Watch Stowe ski patroller Alexis Jackson skate to a crazy, come-from-behind win in ice cross.
What if you could combine the skills of a lifelong hockey player with fearless skiing ability? It’s a question Shelburne, Vermont’s Alexis “Lex” Jackson had never thought to ask. But when a friend forwarded a link to information about a sport called ice cross downhill, she had an answer — and a glimpse of her future.
In just two years competing, Jackson has risen to the highest levels of ice cross — the top-ranked American woman and on Saturday, Feb. 27, 2016, Lex finished second at the world championships in St. Paul, Minnesota. Her sights are now set on a world championship next season and helping the sport mature toward Olympic inclusion.
Ice cross takes a cue from the recently established snowsports disciplines of skiercross and boardercross, where four competitors race simultaneously down a steep, narrow track with banked turns, jumps and drop-offs. Once skaters discovered that ice can be sculpted into tracks with similar features, the door to ice cross flew open.
Lex describes the sport like this, “Ice Cross Downhill is sort of like ice-skating down a bobsled course with jumps and rollers and obstacles and three other girls trying to get down before you. I don’t quite know how to explain the feeling of flying down an icy track at 45 miles per hour, other than to say that it makes my heart sing. I’ve been chasing that feeling ever since. I feel that way when I’m racing, when I’m training, when I’m skiing, when I’m hiking, and when I’m climbing. It’s a feeling that makes me want to be alive.”
Red Bull has had a lot to do with establishing the sport. The company created and promoted the first race circuit, calling it “Crashed Ice” and recruited competitors from hockey hotbeds around the world, like Canada, Finland and northern American states. Last season, an independent ice cross organization formed — the All-Terrain Skate Cross Federation — to transition the sport’s governance away from Red Bull. The federation helped start a series of feeder races last season.
That is where Jackson, 21, entered the fray, at a feeder race in Minnesota last January. It was the sport’s fifth season of competitive racing and the first to include a women’s division. Jackson placed sixth, then won her second race later in the season in Canada. The win earned her an invitation to compete on this season’s Red Bull Crashed Ice circuit. She finished first at the Finland stop, second in St. Paul, Minn., and fourth in Quebec City. The results combined to make her third in the world by season’s end.
Jackson is also enrolled at Colby College and employed as a ski patroller at Stowe Mountain Resort.
“It is surprising, but I understand it,” she said of her quick rise in the sport. “I have a different skill set than all the other girls. The other girls would destroy me in hockey. My strength is not ice skating. I’m good at the technical side, handling the features, going downhill and not being afraid.”
The ability to handle speed, jumps, drops and landings translates from her skiing expertise.
A graduate of Vermont Commons School — an independent college prep school in South Burlington — Jackson played competitive, organized hockey from the age of 4. She started playing with the boys, then joined a girls’ squad at age 12. She played on the Rice Prep club team through high school. She loved skiing as a kid, too, but the two sports competed for her winter time, and hockey won.
“I was really into hockey,” Jackson said. “I like it a lot, but I was so burnt out by the end of high school, I thought ‘there is no way I’m going to play varsity sports in college.’”
Entering Colby, having put her hockey playing days behind her, she returned to the winter sport that had always been on the back-burner. Through New England tree skiing, cliff-dropping and hardpack carving, Jackson was not only enjoying the mountains, but also honing the skills that would serve her so well as an ice-crosser.
“Having composure in the air and having the ability to land is something I’m really comfortable with,” she said. “It’s helped me to not be surprised or afraid of some of the features because I feel like they’re really similar to what you see on the mountain.”
She has gauged her competition, and she now sees a path to the women’s ice cross world title. She plans an offseason of training, splitting time this summer between her mother’s home on Lakeshore Drive in Colchester and her father’s in Shelburne.
She has through-hiked the Appalachain Trail and next summer will also be guiding for the Appalachian Mountain Club and seeking sponsors to enable her travel and competition next season. A family-and-friends fundraising campaign got her through this season’s expenses. She also pocketed about $1,500 in prize money.
“You can’t ask your friends and family for money every year,” she said. “They came through huge and paid for my season … Now I’m in the market for sponsors.”
With the advent of the All-Terrain Skate Cross Federation, the sport’s competitors are taking control of their own destiny, with Olympic inclusion part of the vision. Jackson said an effort to hold a qualifying race in northern New England is underway with a Crashed Ice tour stop in Boston envisioned.
Watch Lex in an amazing nail-biter at Red Bull’s Crashed Ice event in January 2016 in Quebec.