Scars on ice

Two Halifax women compete for the glory in a hyper-caffeinated downhill skating challenge.

Iced lightning Downhill skating was a “wild” idea for Gillian “Dags” D’Agostino. photo Julé Malet-Veale

Picture it: Hurling down a ski slalom covered in ice on skates. No poles---just full hockey gear minus the stick. Hitting the base of what looks like an endless strip of ice ahead, bodies jostling, checking, cutting each other off. Roller derby without wheels, just blades. Knees rattling over frozen ice crests, bodies leaning into a sharp turn. Is this a nightmare? No. It’s Crashed Ice, one of Red Bull’s marketing devices, a caffeine-infused competition challenging athletic adrenaline junkies across Canada. Quebec City hosts the competition this year.Now in its eighth year, the challenge involves skating down an obstacle course of hairpin turns, big bumps, ice steps and several metres of gravity-defying drops. The key is to land on the ice with both feet, get ahead of other competitors and use any skating skills necessary to make it to the end. The race is timed, so simply finishing isn’t enough---speed wins.For the first time, and perhaps chasing a previously overlooked demographic, Red Bull has opened up the contest to women this year. With their own division, 20 women from across Canada will be chosen based on timed results in qualifying events for the 2009 contest in Vieux Quebec. Halifax has two female competitors: Dags and Reader, as their friends call them, are going for it. Gillian “Dags” D’Agostino is a self-proclaimed “hyper” 20-year-old, and a third-year arts student at Dalhousie University. From Ontario, she played her rookie year as centre with the Tigers women’s hockey team and is now a video coach, assessing style and plays through recording practices and games. “I am learning the ropes coaching because that is where I want to be,” she says.When she was 10 years old, Dags thought hockey equipment looked cool, so she wanted to try it out. Her father, a high school track coach and hockey player, encouraged her to play and she’s been on the ice since. She got her head around the Crashed Ice idea through the power of Red Bull’s aggressive events promotion. Posters at the Dal rink and repeated television ads only reinforced her idea of “how wild it would be to go downhill in skates.”Dags also calls herself crazy---aggression and speed is what draws her to the contest that’s been described as a cross between hockey, downhill skiing and snowboarding’s board crossing. She also thinks her inline skating strength and checking skills will be to her advantage. “Hockey is a fast sport---you have to be tough to play. There is no finesse in Crashed Ice, it’s about grit and hustle.” Meagan “Reader” Read is a Brookfield native and 21-year-old NSCC business and marketing student. She comes from a hockey-centric family and played on male teams from the age of five until she hit university. Her entire family plays hockey, including four siblings and her mother and father.Crashed Ice was Reader’s boyfriend’s idea. He qualified in 2006 and “loved it.” Reader, having played forward for both Concordia and Dalhousie universities, wanted to try it. She thinks pure adrenaline and 15 years of hockey will get her pumped to compete if she makes the cut locally. As for strategy, she thinks her speed and ability to handle corners will work to her advantage. “I am agile, quick and sturdy on my feet and I think that is going to help me,” she says. Thinking about it is kinda scary, but I guess when you get there you just do it.”There’s a one-in-twenty chance that Reader and Dags will make it through the qualifiers happening at the Metro Centre this weekend. Reader hopes Atlantic Canada is represented.“It would be awesome for someone to come from here.”

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