Longville snowmobiler Levi LaVallee back at X GamesWhile most of the sporting world feverishly awaits Vancouver’s Olympics Games, there’s a certain rumble from out Aspen way that can’t be avoided: the 14th holding of the Winter X Games, which will be broadcast on ESPN stations Jan. 28-31.
The last four days of the month promise to be exciting ones.
While most of the sporting world feverishly awaits Vancouver’s Olympics Games, there’s a certain rumble from out Aspen way that can’t be avoided: the 14th holding of the Winter X Games, which will be broadcast on ESPN stations Jan. 28-31.
Like Cloquet native Jamie Langenbrunner helming the U.S. hockey team during next month’s Canadian extravaganza, the annual Winter X Games — which celebrate athletic events a little too Grim Reaper-taunting for Olympic standards — also has local ties: All eyes will be on Longville’s “Launchin’” Levi LaVallee, a hotshot snowmobiler who already has medals of all chemical breakdowns to his name.
“Once X Games hits, it’s wide open for me because I’m in all four of the snowmobile events — it’s just pinning the throttle wide open,” the 27-year-old with a knack for death-defying stunts said in a phone interview last week. “So, I’ll just be running like crazy, but it’s cool that I’m able to be in all of them.”
Also cool? The fact that he’s never suffered serious injuries attempting to pull off, say, a double backflip — something he tried during last year’s games at the popular Colorado outdoor-sports destination.
“Knock on wood, for the most part it’s been pretty smooth sailing — other than I tried a double flip at my house and I wrecked really bad there. Fortunately I didn’t get hurt,” said the Park Rapids-born, Longville-raised LaVallee. “Then I tried it again at X Games less than a week later, and I got spit off again. ... I had the rotation that time, but I overshot my landing.”
What’s even more impressive is that the snowmobiler didn’t really attempt stunts of any kind until three short years ago.
LaVallee had “toyed around” with small tricks when he got his first dirt bike as a teenager, but it took a call about the X Games’ new “speed and style” competition to push him to try anything of the sort with his beloved snowmobile: If he wanted in on the inaugural round, he’d have to produce a tape showing off his best moves.
“So I got a ramp and I started doing freestyle stuff, like seat grabs, and eventually it led to doing backflips,” LaVallee said. “My freestyle stuff really didn’t come about until just a couple years ago.”
The same can’t be said about his love for snowmobiling, however, as he’s been doing it since he was about 7 years old.
“I’ve basically just been riding all my life,” the amiable thrillseeker said. “My family and I, we’d go out trail riding ... going from little restaurant to little restaurant: You stop, hang out for a little bit and warm up, then take off for the next little leg.
“I pretty much did that until I was about 12 — that’s when I started racing, and I’ve been racing ever since.”
This sort of fascination with what the Alaskans call “snowmachines” is pretty standard in his tightknit northern Minnesota community, LaVallee said.
“Basically, in the winter, if we have snow, people are pretty much ‘bombing’ it all over the place,” he said.
Like a tried-and-true Longville resident, it was his father who introduced him to the fine art of racing down the packed snow.
“There was a local race over in Pine River — which is less than a half-hour away — and he said, ‘Hey, you wanna go give it a whirl?’ And I said, ‘Well, yeah, shoot, let’s go try it out,’” LaVallee recalled. “The first race went really well. I ended up getting second. I was 12 years old and I got second against all the adults.”
As you can imagine, this didn’t go over so well.
“You know, I’m not a very big guy to start with — I’m only about 5-and-a-half feet tall right now, at full capacity, so when I was 12, I was about 4-and-a-half feet tall,” LaVallee joked. “Some of the older guys didn’t take that very well, but, after awhile, they gathered that I was a decent rider and they grew a little warmer toward me.
“But there were definitely some guys who weren’t too excited about me beating them out there on the track.”
It’s OK, though, because LaVallee has also walked on the embarrassed side of things.
“When I was growing up, there weren’t a lot of girl racers,” he said. “It’s funny; the one girl I do remember racing against was when I first started doing snocross. ... I remember getting my butt kicked by Amanda Johnson, who is a phenomenal snowmobile racer. She just put the hurt on me in my first race.”
He didn’t hear the end of that one.
“I got back to the trailer and everyone else was like, ‘You know that “guy” who was in front of you? Well, that guy was actually a girl. You just got beat by a girl,’” the celebrated X Games competitor recalled with a laugh.