Snowmobiler Levi LaVallee recovering from crash

Story by Pat Graham
The Associated Press
December 31, 2010
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Snowmobiler Levi LaVallee intended to ring in the New Year with a daring jump of more than 300 feet in front of a live national audience.

Instead, the Winter X Games star will spend a mellow night on the sofa, hoping to stay awake long enough to watch the ball drop at midnight if his banged-up body permits it.

Quite a drastic change in plans.

Considering what happened, Lavallee’s not complaining.

While training for the latest edition of the "Red Bull: New Year. No Limits." daredevil series that was set for New Year’s Eve, LaVallee lost control of his snowmobile high in the air and landed violently on his side, bouncing down the landing ramp. He broke ribs, cracked his pelvis, collapsed one lung and punctured the other.

And he thought that was fortunate.

"It’s really surprising there’s not more (damage)," LaVallee said in a telephone interview Thursday night with The Associated Press from his home in Minnesota. "I’m surprised I didn’t hurt my wrists, hands, fingers, arms, legs. It’s all upper body."’

LaVallee is still trying to piece together what actually happened on his training run two weeks before the big event in Southern California.

He hit the takeoff ramp at nearly 100 mph and was sailing through the air "at a pretty good clip" when the nose of his Polaris began to dip down.

Knowing he was in trouble, LaVallee bailed off the sled and crashed onto the ramp covered in turf instead of snow.

"I guess I slammed down pretty good," he said.

Or so he’s been informed.

LaVallee has no memory of the crash. He recalled going to the go-kart track before the crash and then nothing until waking up in the hospital three days after the accident, wondering what was going on.

His chest throbbing, LaVallee’s first words were whether or not the show could still go on.

The 28-year-old was scheduled to attempt to break the world record for the longest snowmobile jump on ramps set up at Embarcadero Marina Park on San Diego Bay. The record is 301 1/2 feet, and LaVallee would have had to clear a 300-foot water gap during the jump.

LaVallee was trying to follow Travis Pastrana and Robbie Maddison in the "New Year. No Limits." series.

Last New Year’s Eve, Pastrana shattered the world record for the longest jump in a rally car with a nearly flawless flight of 269 feet from a pier to a barge anchored in the harbor at Long Beach.

The previous two years, Maddison made death-defying jumps on his motorcycle in Las Vegas.

LaVallee’s jump was to be shown live on ESPN after the Chick-fil-A Bowl, before being canceled.

Someday, he’d like another crack at the event, especially after breaking the record a few times in his practice sessions. The day he was hurt, LaVallee said he sailed around 361 feet on an attempt.

"I never dreamed to be able to jump that far on my snowmobile," LaVallee said. "If I had the opportunity to do this again, I’d do it in a heartbeat."

Since he couldn’t fly home following the accident because of his lungs, Red Bull rented him a motor home and he traveled back to Minnesota with his buddies.

Only he didn’t get to appreciate the landscape.

"I was taking a snooze the whole time," said LaVallee, who’s gingerly getting around his house these days with the aid of a walker. "I was on sleep patrol."

He’s yet to see the footage of the accident, but will watch it when the time is right.

"I’m curious as to why I crashed and what went wrong," said LaVallee, who was wearing extra body protection that he credits with saving him from even more devastating injuries. I’m going to have to find out."

Doctors have told him he can’t ride his snowmobile for at least three months, just to give his cracked pelvis time to heal.

That means no Winter X Games at the end of January, a competition where LaVallee has earned quite a bit of notoriety. Two years ago, he performed a double back flip on his snowmobile, a stunt that few would even dare to attempt.

But he’s always pushing the limits of the sport, taking it to new heights.

"It’s neat to try to figure these things out," LaVallee said. "You start off with, ’I’m not sure how this is going to go’ to working away at it, with everyone’s input, and coming up with a game plan. Conquering it is like, ’Heck yeah, this is sweet."’

He had his snowmobile modified for the Red Bull event and even tested it in a wind tunnel in Charlotte, N.C.

LaVallee began making test jumps, surprised at how far he was flying.

He was set for his big night in front of a large audience.

Now, he’ll spend a quite evening at home.

"It will definitely be a pretty low-key night," LaVallee said. "Especially in comparison to the one I would’ve had."

 

Pat Graham

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