Local hillcrosser primed for X-Games

Phil Vallem has spent the winter testing and building tracks for the Warrior SnoX and Freestyle series. But this week Vallem will turn in his race official's vest for a race number as he prepares to compete in his sport's most glitzy event -- the Winter X-Games VIII.

"I feel pretty good about my chances," he said. "We've got a great sled and I've got some good practices in."

Vallem, who is a race organizer for the Warrior SnoX and Freestyle circuit, hasn't raced in an off-track hillcross event since he qualified for the X-Games last April in Steamboat Springs. That event was his first time to race up a mountain in a snow machine. He filled in for Bobby Hankins, who competed at X-Games VII, but was injured before the race in Steamboat.

"Bobby and I have talked a lot about what to expect," he said. "His experience should help me."

While some of the sport's biggest names were the top finishers in the hillcross last year, Chris Burandt, from Kremmling, finished fifth.

"I've raced well against Chris before," Vallem said. "So that is a positive thing for me."

Vallem and his team, mostly guys from Action Motor Sports of Craig, are going to the games in Aspen Saturday and Sunday to watch snocross. Then they'll come back Sunday to get their gear and sleds loaded up and travel back down Monday for the practice rounds. The qualifying rounds begin at 10 a.m. Tuesday.

"ESPN really makes it nice for the rider," he said. "Usually you have to arrive and register and all that stuff, but for the X-Games you just have to show up and race."

If the format is the same as last year there will be four rounds of qualifying races and the top 16 racers in those four rounds move onto the semifinal race. Then the top eight from the semifinals make the final.

"The goal is to make the main event," Vallem said. "We'll have a lot of friends and family down so I hope I can show them something."

There are 24 racers qualified for the event, including four riders from Colorado. The returning top-three from last year, T.J. Gulla, Carl Kuster and Steve Martin, are expected to return.

"I've raced against a lot of the guys in it," Vallem said. "Mostly in snocross, but I'm not a total stranger."

ESPN will be televising live from Aspen all four days of the event. Hillcross will not be shown live but it will be featured on the X-Games highlight show at 3 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 7.

David Pressgrove can be reached at 824-7031 or dpressgrove@craigdailypress.com.

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