Racers off to X Games in Aspen

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Chris Burandt admits he has a sweet job.

At 24, he is a professional snowmobile racer and jumper. At 24, the Silverthorne man already has attended two X Games in Aspen -- the ultimate gathering of extreme-sport talent -- and been treated like a celebrity.

"It's awesome in Aspen," Burandt said. "My parents and a lot of my family and people I work with come up. I have to win that stupid thing. I should have won the first year, but I snapped a drive shaft in qualifying. The second year I tore some ligaments in Steamboat, and my first time back on the sled was at the X Games. I got fifth."

Last weekend, Burandt, along with Craig resident Phil Vallem, qualified for next year's X Games in Aspen.

This weekend, Steamboat resident Chris Brown will attempt to qualify for his first X Games when he races at Boreal, near Lake Tahoe in California.

Brown is racing on the same 990 cc sled that Vallem used to qualify for the 2004 X Games in Steamboat's hillcross competitions April 20.

Bobby Hankins, the owner of the sled, said Brown is close to achieving his goal.

"He was one of the most dominant racers all weekend, and when it came down to the finals he had bad luck in each one," Hankins said. "I brought two sleds and Chris road the smaller (950 cc) of the two. He will have the big sled this weekend and hopefully he can qualify."

Hankins has been to the X Games himself, but instead of using his own sleds to take another run at qualifying, he is letting others try and take his spot. His attention is focused now on running Action Motorsports in Craig.

"I'm kind of stepping off to the side and getting others qualified," Hankins said. "I've been to the X Games twice. I've done it. It's time to move on."

Hillcross is a straight run up a mountain, with several jumps placed on the run that force riders to navigate in the air and on the snow.

Burandt's background in freestyle snowmobiling certainly helped in the transition to hillcross. Freestyle is essentially hitting big air on the sled.

"I don't have a preference," Burandt said. "I take the winters off and go jump in front of big crowds. It's awesome. Freestyle is getting big in Colorado."

And across the country.

Burandt said freestyle is going to be added to the slate of events at the next X Games, and he expects to get an invitation. That's how he showed up at his first X Games in hillcross.

While visiting Steamboat for last weekend's qualifying competition, Burandt raced to three first-place and two second-place finishes in five different divisions on April 19.

On April 20, he scaled back on the number of races he entered and came in first once and second twice. The Silverthorne rider races for Alpine Motorsports and Erik Woog's Vohk performance company, both of which are based in Kremmling.

On April 19, Brown came in fourth and on April 20, he came in second, losing to Vallem.

Though the turnout at last weekend's qualifiers was small, Hankins said, he is hopeful that more promotion and continued support from the Steamboat Ski Area will help make the hillcross races an annual event in town.

"It really went off easily," Hankins said. "There were a lot of locals out there watching. They had little chairs and backpacks. You could tell they were seasoned spectators."

-- To reach Melinda Mawdsley call 871-4208 or e-mail mmawdsley@steamboatpilot.com

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