Battling against the upper ranks
Crested Butte athlete Aaron Blunck made a big move to help propel him into the upper ranks of the halfpipe competition circuit.
Born and raised in Crested Butte, Blunck needed more time training, and more facilities, to hone his halfpipe skills, so he left family and friends behind this year to attend Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy.
According to Blunck, attending the Vail school has made it easier to manage his studies while training and competing.
“I would leave to compete and when I got back I always got pounded with homework,” explains Blunck. “It’s easier to deal with now.”
Furthermore, Vail just provided a key piece of equipment for the school to use in their training, making the transition from summer to winter that much quicker.
“Vail bought an airbag for our team so we can train on snow with an airbag,” explains Blunck. “All the tricks that you practiced over the summer into a pool you can now train on the snow.”
And then there’s the coaching staff, which Blunck believes is as good as an athlete can get.
“The coaching is world-class with Elana Chase, Luke Allen and Dave Zweig,” says Blunck.
His first test came on December 8 at the U.S. Halfpipe Grand Prix in Copper, one of the top competitions of the season and Blunck’s first pro level event.
“All the top skiers in the world are there,” says Blunck.
Blunck finished the event in 22nd place, happy with the way it all went for his first high-level experience.
“It went really well and I stomped all of my runs,” says Blunck. “I felt I did really well.”
One thing that impressed coach Elana Chase was Blunck’s comfort level competing at the Grand Prix.
“He rose to the occasion,” says Chase. “I was pretty pleased with that.”
Blunck returned to the big time two weeks later at the first Dew Tour stop December 15-18 in Breckenridge. The Dew Tour is another top-level event that attracts the same athletes seen at the Winter X Games.
Blunck came into the Dew Tour stop full of confidence but suffered a couple of hiccups during his runs. He had a hand drag in his first run and then had a ski pop off on his second run and finished in 18th place.
“It went all right,” says Blunck. “I had all of my tricks dialed in practice.”
Blunck looked to hit the podium at the first stop of the Revolution Tour in Copper December 21-22 but had to dig deep if he was going to make it. He lost a ski on his first run, leaving him profoundly discouraged.
“I hadn’t been that mad in so long,” says Blunck.
Blunck admits that he’s usually very relaxed at the start but after his first run, he took a different approach.
“I took out my music and really started to focus,” explains Blunck. “I was so ready to drop in.”
It all came back to him after his first trick on his second run, qualifying Blunck for the finals.
“I hit my Flair and went bigger than I’ve ever gone before,” says Blunck. “I felt so relaxed after that. I was just so stoked.”
Blunck went with his “safety run” on his first finals run and was sitting in the lead but when he saw the second run from his main competition that day, Blunck stepped it up.
“I knew I had to throw a double flair [essentially a double flip in the halfpipe], his run was perfect,” says Blunck.
Blunck’s final run went as follows; Double Flair, Left 9, Right 9, Alley Oop Flat 5, Cork 7, switch down the pipe to another Cork 7.
Both the Double Flair and switch Cork 7 are tricks Blunck added to his repertoire this season and the effort put him on the podium in second place.
“It was the run of my life,” says Blunck.
Chase believes he’s on the cusp of bigger and better things that may pan out by the end of the season.
“He’s improved a lot, he’s coachable and super-tenacious,” says Chase. “From a skiing standpoint he’s right on point. He’s one trick short of being at the top of the game. He’s got a Double Flair and that’s a gateway. He needs another Double Flair on the same run.”
With his results in his first three events of the season, Blunck is now ranked in the top 50 in the world in the halfpipe and feels on top of his game as he heads into his next competition, the Winter Youth Olympic Games in Innsbruck, Austria.
“Right now I’m feeling great,” says Blunck. “I’m in the best condition of my life and have had the best training. I’m super excited.”