The Aussie charge at Winter X Games Aspen will certainly be led by new X Games host Ramona Bruland, but hot on her heels will be a well-known figure from last year's X Games in Los Angeles: Australian frontflipper and varial master, Jackson "Jacko" Strong.
Strong's first time experiencing snow was only last year, so for his second lifetime trip to the white stuff, Jacko decided it was a great idea to learn how to jump snowmobiles. Because snowmobiles are a virtual rarity in his home country, the crew from Rockstar supplied him with a fresh new sled and, as Strong explained, the rest of the task was him, "with a hammer and a shifter just building the thing, trying to get it straight every time." Certainly a different operation from the one he enjoys at X Games in warmer temperatures.
Strong has never really spent any time in a place where it gets below freezing, so this was a major adjustment and he claimed to have learned how to "put a thousand layers of clothes on" to cope with the dropping mercury. While he would certainly rather be sitting in 100-degree temps watering his dirt for riding, this week found him thousands of miles away from home, in St. Cloud, Minn., being helped out by Jon Guetter and X Games snowmobile veteran Jimmy Blaze. It's there where I caught up with him, while inside warming up.
XGames.com: What's the biggest difference between riding your bike and riding the sled?
Strong: Not having any wheels was something that I struggled with the most. How the machine handles and operates is just completely different from something with wheels, let alone something with two wheels.
Second, there's no gears on the sled, it's automatic, so you can't go out there and say, "Hey, that looks like a second-gear, three-quarter-throttle jump." You've just got to look at your surroundings go by and judge your speed that way. I guess somewhat how a downhill skier or a BMX rider would judge the gaps that they jump.
I have learned to have a lot more respect for sled guys over the past couple of months. What they do on these things is pretty awesome.
When the Moore brothers first came to Winter X Games, they were used to their quads and not riding on sleds. They could barely turn those things!
(Laughs) Yeah, it's really different to turn and I just have to take wide corners. I have only spent maybe four or five hours riding a snowmobile, all up entirely now. They're still really new to me.
Had you ever ridden a snowmobile before?
No, I just took a really big stab in the dark at it. I just thought, "Hey, I'm going to try this. I've got a month to do it, let's see what I can do." Been going pretty well so far. Had a few ups and downs -- little bit of a bumpy road. We will see in a week and a half's time how well I have been going (laughs).
What does a "bumpy road" mean?
Bumpy road means just flying across the ice really fast with a 300-kilo snowmobile chasing you! (Editor's note: Snowmobiles actually weigh around 450 pounds or 200 kilograms.)
Are you training in a foam pit first or just to snow?
Just on a dirt landing with some snow on top of it. I jumped into the foam pit last night for the first time, which was fun. It actually really hurts to jump the sled into the foam pit because it's such a big area on the bottom of the snowmobile. You don't really sink into the foam you just sit on top and stop, whereas on the dirt bike, because it's so narrow, you just kind of sink through into the foam.
It's very relaxing landing in there on a dirt bike compared to a snowmobile. I actually tried to flip last night to see if I could flip the sled in the foam pit and it really did not work out (laughs).
I went to flip it exactly how I flip my dirt bike, did the exact same thing pretty much and my hands just ripped straight off the bars. I tried to pull so hard because it wouldn't come around. Off the ramp, because I'm used to seeing once my front wheel gets to the top of the ramp, that's when I pull back on my dirt bike. I tried that on the sled, but because the track's so long it didn't flip out from underneath me how it was meant to and my hands just pulled off the handlebars.
I couldn't hang on and the sled went straight up in the air and I went straight underneath it. The thing landed completely on me and I thought I broke my arm for about an hour there.
The sled actually landed on top of you?
Yeah, the whole thing, in not much foam either. It's one of the first times in quite a few months, or maybe a year or two that I thought, "Oh s---, I could die here."
I flipped around and as I was getting ready to hit the foam I was thinking, "How am I going to deal with the sled?" As I looked up it was like three feet away from me and as soon as I landed it was going to land on my head. So I stuck my arm up and the track just landed on my arm and head and knee and drove them just deep.
The foam didn't do too much. There was no foam between me and the sled, put it that way. So I'm just laying down on a mattress right now for the rest of the day trying to recover.
So you've decided that flipping the sled isn't going to be a good idea for this year?
(Laughs) No, not for this year. I don't know, it was one of those silly ideas that I have. I was practicing the trick that I'm going to do for Best Trick and I thought I had worked that out and was probably a little excited and thought "Oh, yeah, I'm sure this thing's easy to flip, it's the same as a dirt bike." And I tried, and it wasn't. (Laughs) Oh well, you can't win 'em all, can you?
Obviously you have done pretty much everything on a dirt bike, but now that you are riding a sled, does that change the way you regard Heath Frisby's front flip on the sled last year?
Yes and no. I have massive respect for what he did on a sled, obviously and I don't think I would like to do that, but I can 100 percent see how it's possible.
With the gyro on the track of the sled it's pretty amazing. Once you're in the air, if you hit the brake on that sled, that thing is going to nose dive and you are going to crash. If you rev the throttle it's going to flip backwards and you're going to crash.
If you're in the air on a dirt bike and you hit the brake it's going nowhere. Like it might dip down a little in the front end. You pin the throttle and it might lift up a little in the front end, but it's fairly minor compared to a sled. I can see how the concept of doing that on a sled works, but at the end of the day you've got to have enough experience and be crazy enough to do that for the first time. That would be a really big thing to commit to, I think, flipping forwards on a sled.
Obviously you are not front-flipping or back-flipping the sled, but does having this much bigger mass of a sled make doing tricks over and around it easier?
Yeah, it does for sure. Once you get it up the ramp and now I'm pretty confident that I can hit the ramp and get it flying stable, once it's in the air flying stable, it's pretty basic to get off it and do tricks. It's similar to a dirt bike, but I think for me it was easy because I can relate all the tricks I do on the sled to my dirt bike.
The thing with sled riders is you go out and ride and you might only do 20 or 30 jumps each day, just because sleds are always breaking. So it's good for me to practice and learn the tricks on a dirt bike, then get on the sled because they cross over really easy once you are in the air.
After X Games I haven't decided if I want to continue pursuing the dream of being a sled god. I'm pretty sure I will hang the boots up after X Games.
It's cold, it's dangerous, so why are you actually doing this?
The honest truth? I wanted to go to Aspen, because it looked like there was lots of good girls there and the way to do that was to ride a sled (laughs really hard). I guess the honest truth is that I just wanted to test myself as an athlete and see if I could do a different sport, if I could learn something completely different from what I did for a living. Just to test myself and not to do it for anyone else.
It's not something I am going to do forever because I am a dirt bike rider and my focus is 100 percent on riding my dirt bike, but I had a month and a half off in the calendar and so rather than sitting at home drinking beers I might as well be riding snowmobiles.
Editor's note: Read what two-time X Games Moto X Best Trick gold medalist and Snowmobile Best Trick competitor Jackson Strong had to say Thursday in a live chat with SportsNation. Tune in for the X Games GoPro Snowmobile Best Trick competition at 9 p.m. ET Jan. 27 on ESPN.