In a sport originally dominated by international riders, Cameron Naasz just became the first American to win the Ice Cross Downhill World Championship. He appeared in his first race in 2012, just a month after learning about the sport and initially planning on simply watching. He finished with the best time among U.S. riders, and received a call shortly after to join Team USA and finished the season by racing in Sweden, Netherlands, and Quebec City.
Since those first few races, he’s traveled the globe winning events in Russia, Germany, and most recently, St. Paul, MN.
Naasz, a native of Minnesota and St. Cloud State University student won the Ice Cross Downhill World Championship this season after finishing sixth in the Rider Cup series and taking first in three of the four Red Bull Crashed Ice events.
“This year I really committed myself to it. I moved to the cities and focused on school, training, and eating right. I only have a limited time to race and I wanted to become a better athlete,” said Naasz.
In a sport that features athletes on skates going down ice slopes, ice cross downhill provides ample opportunity for mistakes and injuries, yet Naasz says the races are mostly mental.
“For myself I think it’s the mental aspect of getting down the hill. It gets very stressful with 100,000 people watching, and although I know physically I can do it, you need to be smart and constantly thinking to stay on your feet.”
The physical training begins in the gym where Naasz does weight lifting and CrossFit to stay in shape. To practice racing, however, he takes to Waite Park’s Pineview BMX Park with his Rollerblades to simulate events. With no year-round ice tracks to practice on Naasz says this is the best training he’s found for the sport.
“When you get to an event you get on the ice Thursday for two hours of open skating, then one hour on Friday morning followed by two practice runs and two time trial runs. Then you’re done until team time trials begin later that night,” Naasz said.
This is the routine Naasz and other skaters go through prior to each event, and it’s a necessity to get a feel for the course since they’ve only gotten tougher since he began in 2012.
Back then he was able to jump into the sport without any prior experience and put together a decent run, now he says that would be impossible because of how the courses have evolved.
Red Bull’s student brand manager at SCSU in 2012, Nick Simmons, was the one who first introduced Naasz to the sport and suggested he give it a try. Since then he’s juggled school and skating and has just one class left to earn a degree in public relations.
“It’s hard to make a living as just an athlete. Even as a top athlete you don’t make enough money to support yourself so my plan right now is to finish school in June and see what happens from there. Hopefully I can work part-time and train to compete again next year.”
At 26 years old, Naasz realizes his time competing is already coming to an end, but he’s still holding out hope ice cross downhill can be part of the 2018 Olympics so he can represent the United States.
Naasz has done work to grow the sport, and some of that work has been aimed at making ice cross downhill an Olympic event. Originally the Olympic committee had no interest in involving ice cross, but recently they’ve shown a mutual interest and willingness to work together, however there’s still some work to be done.
This isn’t the only example of how ice cross downhill has grown in recent years as Rider Cup events, made by the riders for the riders, allows anyone interested in the sport to give it a try. Naasz said a Rider Cup event in Duluth, MN this year had over 180 total athletes, only 40 of which were full-timers who competed in the Red Bull series.
The talent level across ice cross downhill is growing in the United States as well as internationally, and events for kids are becoming more popular as well thanks to Naasz’s teammate Reed Whiting.
“It was hilarious. The kids would skate full speed into an obstacle, fall over right onto their face, and get right back up yelling they wanted to do it again,” said Naasz.
Naasz and his teammates have put in work both on and off the ice track, and this includes when he worked as a public relations intern for Red Bull and spent his time setting up his own interviews and meetings.
This has helped Naasz work towards his degree at St. Cloud State while traveling around the globe to places like Avoriaz Resort in France, his favorite destination thus far because of the constant use of snow vehicles, like Bobcats and horse-drawn sleds, for transportation.
In his fourth full season as an ice cross downhill racer Naasz made history by winning the World Championship in his home country, and home state. His first two seasons he finished third in the final standings, and last year he improved to second, making it no surprise when he became the first American, male or female, to take home the gold.