To be the best means to train with the best.
For the last four years Soldotna professional snowmachiner Cory Davis has lived by that motto as he prepares to compete in his 10th ESPN Winter X Games competition Thursday through Sunday in Aspen, Colorado.
Davis, 26, has spent the last few weeks training with Monster Energy teammates Joe Parsons and Heath Frisby in Yakima, Washington. Parsons, 26, has won three gold X Games medals and 13 overall, while Frisby, 30, has nine top-three finishes with two gold medals. Frisby’s last gold came in 2012 in the best trick event, when he landed the first-ever front flip.
When Davis first started training at Parsons’ place in Yakima four years ago, he said he had to play catchup on some of the freestyle tricks the world’s best in the sport perform. It wasn’t until the 2013 freestyle event when Davis pulled off his first back flip.
“I’m a pretty conservative rider,” Davis said. “I didn’t like doing anything outside of my comfort zone. I was a late bloomer on flipping. I never tried (to flip) in backcountry Alaska.”
Davis has brought home a silver medal in each of the last two years. In the long jump event last year he pulled off a 142-foot jump to earn his second silver medal. In both 2009 and 2011, Davis nabbed a bronze in the speed-and-style events.
Davis got the best of Parsons in 2013 when he beat the defending champion of the speed-and-style event to advance to the finals where he placed second behind Levi LaVallee. The contest was a three-lap race on a course that featured numerous jumps, and the gold-medal race lasted less than three minutes.
Davis said his passion for snowmachine racing came from him watching his father, former Iron Dog champion Scott Davis, who he calls his idol. The father and son duo teamed up to race in the Iron Dog in 2011 and placed third in the 2,000-mile trek across Alaska.
“I grew up racing and I’m fortunate to have a natural talent,” he said. “Its something I enjoy from all aspects from racing across Alaska. Every form comes with being in love with riding sleds.”
Davis left for Colorado on Monday and will arrive in Aspen before the X Games begin Thursday with his two Arctic Cat Snowpro 600 racing sleds in tow.
He is signed up to compete in two events, speed-and-style and the long jump. He said he is looking forward to the speed-and-style event, which is a combination of both, where riders perform midair tricks. The competition to reach the top podium will be close, he said.
“Technically you can lose the race but still win the event based on what tricks you pull off,” he said. “It will be interesting to see how it plays out.”
As he prepares for the biggest competition of the year, Davis said the safety of handling a 450-pound machine in the air is always on his mind.
Two years ago snowmachiner Caleb Moore died from injuries he suffered in a crash during the X Games snowmobile freestyle finals at Buttermilk Mountain in Aspen.
Moore under-rotated his sled on a backflip, and the snowmobile skis planted atop the landing ramp, which knocked Moore off. While he was able to walk away at first, Moore suffered a concussion and died of chest trauma. His death was the first in the 20-year history of the X Games.
Last year Colten Moore, younger brother of Caleb Moore, won the freestyle event and dedicated the victory to his brother. Davis placed sixth in the event. He said it was hard not to think about his fallen competitor.
“It’s always at the back of my mind,” he said. “The important thing is to give it your best, be focused and ride safe.”
The X Games removed the freestyle event this year.
For Davis, a lack of snow the last two winters on the Kenai Peninsula has been frustrating not only for him, but for everyone associated in the snowmachine industry.
“It’s a bummer. The lack of snow is making the sport shrink,” he said. “The best part about riding is going to my mountain cabin. Nobody is more upset about it than I am. This is not the Alaska I remember.”
Soldotna Arctic Motor Sports dealer Lane Giesler said he has known Davis since he was racing dirt bikes as a kid. He said he has given Alaska more exposure to the sport through his video documentary, “Winter Project,” about the history of backcountry riding. He said he is excited to see how he does this weekend.
“I’m hoping he has some great runs,” he said. “I have known him forever. He is a good kid.”
Davis, now a veteran of the sport since he broke into the X Games at age 16, has become one of the marquee names in the snowmachine circuit. He said he is looking forward to competing against the best in the business and his goal is to always do better every time out. The excitement of the competition has become just part of the job, he said.
“This is a prestigious event,” he said. “It’s the most important thing I do this year.”
The snowmobile speed-and-style event will air at 5:15 p.m. AST on Thursday on ESPN. Davis will also compete in the snowmobile long jump on Friday at 7:30 p.m. AST on ESPN.
Reach Dan Balmer at firstname.lastname@example.org.