Emily Dickinson wrote that “there’s a certain slant of light on winter afternoons,” which “when it goes” resembles the “distance on the look of death.”
On one particular afternoon at the tail-end of January this year, Heath Frisby made, not only “shadows hold their breath,” but all the spectators at the 2012 Winter X Games too; both specter and spectator waited anxiously as Frisby risked his own “heavenly hurt,” and attempt something that’s never been done on a snowmobile before.
While Emily claims “we can find no scars,” she hadn’t seen a competitive freestyle snowmobile competition. Everyone has scars; if they didn’t they wouldn’t be in medal contention.
The Winter X Games in Aspen, Colorado this year brought an assortment of fringe athletes and household names. For every Shaun White, there’s also a Heath Frisby. Frisby is, as his ESPN notes, “one of the undisputed best snowmobile freestyle riders in history.”
Even as White was scoring a perfect 100 and cementing his place as a snowboarding Demi-God by claiming his fifth-straight Gold in the Winter X Snowboard Super-Pipe, Frisby, already a bit of a veteran at the ancient X Games age of 27, was attempting to land a trick that had never been done before. Even attempting the trick was to risk serious injury and even death.
He would be attempting to land a front flip, and as far as anyone knows, it had never been landed on a snowmobile before.
Snowmobile tricks aren’t a longstanding tradition like some of the other events in the X Games, but ESPN’s “alternative” competition has only been around since 1997, and this is their 16th year of competition. The snowmobile competitions are still in their infancy but it doesn’t mean they’re any less important. X Game crowds just want to see amazing maneuvers and death-defying stunts, and the competitors certainly provided a lot of both during this year’s competition; especially, in the Snowmobile Best Trick competition.
Last year, Frisby lost out in the Best Trick competition to Daniel Holden (he won in 2010). This year, he did a good job keeping his move under wraps before the competition.
The fear that someone will steal a trick idea is very real, but it’s not like there is a long line of snowmobile riders willing to take the biggest risk just to land the trick first. There’s a reason the front flip has never been landed on a snowmobile before.
Only a couple years ago, the front flip wasn’t a possibility for any motorized sport. That’s because a rider’s momentum going off a ramp is designed to fall back as the rider heads off the inclined plane pointing heavenward; back flips and double back flips are natural off a ramp because a rider’s momentum is leading that way already. That anyone would attempt to reverse that momentum, and actually flip forward, seemed insane.
Frisby wasn’t even considering the move until he saw mohawked Moto X rider, Jackson “Jacko” Strong (probably the best X Games name in history), land the first front flip in competition this past summer during the 2011 Summer Games. Frisby saw him land the move, and figured he’s be able to bring the snowmobile around on the front flip too.
Despite his caution and secrecy, word leaked out that he had been practicing something special. After his 4th place finish in the Thursday Snowmobile Freestyle, Heath took to his facebook page and posted a video of him practicing the move in a foam pit. He announced he’d be attempting a front flip that Sunday during the Best Trick Competition (the last snowmobiling competition at the X Games this year).
Frisby told the New York Times, “’I haven’t told anybody about it yet, but I’ve got it dialed in on the foam pit.’”
He also made the scary comparison to the Godfather of live television risk, one Evel Knievel: “Frisby said of the front flip: ‘I haven’t tried landing it outright yet — nope, too dangerous. If you’re going to go out, you might as well go out like Evel Knievel on live television.’” So not only was Heath coming clean about his attempts to land a front flip, but he was also implicitly suggesting he might actually die while doing so.
Even after Frisby watched his friend, and fellow competitor, Justin Hoyer, slam hard to the ground during a crash on a double black-flip early during Sunday’s competition, Frisby remained vigilant in his quest, saying “‘Guys, it’s all right, I’ve been waiting a year to do this. I am my own deal. This is a totally different trick and I’m ready.’”
He was ready. Frisby landed the front flip, the first snowmobile to do so in a competition, and rode off into the Aspen sunset churning fresh snow in his wake as a he clenched the X-Games Gold.
Anyone that does his first real run of a trick that may kill him on live television, and lives to tell about it, really is an Adrenalist.