From a double backflip to a world record distance jump to a Pro Open points championship in snocross to a gold medal in Winter X Games freestyle, when it comes to snowmobiles Levi LaVallee can do it all. His exploits, for lack of a better word, have been seen by millions on TV and at the races and through it all LaVallee has become the poster boy for competition snowmobiling. Even if he wasn’t super-successful LaVallee would still be a fan favorite because it seems like he’s always smiling and he just loves being a part of the sport. Coming off a season that was equally as dark as it was noteworthy, we caught up with Levi to talk about distance jumps, double backflips and why racing is still his number one priority.
sledRacer.com: What are you doing right now?
Levi Lavallee: Right now we’re doing a bunch of stuff over at the compound, getting everything ready for this winter for making snow and the freestyle stuff and all that. And I just got my wood chip track up and running again, so we were doing some woodchipping yesterday which was fun.
sR: I saw photos of that!
LaVallee: Yeah, I was a little bit hesitant because I really didn’t ride snowmobile last year. I did those distance jumps, I crashed, and then I rode practice at Geneva and I did one practice before Geneva. So I was a little bit hesitant at first because I was thinking, “Man, I haven’t rode in a long time…” but as soon as I stepped on the sled I was like, “Hey, I remember how to do this!” I literally rode across the track, got on the track and hit a rhythm section of five doubles I had just built. Never hit it before. Then I was thinking I should roll them first so I did that and went through the whole section the second time around the track.
sR: What is new with the team?
LaVallee: We have some new stuff coming that I can’t announce right now. We picked up a title sponsor that we’re really excited about and we had some other sponsors step up big. I’m really pleased and eager for the season to come.
sR: Who is on your team?
LaVallee: It’s Bobby LePage, Jake Scott and myself.
sR: What happened to Andy Lieders?
LaVallee: He was on our team last year, he filled in for Andrew Johnstad when he stopped racing. Andy is an awesome kid and did a great job for us, but we decided to take a different path for this season. He’s a good kid and it was fun working with him.
sR: Will Bobby and Jake be based out of your place this winter?
LaVallee: Yeah, everyone’s been training, Bobby’s been training in Duluth and Jake and I have been training since the end of August.
sR: Are you worried about having taken a year off?
LaVallee: I took a little vacation last year, not by choice! Obviously it’s a concern not having been out there racing last year. I was watching those guys go and they were flying! Tucker and Tremblay and all those guys were going so fast, so it’s definitely a concern. But I’m just going to go out there and work like I always have and have fun. I’m not putting a lot of pressure on myself, I just want to get out there and get rolling and evaluate where we’re at and what we need to work on. I don’t have a baseline from last year to go off, so I just want to get in the ballpark and go from there.
sR: You’re planning a New Year’s jump again?
LaVallee: Correct. We’re planning a new year’s jump with Red Bull again and this year it’s going to be Robbie Maddison and myself jumping. It’s going to be a little bit different deal than last year. I was going to do it by myself last year but this year I’ll get to look over and enjoy the view of a dirt bike flying over 400-feet.
sR: Will there be two ramps?
LaVallee: That’s what the original plan was for us to be jumping side by side, but I think they’re going to have one big landing for both of us. We’re still testing though, so we’ll see what can and can’t happen and go from there. But the plan is to have us both in the air at the same time.
sR: Your plan leading in will be different because last year you didn’t race before the jump, but this year you will, correct?
LaVallee: That’s the tentative plan. We’ll see how it works out. I would love to come back and race. It was a bummer to come to Duluth and not race last year. That was the first time since I started racing that I came to Duluth and didn’t race. I take that back, I was injured going into the 2004 season. Anyway, it was such a different sensation not racing, then I got hurt and had to watch the rest of the season. That was the first time in my career that I didn’t race any snocross at all since I was 14-years-old. It’s funny, the freestyle and all the things I do, I enjoy them, but just watching the racing last year burned me out more than anything. I wanted to be out there riding. I confirmed in my head that snocross is my real passion.
sR: What happened with the jump last year?
LaVallee: I don’t remember even hitting the jump, I guess that’s the good part of it! The last thing I remember is putting my gear on prior to the jump. I don’t remember the first three days in the hospital, which were the worst three days. The last thing I remember about jumping is the successful jumps, so that’s a positive. If I would have remembered any of it I probably wouldn’t want to do any more distance jumps. I watched the footage and it was the same problem we had in previous jumps. We were using an old snocross motor, and in snocross you’re never wide open for over 1,000 feet like we were doing. It was sucking the fuel level down in the bowl on the run-in and as I would fall the fuel would rise up and because the pickup is on the bottom it would just suck air and the sled would cut out. It was like hitting the kill switch. On the jump I crashed on I went up and hit the brake at the highest point so it would cut through the wind as it fell. So I would hit the brake and give it a little “Brrrp!” to keep the sled at that level and when I goosed it the thing didn’t pick up and ultimately it resulted in a 360-foot endo.
sR: How come it didn’t happen on the other jumps?
LaVallee: I can tell you exactly what happened, or at least what our thoughts are on it. We had trouble at 600-feet of run-in. After that we increased the size of the bowl and made the needle and seat bigger so we could get more fuel into it, and then we didn’t have any trouble up until our final distance, and that was like 1,000 feet or 1,100 feet. At that distance the first one was good, the second one the thing gurgled in the air but it picked up. After that one I was like, “Man, I think the thing gurgled,” and my crew was like, “No, we didn’t hear it.” You know, when you’re doing something crazy like that, the way I go about things is I just say, “Yeah, maybe you’re right. I didn’t hear that either!” Just so I don’t get worked up. So I did another one and it worked fine. Those jumps were all during the day. The jump that I crashed on was at night, so it went from 75-80-degrees to 60-degrees at night, so we had to jet up so it would suck more fuel. I think the one time it gurgled during the day I think we were borderline having too little fuel in the bowl. Then once we jetted up it sucked the fuel down that much more that was why it crashed.
sR: You guys were on the razor’s edge with it huh?
LaVallee: Yeah, most certainly. It’s tough because how can you test for something like that outside of holding the sled wide open and dropping it off a building or something? There’s really no way to test that situation other than actually jumping it. We ran that 800 mod for years and never had any trouble with it, but we were never in a situation where we were wide open for 1,000-feet and jumping 300-feet.
sR: How did that feel knowing so much was set in place and it didn’t go down?
LaVallee: It was disappointing not being able to do the jump. The way I looked at it when they originally approached me about it was, wow, this is an amazing opportunity. I’m so excited to showcase snowmobiles on the biggest stage. The Winter X Games is awesome, but that jump is center stage for snowmobiling. When I crashed and wasn’t able to do it, I look at that like it wasn’t meant to be. After I got healthy and got back on the sled Red Bull came back to me and asked me if I would like to try it again and I was like, “Absolutely,” just because I know we have the right people from our crew and everyone on the Red Bull side to get it done. I want to do it again to redeem the whole program after what happened last year and I have that chance.
sR: I think it’s almost a better story this year after what happened last year.
LaVallee: I think it builds a better story for sure. I’m just excited to be here functioning and able to do it again. When you see the footage of the crash you’ll be like, “Yup, that one definitely could have been a lot worse!” It’s a good one.
sR: How do you approach Red Bull or do they approach you for this stuff?
LaVallee: Originally I brought it up to Red Bull, I said, “Hey, if there’s ever an opportunity for me to do a distance jump or something like that I would love to do it.” After a while they came to me and asked me to do a distance jump. I knew with their background doing distance jumps with Robbie Maddison and Travis Pastrana they had history and they knew how to do it. It’s not a very complicated thing to hit a ramp as fast as you can, but at the same time it’s like saying a double flip is easy to do. I know with something big like that there is a lot of work and a lot of thought that goes into it. For me to do it on my own wasn’t realistic because you’re toying with such big consequences if things go wrong, so I knew if I was going to do something like that I would need the right people.
sR: A distance jump seems simple, but in reality it’s a hugely dangerous thing. What motivates you to do something like that?
LaVallee: I look at it like this, our time is limited here and I could walk outside and get hit by a car. You say, “Well, if this is the last go at least I’m not cutting myself short. I’m going for it.”
sR: Even though you’ve been racing forever but I think you’re probably better known for the freestyle stuff, how do you feel about that?
LaVallee: It’s awesome. The year I did the double backflip was the same year I won my first Pro championship. I went all over the place to different dealerships and stuff signing autographs and everyone was like, “Oh man, I saw the double backflip – that was crazy!” Then they would ask if I still raced! I worked my whole life to win a snocross championship and I finally did it and these people didn’t even know if I raced anymore. The whole time I raced I’ve always been a finish line trick guy, so the freestyle thing fits me really well. I’m excited to be able to do this stuff, but the racing is such a challenge foe me and that’s what draws me in. Freestyle isn’t as competitive for me, it’s just for fun.
sR: Why freestyle?
LaVallee: I completely stumbled upon it. Winter X Games came out with Speed & Style and they said, “Hey, if you can send us a video of you doing some tricks you can be entered in Speed & Style.” It seemed like a realistic thing to do so I went from can-cans and heel clickers to trying to learn some seat grabs and things like that. Once I started doing it I picked it up really quick. At that point I had already done a backflip on a four-wheeler and a dirt bike and backflipped a snowmobile the Spring before that up in the mountains, so I figured I could do a backflip off a ramp too. Justin Hoyer helped me out a ton with that. Then they had a qualifier in Montana, I looked at what I had for tricks and I had everything down that Chris Burandt won the X Games with the year prior. So I hoped that last year’s gold medal run would qualify me for the coming Winter X. So I went to that qualifier, I did all the tricks and ended up winning that and I got into the X Games. Then I had good luck at the X Games and won out there. It was really random and I didn’t have this master plan, it just landed in my lap.
sR: The double backflip, is that still on your radar?
LaVallee: It’s definitely on the radar; I’d like to do it again someday. I’d like to put it to rest in my mind. For me the book is still open, I want to close the book and put it on the shelf and call it done, but it’s no there yet.
sR: What do you think when you look at that sequence photo of the double backflip from Winter X?
LaVallee: I look at it and go, “Oh man, that was really big!” Probably not the safest thing I’ve done!
sR: Back to racing, what do you think of the new rules for the Pro class in ISOC running mods-only?
LaVallee: I like the idea of having a big class and a stock class. It duplicates what they do in Supercross and it will make it easier for the fans to understand. The mod stuff is good for the Pros. It’s tough having mods in Semi-Pro because you limit the group of people who can do it because they cost so much to build and run them. If you don’t have a factory ride and factory support it limits people who can do it. If you made it to the Pro class you most likely have the support. I’m glad they got the Open class away from the Semi-Pro class because it costs so much to do it. In the stock class the factory is limited to what they can do to the sled so for the guy who is talented he can excel.
sR: What are your goals for the season?
LaVallee: My goal is the same as it always has, just go out there and do the best I can. Obviously I want to get podiums and do well, but if I go out and do everything I can there’s nothing more you can do. I’ve been working my butt off leading up to this and once I get to it we’ll see where I’m at and what I have to work on and go from there. As long as I know that I’m putting in the effort and doing the work that’s necessary I’ll continue to do this for years to come. For me it’s about when I’m not willing to make the sacrifices I do. When that day comes I’ll bow out. Until then I still feel like I have it in me.
sR: Next year, Vet 30+ – then it’s all brand new again!
LaVallee: Excitement’s high! It’s getting tough though with Tate in there and T.J. is old enough now, it’s going to be tough!