Scott Croxall remembers it being a "huge weight" off his shoulders.
The first and only time the Red Bull Crashed Ice tour made a stop in Edmonton three years ago, the native of Port Credit, Ont., finished second to longtime rival Cameron Naasz but earned enough points at the season-ending race to capture his first ice cross downhill world championship.
"It was always my goal to win a world championship, especially after seeing [my brother] Kyle win [in 2012]," says Scott, in his 10th season competing in the sport that combines hockey, boardercross and downhill skiing. "It was amazing and I want to get that feeling again."
Edmonton, which drew a crowd of about 70,000 in 2015, will again serve as the final stop of this season on Friday and Saturday after it was left off the tour schedule the past two years. And Scott, again, is in position to capture a world title as another top-two finish in Alberta would secure a second championship on home soil.
With 2,745 points entering this weekend, the 27-year-old is 245 points ahead of his closest competitor Naasz (2,500) while Austria's Marco Dallago (2,390) is third. Kyle sits fourth and could only climb as high as second should he earn the 1,000 points for winning in Edmonton. He jumped from sixth spot last Saturday after beating Naasz at a Riders Cup race in La Sarre, Que., while Scott placed seventh.
World championship scenarios
Scott Croxall wins title if he:
- Wins the race
- Finishes 2nd in front of Naasz
- Finishes 3rd in front of Naasz and Dallago doesn't win
- Finishes 4th or lower and Naasz doesn't finish top 3 and Dallago doesn't win
Naasz wins title if he:
- Wins race
- Finishes 2nd in front of Scott Croxall
- Finishes 3rd in front of Croxall and Dallago doesn't win
Dallago wins title if he:
- Wins race and Croxall and Naasz finish 3rd or lower
"We're better skaters than Naasz and I think he knows that," Scott said of his and Kyle's extensive hockey-playing background. "Everyone has different strengths, but our skating is probably the best in the sport and we try to use that to our advantage."
Scott is also hoping a switch this season from Bauer to TRUE Pro Custom Skates, used by some NHL players and his brother, will help him gain an edge in the starting gate and on the track in Edmonton.
After prevailing in Helsinki in that 2015 season to halt a record-breaking 13-race losing streak, he went on to top the field in Belfast to move to within reach of a world championship.
"Maturing in the start gate," Scott, the co-owner of clothing brand TEAMLTD, said when asked what led to his successful 2015 campaign. "I think I just tweaked my start gate position a little which helped me get in front in the final races and not have to deal with passing [my opponents] or catching the leader."
Since his world title, Scott twice has finished second in the world rankings while Naasz became the first man in the history of the sport last season to win back-to-back world championships. However, Scott is confident he's gaining ground on the Minnesota native, citing the experience he has gained in tricky race situations and in final heats.
The event site and track in Edmonton features a new design, several challenging obstacles designed to knock riders off their skates and a narrow and winding stretch of track that will make it difficult to pass.
The signature feature of the 445-metre (1,493-foot) course with a 40-metre (131-foot) vertical drop is the Canadian Big Air, a section of track after skaters launch from the start gate. This is where organizers believe Tory Merz's 2016 world record in Munich for the longest jump on skates at 27m, or 89 feet, could be shattered.
"It'll be awesome, fast and there will be a big start gate," Scott says. "It's going to be one of the best tracks of the season."
Meanwhile, Kyle entered this season eyeing more consistent performances after his previous seven finishes on the Crashed Ice tour ranged from third to 27th. The 27th-place showing occurred at the 2016-17 season finale in Ottawa, where Kyle hit a few bad patches in the ice, busting open both elbows.
"Every course is different and you can have just one slip-up at one race and be down in points," says Kyle, who was second in the men's world championship rankings in 2010, 2011 and 2013. "There's some luck involved but you also have to be consistent."
Kyle finished third in Finland on Feb. 2 and two weeks later was seventh in Marseille, France.
At 209 pounds, the muscular 29-year-old is one of the heaviest racers on the circuit, but understands getting too bulked up could jeopardize his speed and maneuverability on the track.
'People are training harder'
This past off-season, Kyle opted for more sport-oriented training over heavy weight training. He was in the gym most days using lighter weights, doing dryland (off-ice) workouts, training on roller blades with Scott at an indoor bike park and skating on a treadmill once a week.
"I trained a lot harder this off-season than in the past," Kyle, a former Junior A hockey player, says. "People are training harder and there are a lot of younger and quicker guys getting involved in the sport.
"It used to be the top 10 were the best in the sport and now that's top 32. It's a lot more competitive."
Kyle got involved in ice cross downhill a year before his brother while attending firefighting school in Ottawa, where Crashed Ice tryouts were being held in 2007. He competed in his first race in 2008, placing 20th, and first reached the podium in 2009 with a third-place finish in Quebec City.
"When we [first] got into it, it was time trials on an obstacle course on a rink," says Kyle. "Now you have to get into the sport by doing Riders Cup races," which are contested on less challenging tracks.
"In your first year or two, you use different courses and have no idea what's happening. You do a couple of training runs and you're reaching insanely high speeds just trying to stay on your skates. It's a learning curve for sure."
While the Croxalls have been told by many fans they're "crazy" for being involved in such a rough and tumble sport, the five-foot-11, 180-pound Scott isn't ruling out competing for several more years.
"I think pushing the limits and challenging ourselves brings us back," he says.