Alaska’s Cory Davis rises, literally, to snowmachine’s top echelon
For many Alaskans, the snowmachine is meant for pleasure, travel or survival. But for Cory Davis, it’s meant for one thing: taking it to another level.
Last January, this savvy rider from Soldotna took his skills to ESPN’s Winter X Games in Aspen, Colo., to compete against some of the nation’s best for the ninth time in his career.
“I’ve been to X every year since I was 16 years old,” said Davis, 24.
Perhaps none of the previous Games were as busy, or as successful, as this year’s.
“It’s a little party town,” Davis said about the place nestled high in the Rocky Mountains and at the base of Buttermilk Mountain. “But with how much I was competing I wasn’t able to enjoy any of that stuff. I was at the track all day.”
Davis kept himself occupied while competing in a career-high four events: freestyle, speed and style, snocross and best trick. His best finish came in the speed and style, where he captured a career-best silver medal after falling to Levi LaVallee in the gold-medal match.
“Obviously I wanted to win, but I was satisfied with the silver,” said Davis, who now has three X Games medals to his name. He took bronze in the 2009 and 2011 speed and style. “I haven’t had a gold in that event, so I really wanted to do better than in years past.”
As a teenager, Davis cut his teeth racing in the X Games using more speed than style. He entered as the X Games’ youngest competitor ever in the snocross, an event in which riders specialize in banking corners, soaring off steep jumps and cranking the throttle.
Nowadays, speed is still important for guys like Davis but certainly not everything. Style points matter — it’s those high-flying stunts that make the X Games one of ESPN’s most exciting events to watch. Therefore, it’s important for riders to keep up with what’s hot.
Case in point: In all his years of riding the backcountry of Alaska, Davis had never learned how to do a backflip on a sled. So two weeks before X Games started, he decided it was time to learn. He rounded up two of his best snowmachining buddies, Joe Parsons and Heath Frisby, and they showed him the ropes.
“It was nice to finally do it,” Davis said.
Most riders would need more than one try to land it, right? Not Davis.
“I wouldn’t be talking to you if I hadn’t (landed it) the first time,” he said.
During a timed competition in this year’s X Games, one of Davis’
competitors wasn’t so lucky. Caleb Moore, a 25-year-old from Krum, Texas, made news when he under-rotated a backflip and was thrown from his sled during the freestyle final.
As Moore tumbled down the landing, the 450-pound snowmachine hit him and knocked him unconscious. He eventually walked away from the crash, and spectators assumed he would be OK. According to reports, he was taken to an area hospital where doctors discovered complications with his heart and brain. To make matters worse, his younger brother Colten followed his brother down the freestyle course, crashed on the same jump and separated his pelvis.
With the Moore family reeling from both racers’ injuries, things went from bad to worse. Caleb Moore’s condition worsened, and he died a week later.
“It’s scary,” Davis said about doing backflips. “Definitely a high-risk thing.”
Risk or no risk, Davis has the desire to reach new heights in his riding repertoire.
“The plan is to keep progressing and learn new stuff,” he said.
Aside from the backflip, Davis said he owes much of his skills to his father, Scott Davis, a seven-time Iron Dog champion.
“I wouldn’t be racing without him,” Davis said of his dad, who is teamed up with Todd Palin to race in this year’s Iron Dog.
Back in 2010 the father and son duo raced to a third-place finish in the 2,000-mile race across the Alaska wilderness. Davis said he still rides cross-country with his dad, who made the trip to Aspen along with other family members.
“Usually they don’t (come),” Davis said. “But it all worked out this year.”
Davis gave his family a show, pulling off an upset in the speed and style semifinal after beating Parsons, the defending champion. Next up was Levi LaVallee, who had already won a gold medal earlier in the week. Davis knew gold wouldn’t come on a platter.
“I’m not going to have all those flip tricks like those guys have who’ve been flipping for years,” he said. “I was under tricked, so my only chance of beating him was gonna be if he made a mistake or if I was able to get out in front of him and put some time on him.”
Davis said he realized about halfway through the three-lap race that neither was going to happen, but it didn’t matter.
“At that point I was just happy,” Davis said. “I knew the worst I could get was silver.”