Ski, spin and huck…Aaron Blunck takes third
This past weekend I happened upon the opportunity to attend one of the showcase events of Park and Pipe skiing, the 12th US Freeskiing Open at Copper Mountain. I was there for a reason, but first, let’s talk about the current event itself.
As with the U.S. and global economies, the fringe sport competitions are feeling the effects of this recessionary period. Due to budget constraints, this year’s Open would be contested only in the halfpipe. The slopestyle competition had been left off the schedule, leaving one to wonder if slopestyle competitions will survive the economic downturn.
Economics and politics aside, this event makes circus trapeze acts seems tame. For that matter, this event is its own form of circus for the participants and spectators.
The trip began simply enough; get up early, pack the truck, and drive to Copper. As we go, I think of the people and history behind the town of Leadville, count the buildings and switchbacks on the roads on the Climax Mine property, and think about what my town might look like with an operating mine.
I snap back to the moment as I continue to ascend the snow-packed road that takes me to the top of Fremont Pass. After slithering down the pass, I park the truck, and Aaron, my companion and reason for the trip, and I put on our boots and hop on the bus for the Center Village at Copper Mountain. We locate the registration area for the event. Aaron will be competing in the inaugural US Open Junior Jam the following day, but this day was all about the big boys and girls of the sport.
As we walk to the base area and head to the halfpipe, Aaron nudges me and says “Dad, that is Simon in front of us.” I look in front of me and over the head of a small man, but cannot figure out which person could be Simon Dumont. It is at this moment that I realize that at six-feet-two and a couple of bills plus, I will be one of the few big boys at the pipe. The man I was looking over, not more than three feet in front of me. was the diminutive Simon Dumont, arguably one of the best halfpipe skiers in the world. Simon will not be competing in the Open, but this group of athletes is a tight-knit group and Simon wanted to watch the action of his friends.
Our timing could not have gotten much better; Aaron and I arrived at the bottom of the halfpipe just in time for the women’s semi-final. The action was impressive; the quality of tricks and spins that these women possess is definitely narrowing the gap in difficulty to those of the men. The thumping music, wafting smells of Wahoo’s Fish Tacos, and camaraderie and action of the female athletes set the stage for the next event, the men’s semi-finals.
Now, when I use the terms Men’s and Women’s, I must qualify that since many of the competitors are not of legal age to consume alcohol in the United States and still others have not attended a high school prom. Ski, spin and huck themselves they can do, and the group in the men’s competition do it as well or better than anyone else in the world. The oohs and aahs that flow from inside you as you watch double-flips, 1260s, and switch-10s leaves you with the impression that you are watching a multi-city fireworks display duel on the Fourth of July. Each skier pulls out all the guns in the arsenal with the sole intention of one-upping the previous skier.
By the middle of the afternoon nine women and 12 men emerged to compete in the finals. While the semis were extraordinary, the finals were the grand finale. The height of each trick grew, the number of revolutions increased, and the superlatives coming from the mouths of athletes and spectators alike never ceased.
By the end of the day Jen Hudak and Justin Dorey took the women’s and men’s crowns, respectively, with Dorey throwing a near-perfect 96.60 score.
With my breath back following the afternoon of excitement, Aaron and I moseyed over to the Woodward Barn. Now having spent the majority of my adulthood in Gunnison County, my idea of a barn includes hay bales, tractors, saddles, and tools, not so at this new marvel at Copper. This barn is a state of the art, adrenaline junkie’s indoor paradise. There is no hay, just lots of concrete for skateboarding. The tractors and saddles have been replaced with big air jumps, trampolines, and foam pits. Instead of tools, there are rails and skateboarding bowls, further proving that action sports are here to stay.
Sunday arrived and the real reason I was here was about to commence—the Junior Jam. This new event of the US Open was designed to give the future of the sport (ages 12 and under) an opportunity to shine. Seventeen athletes took part in the event and shine each of them did.
While this was a judged event with first, second, and third place recognition awarded to the top three boys (there were only two girls in the event), it really was a celebration of the sport. Each competitor was given one run down the pipe to show their stuff and then for the next hour the competitors participated in a halfpipe jam session or ‘Session.’ The kids were encouraged to try new tricks, cheer each other on, and just enjoy the opportunity to compete in a world-class halfpipe.
Enjoy and excel they did, complete with cork 900s, 1080 and 1260 spins, and the ever-popular Flare, an upside-down move. Due to the jam style format, the highlight for most of the kids was the snowmobile pulls up to the top of the pipe. To culminate the session, each participant received a prize ranging from goggles to jackets to skis.
The awards party concluded with the top three places being awarded to Mitch Gillman of Montana, Andy Partridge of Park City, and Aaron Blunck from Crested Butte. While each was proud of their results, all the athletes stated that it was the best day of pipe skiing of their lives, and isn’t that what sport and entertainment is really about?