was easy work.
Steve Miller and Heath Frisby have been pioneering “sledstyle” from the sport’s infancy nine years ago. Miller manages traveling sledstyle demonstrations through Bozeman, Mont.-based SCS Racing, while Frisby has been, more often than not, the man flying through the air on the snow machine.
On Friday night and Saturday, Miller and his support crew joined Frisby and a fellow Winter X Games medalist, Joe Parsons, to bring their free Red Bull/SCS Sledstyle show to the Brent Romick Rodeo Arena grounds.
In setting up Friday night’s performance, the crew spent eight hours moving and shaping about 700 cubic yards of snow into a massive landing for a 75-foot steel ramp jump along the arena’s grandstands, paired with an 80-foot “snow hit” on the far side.
On Frisby’s first jump Friday night, under snowy skies, he came up a little short.
Frisby, a 23-year-old from Caldwell, Idaho, cleared the snow jump’s gap but hit the back side of the 12-foot-high landing.
His momentum carried him down the landing, but Frisby immediately knew what had happened.
“I told them what was broken,” Frisby said of his left fibula, from the team’s RV on Saturday. “I’ve broken it three times now. I broke it right above the plate that was already in there.”
Despite the injury, which he thought had a 50-50 chance of requiring surgery, Frisby was able to ride his sled off the course Friday.
“Someone asked me, ‘What should we do?'” Frisby said. “I was like, ‘the show must go on.'”
So Parsons, 20, had to feed off the crowd energy alone.
“It was definitely not as fun,” said Parsons, who also carried the shortened Saturday show alone, launching and flipping his sled before a crowd that packed the grandstands and hung from the arena’s bucking chutes. “It was tough to see him on the landing there and then go out and have to jump it – it doesn’t exactly pump you up.”
Parsons and Frisby had been getting comfortable competing against one another and pushing one another to improve tricks as of late.
The two riders advanced to the semifinals of the new Speed & Style event at Winter X Games 12 on Jan. 24 and then went head-to-head in the consolation finals. Parsons, of Yakima, Wash., took home a bronze medal in his X Games debut, earning the competition’s highest score. Frisby took fourth. Parsons medaled again in the Jan. 27 Snowmobile Freestyle semifinals – the two also were pitted against one another in that contest. Parsons lost by 1/3 of a point, earning a silver medal, and Frisby took home bronze.
Frisby said before the Steamboat Springs show that he was enjoying entering the post-X Games portion of what was shaping up as a schedule of nonstop winter events.
“It’s fun, but stressful – when it’s over you can have a good laugh, but it’s not the funnest thing in the world to do,” Frisby said of the X Games. “There’s a ton of pressure, and a large amount of that pressure we put on ourselves.”
Miller and Frisby were planning to leave Tuesday to host a sledstyle demonstration in Zagreb, Croatia, coupled with a Feb. 15 to 17 World Cup Alpine skiing slalom event, and then meeting up with the SCS crew for an event in Florida to be performed on wood chip landings.
Miller said the Red Bull sponsorship, which SCS has had for the past five years, has provided funding for everything from performances outside Monday Night Football games to Munich, Germany’s Olympiastadion, and a memorable 2005 performance in Moscow’s Red Square.
“It was a two-year process to build in Red Square – it was the gnarliest builds we’ve ever done, from the language barrier to the armed security guards to metal detectors,” Miller said of the free event that pulled in more than 35,000 spectators.
Frisby said Thursday that he felt blessed for what he gets to do for a living, touring most of North America and Europe at a critical time when his sport is “blowing up more and more.”
And while Parsons and Frisby also feel fortunate to tour with the demonstrations, pushing one another and keeping their skills at the cutting edge by being exposed to a new track and a new set of jumps every weekend, their stop in Steamboat was a painful reminder of the associated risks.
“Those snow hits are always hard,” Parsons said. “They’re always different and always changing, so you’ve got to guess a little.”
Frisby was already thinking about returning to Steamboat next year.
“You can’t get bummed; it just happens,” he said. “My error, track error, whatever. Just gotta get up and come out hard swinging and learn from it.”
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