ASPEN -- The kill switch led to the death of Phil Vallem's hopes for the finals of the hillcross competition at Winter X-Games VIII.
"I had a great line when the roost from a guy in front of me hit my kill switch and turned my engine off," Vallem said.
The roost is the term used to describe the snow being kicked up behind a racer. In the semifinal, Levi Levallee, the eventual winner of the event, moved in front of Vallem on the second jump and his roost, which Vallem described as a bunch of golf balls hitting him at once, turned his engine off two times.
"That is a real fluke thing that I've never seen before," said Bobby Hankins, who rode in last year's X-Games and was part of Vallem's crew this year. "The next race we adjusted the switch so the roost would keep it in on position."
In the quarterfinal round Vallem benefited from other racers' misfortune as two guys in front of him wrecked in the first section of small jumps called doubles. Vallem escaped the collision and rode to third place. In each round the top three racers moved on so that meant Vallem was guaranteed a top-12 finish.
The kill switch incident took him out of contention for the final, but the six riders who didn't make the big show faced off in a consolation final. The same section of track cost Vallem again as he hit the stalled sled of Nick Hutchison and his sled was knocked sideways.
"I was in the roost of two other riders coming over a jump and all of the sudden there was a green sled in my landing path," Vallem said. "I couldn't do anything but hit the sled and hope for the best."
Hutchison was unable to get back on his sled but the valiant Vallem got back on his trusty machine and finished the race. Overall he placed 11th out of 24 racers. Dennis Durmas, who rides out of Whitewater, Colo., turned in the best finish from Colorado racers with an eighth-place showing.
"It's good to see some local guys in the hunt," Hankins said. "Who knows what would have happened without the kill switch happening."
After the races Vallem, who said before the competition that he thought he was well prepared, concluded that more practice could have helped.
"I didn't have enough time in racing," he said. "Our sled also didn't have enough hours on it to be completely in tune."
The competition may be a one-time experience for Vallem, who has been busy this winter setting up racetracks and organizing the Warrior SnoX & Freestyle circuit in the Rocky Mountain region.
"I don't have enough time to be fully prepared to race against the big boys," he said. "We're hoping to find a racer from the circuit to support and get out here next year."
Hankins agreed with Vallem and said the search is on.
"Almost every weekend I'm out there on the circuit looking for talent," he said. "What we need is someone who will go race the national competitions in snocross to get ready for an event like this."
While 11th was better than anybody from Craig had ever placed in hillcross, Vallem wasn't too pleased, but was looking forward to watching somebody else next year.
"I'm disappointed because I know I could have done better," he said. "The kill switch thing killed me, but we'll get someone out there better prepared next year that I can say I helped make a path for."
David Pressgrove can be reached at 824-7031 or firstname.lastname@example.org