DULUTH – For years, professional snowmobiler Levi LaVallee's imagination ran wild whenever he returned to the city's steep streets and scenic views.
"It's a naturally built playground," the Winter X Games gold medalist said.
Last month, LaVallee teamed up with Red Bull to produce an almost four-minute video of extreme stunts at iconic Duluth sites. The film, which was released Wednesday, shows the snowmobiler flipping over a train by the Fitger's complex, jumping a fire truck near City Hall and racing across barges beneath the Blatnik Bridge.
"It was like I finally got to make all these dreams I had a reality," LaVallee said.
The 38-year-old Minnesotan starred in a similar "urban snowmobile" video in St. Paul in 2016, but Duluth has always held a special place in his heart — LaVallee entered his first snocross event at Spirit Mountain at age 14.
"There are so many different angles set on the side of that hill, overlooking the city and Lake Superior, that I've always thought: 'Man, this would be a beautiful place to do this,' " he said.
LaVallee and a team of engineers worked for months to prepare for eight days of filming in March. They started scouting locations last summer, picked locations for the stunts, then built replicas of them at the athlete's training compound in his hometown of Longville, Minn.
LaVallee said he spent the entire month of February working on his lineup of jumps and flips. The city temporarily shut down streets at times for production.
"A lot of people assume we just go out there and try these things," he said, "but there's really a ton of effort that goes into each feature."
That practice mostly paid off, though there was a snag on the third day of the shoot. LaVallee was jumping from barge to barge, crossing from the Minnesota side of the bay to Wisconsin, when he overshot a landing and knew he wouldn't be able to make his next leap due to a mechanical problem. So he jumped off the side of a ship, fell 12 feet onto a piece of ice and slid into the Great Lake.
A fire department vessel stationed nearby out of precaution grabbed LaVallee — who was wearing flotation gear — within minutes, but the athlete had broken a few ribs and banged up his hip.
That did not stop his grand plans. A doctor had LaVallee stretching and moving the following day so that he was able to ride the last four days of the shoot.
"I've unfortunately broke ribs a few times over the years," he said. "You learn how to kind of overlook injury and discomfort."
LaVallee estimates that some of his longest jumps in Duluth were close to 150 feet — not on par with his world-record 412-foot snowmobile jump in 2011, but tricky in a new way because of the "uniqueness of the features."
What's next? LaVallee isn't sure, but he hopes to tackle stunt projects in different cities in the future. His ribs had mostly healed by late March, though sneezing still hurt a bit.
"It's been a challenge to always think of: What else can we do on a snowmobile?" he said. "I think my goal is just to show people what this machine is capable of and what you can accomplish when you have a goal and a good group of people to support it."