Confidence and self-belief are paramount in Willie Elam’s line of work.
After all, once you’re upside down in the air on a snowmobile after taking a jump, you better believe you can stick the landing.
Elam, 27, said injuries are part of the territory in freestyle snowmobile jumping and in order to be successful, riders need to have short memories.
“You have to just go for it and believe in yourself that you’ve done the practice enough to do it,” he said following his afternoon show at Fort William Historical Park’s annual Winter Carnival on Sunday..
“(Injuries) can happen at any time. Everybody who has done this has been hurt at one time or another.”
The X Games veteran performed more than a dozen runs during his show along the frozen Kaministiqua River, delighting the assembled crowd.
His tricks ranged from backflips to extraordinary seat grabs where he would briefly separate from his vehicle.
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But it was the flips that drew everybody’s attention, and Elam admitted they are both the most fun and the scariest to perform.
“It was absolutely phenomenal to see something like that in Thunder Bay and they were pretty incredible stunts, especially some of the flips,” said onlooker Tyler Manning.
The demonstrations are the newest wrinkle to the park’s long-running Winter Carnival event, and it did not disappoint.
“The stunt show, at least the first installment we saw, was really impressive,” said Marty Mascarin, communications officer with Fort William Historical Park.
“I think folks really got their money’s worth, and that was value added. There was no special admission for that and I think we got the requisite oos and ahhs from the crowd.”
The show helped diversify the audience of the carnival, which is primarily composed of families with younger children.
The spectacle attracted many teenagers and young adults, who got to briefly meet with Elam after his set.
“I’m not really sure if we’ve seen something like this much in Thunder Bay before, let alone at Fort William Historical Park,” Mascarin said. “I think it was a true novelty and very exciting to have that.”
Elam said despite the risks, it is still his ideal job.
“I figured I might as well do it while I can,” Elam said. “It’s the best job I’ve ever had. It’s fun and I’m going to ride no matter what anyway so I might as well make some money.”
The day didn’t get off to the smoothest start, as Elam’s brother-in-law Drew Latimer suffered a severe knee injury on a jump.
The first session was also cancelled due to some issues with the run, which were corrected for the second showing a couple hours later.
Elam will be back in action on Monday with shows scheduled for 1 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. The carnival itself runs from 11 a.m. until closing at 5 p.m.
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