Entering fiery buildings and careening down a 300-metre icy track full of jumps and curves are both activities that might seem crazy to the average person, but Adam Horst does both regularly. Horst, a firefighter from Fort St. John, B.C., has become a feared competitor on the Red Bull Crashed Ice circuit, and in February, he pulled off one of the biggest upsets in the history of ice cross with a win in Are, Sweden. Heading into this weekend's Crashed Ice finale in Quebec City (qualifying starts Thursday, while the final will be broadcast live at 8:30 p.m. Eastern Saturday on Sportsnet and TVA), Horst is fourth in the points standings and within striking range of Canadian brothers Kyle and Scott Croxall (first and third) and Finn Arttu Pihlainen (second). Horst said his firefighting background has helped him make the adjustment to blasting down an icy track at top speeds.
"The biggest thing for both is the adrenaline factor," he said. "Standing at the top of the hill or running into a burning building, both have that adrenaline."
He said his victory in Sweden was an incredible moment, and it's given him plenty of confidence heading into this weekend's action.
"That was unreal," he said. "You're always hoping for that but when it actually happens, it's hard to believe."
Here are some highlights from the Sweden competition in February:
As you can see from that, the sport can be terrifying, as it involves flying at top speeds in a four-man group of skaters down a steep, icy track with plenty of curves. The Quebec City course features a 60-metre vertical drop, as well as plenty of obstacles, and Horst said he was scared out of his skin the first time he tried it in 2008.
"I was petrified," he said. "It's hard to describe what it is the first time you go down the hill."
He only got into the sport thanks to the intervention of friends.
"The first time I got into it, we watched on TV and a couple of buddies signed me up," Horst said.
Horst had a solid sports background, though, and he said that's helped substantially.
"I've been playing hockey my whole life," he said. "I'm a motorcross racer too, so it's some of the same concepts."
Horst has picked up plenty of experience since his 2008 debut, but he said even experience can't prepare you for what it feels like at the top of a Crashed Ice course, particularly in Quebec City where there's always a massive crowd of fans watching.
"For me, being from a small town, the most intimidating part of the race in Quebec City is how many fans there are,"
he said. "You get up there in front of 120,000 people and your heart stops."
The small-town background may make massive crowds an adjustment for Horst, but he said the way the community of Fort St. John has supported him more than makes up for it.
"I have a huge amount of support from the community here," he said. "It's cool for people to see someone come out of a small town. They're all behind me."
Horst said the key to success in ice cross is mental focus and preparation ahead of time, as strategy can matter as much as speed.
"Before you start, you come up with your own game plan," he said. "It's a combination of going as fast as you can and staying on your feet."
He's confident he'll find success in Quebec this weekend.
"I should have a fairly good shot in Quebec City," Horst said. "The last two years, I had the number-one qualifying position; I finished fifth in 2009, but didn't do well last year. It's going to be the same game plan: be consistent, stay on your feet and take it to the end."
Two of Horst's key competitors this weekend are the Croxall brothers, but he said they all get along well off the track.
"The Canadian guys, we're all a pretty tight group," he said. "We all cheer for each other."
Horst has seen ice cross grow dramatically since he started in 2008.
"When I first started, no one even knew what it was," he said. "Now it has a huge following."
He said the sport's evolved to feature more events, tougher tracks and a wider talent pool, making the competition even stiffer.
"It's become bigger," he said. "It used to be just one race a year. The tracks they're making are longer and steeper, and there's a lot of competition."
With the growing interest in ice cross and the amount of top-quality athletes competing in it, Horst thinks the sport will continue to grow. He'd particularly like to see some permanent year-round tracks built so athletes could train more easily. As far as he's concerned, the sky's the limit.
"I love the sport, and I think it has huge potential to grow," he said.
Given his recent success and ice cross' rising popularity, it looks like Horst will be able to keep getting his adrenaline fix on the ice.
You can read my whole interview with Horst here. The final event of the Red Bull Crashed Ice circuit takes place this weekend in Quebec City. The climactic races will be broadcast live on Sportsnet and TVA at 8:30 p.m. Eastern Saturday.