Snowmobiler scrubs double back flip, wins bronze | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Snowmobiler scrubs double back flip, wins bronze

Pat Graham, The Associated Press

ASPEN, Colo. – This time, Levi LaVallee got the bronze medal but not the glory.

Sorry, folks, LaVallee didn’t attempt his gravity-defying double back flip snowmobile trick this year.

Or really any other crazy stunts, either.

For that, LaVallee would like to apologize. More like he feels he needs to after going with a subdued approach – if there is such a thing – during the Best Trick competition on Friday night at the Winter X Games. Heath Frisby won the gold with a dazzling midair maneuver and Daniel Bodin captured silver.

Last year at the Winter X, LaVallee created quite a commotion. His double back flip on the back of a 450-pound Polaris created a buzz in the competition.

There was almost a coin flip’s chance of injury – and if that did happen, it probably would be serious.

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Although he pulled off the stunt – sort of – LaVallee didn’t finish on the podium. He elected not to try the maneuver again this year.

Why?

Because he smashed his right heel so bad in a dirt bike mishap over the summer that to even attempt the trick would be to risk shattering the bone again.

No thanks. He’ll dream big again next year. This time, LaVallee played it a little safer in the event where the winner is decided simply by who can do the gnarliest trick.

But he knew fans and fellow athletes weren’t coming out to watch him be safe.

“I’m sorry to disappoint everyone,” said LaVallee, who’s participating in four snowmobile events this weekend.

When word began to leak out last year that LaVallee was attempting to flip his snowmobile twice in the air at nearly 60 feet up, it drew quite a reaction.

The hype followed him around during the competition, turned him into a quasi-celebrity.

“I’m guessing it’s the closest I’ll ever be to feeling like Shaun White,” he said, laughing. “That guy always has the buzz around him. … I was eating it up. I’m from a small town and ride snowmobiles for a living. That kind of hype really doesn’t happen.”

Then, it was showtime. Time to demonstrate he could perform like White when the lights were on.

Waiting to begin, LaVallee’s heart was pounding. He had worked on that stunt in a foam pit back home, with few eyes looking on.

The one time he tried it for real, on actual snow, he crashed. Bad.

“I was able to walk away from it, but that was the last thing on my mind before we came out here,” said LaVallee, who’s from Longville, Minn. “I was like, ‘Geez, that went terrible. If it goes that bad again, I’ll be lucky if I don’t get hurt.”‘

LaVallee took off, went up the steep ramp and twisted twice in the night’s sky. He landed with a thud, so hard in fact that he bent his left handlebar and was thrown off the side.

Quick survey: Nothing broken, nothing torn.

OK, so he didn’t quite stick the landing. But he was alive. No judge can put a score on that.

Then it was time to celebrate, even if he didn’t win. Since he fell off, he technically didn’t complete his trick.

LaVallee still threw his hands up in the air, then sprinted up a snowbank in jubilation.

Little did he realize he had sprained his ankle and tweaked his knee upon landing. A small price for his moment at the X Games.

And the moment was definitely all his.

“It was by far one of the biggest highlights of my career,” LaVallee said.

This year, that pressure was removed.

Even with no double back flip, there were some pretty intriguing – maybe wacky is more like it – stunts. Paul Thacker did a back flip while driving the snowmobile with no hands on the handlebars, operating the machine with a hand-held remote control. Thacker was bucked off his snowmobile on his first attempt and reached for the handlebars on the second try.

That was par for the course on this night – an evening filled with one-upmanship and danger.

“It’s pretty amazing to see,” said LaVallee, who basically did a pull-up as his snowmobile was inverted, then landed it cleanly.

Could his double back flip have won?

“You never know,” he said, grinning. “I would say if I stomped a double flip, I would have hoped to at least get a medal.”

Another top snowmobiler, Tucker Hibbert, preferred to stay out of the fray. He’s won three straight X Games titles in SnoCross – a more traditional and technical race – and will stick with that.

Much safer.

“It’s definitely a little scary to watch,” said Hibbert, who will compete in SnoCross on Sunday, along with a newly added event called Knock Out. “For me, to watch them do the double back flips and tricks, it makes my heart jump sometimes. … They put on a good show.”

If not for that heel injury, LaVallee would’ve treated the crowd to another show.

That’s why he felt a little guilty.

“I’m super bummed I got injured,” LaVallee said. “I’ve got some really cool ideas.”

Next year, for sure, LaVallee offered.

Any chance of a sneak preview, though?

“I don’t want to say too much,” LaVallee said. “It’s as cool as the double back flip, though. You’ll look at it and be like, ‘On a snowmobile? For real?”‘

That’s been said before.

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