Yellowknife's Dave England will head to Aspen, Colorado later this month to take part in the X Games' freestyle snowmobiling event.
England, 28, announced on Wednesday he had been selected as an X Games alternate, posting a screenshot of his invitation to Instagram. The X Games are considered the Olympics of extreme sports.
"I’m so stoked, man," said England from the NWT's Gahcho Kué diamond mine, where he works, on Thursday. "X Games is such a huge event. It’s pretty crazy being invited to it, it's been a dream of mine since I was a kid."
Freestyle snowmobiling sees athletes use ramps to get their snowmachines in the air, performing acrobatics like backflips while dangling from the 450-pound machines.
"It’s the main stage where you bring your A game," said England, who was born and raised in Yellowknife. "X Games can really make your career. You compete against the world's best athletes so there's lots of pressure from sponsors, yourself, and the event in general."
While he watches rivals training full-time for this month's event – X Games Aspen runs from January 23-26, with the snowmobile final on January 24 – England is waiting to finish his current stint at camp before making preparations to travel.
When he does find the time to train, England uses a foam pit to perfect tricks. ("They really aren't as soft as you would think," he said. "They still hurt.") Much of his training takes place in Leduc, outside Edmonton, Alberta, or in Oliver, BC – but he uses ramps at the sand pits in Yellowknife, too.
"I grew up racing snowcross in Yellowknife," he said. "When I was 16 I got into freestyle. I loved racing but freestyle was more my scene, so I put my focus into it."
England got into the sport by filming sled movies in the backcountry and began making appearances at shows. As things became more serious, he set his sights on an X Games invite, building the Leduc training compound at a friend's farm. "I figured if I wanted to compete with the best riders in the world, I needed to have my own training facility," he said.
That invite has now arrived, though a place as an alternate means England will not compete unless someone else drops out.
"I'm just stoked to be going to X Games," he said. "As a rookie coming into X Games, being invited as an alternate is still a huge accomplishment for me. As much as I would have loved a competing spot, I’m perfectly happy with an alternate spot.
"It alleviates some of that pressure around the event, especially with it being my first time at X – I have no idea what to expect."
England thanked Jeff Pitre, Gord Olson, Travis Arychuk, and Ryan Arychuk for their support, alongside photographer and friend Kevin Klingbeil. Stoked Mountain Adventures' Carter Hill – originally from Hay River – invested in England's Leduc compound and helped with sled transport, Brandon Wiesener provided property for the compound, and Stuart Hunt at Bailey Motorsports provided sleds and parts. Cody Kalizuk and Warren Rudolph helped with the compound's foam pit, while Chris Coosemans assisted with training.
The city's residents had been "really supportive" of his career, said England, adding freestyle in Yellowknife "is always a constant battle with frigid temperatures, which is incredibly hard on machines and myself."
Even among extreme sports at X Games level, freestyle snowmobiling is known for the danger associated with the sport. In 2013, American freestyle pro Caleb Moore – a four-time X Games medallist – died after being injured while competing in Aspen. The sport returned to the following year's X Games schedule with a range of additional safety measures.
"It’s such a difficult sport to do – without sponsors it’s expensive –and injuries are the black horse of the sport," said England. "It’s what causes people to stop and lose interest.
"I just want go to Aspen and experience what X Games is all about, ride well, and consistent. It's easy for the pressure to get to you so I’m just going to stay focused. I know what I’m capable of doing on a sled.
"I might not have the biggest tricks in the sport right now, so I’ve put my focus into doing my tricks with my own, unique style and full extension. I've got a few tricks that no-one is really doing on a sled, so we'll see if the judges like that."