Ranked first in World Cup standings
by Than Acuff
Crested Butte’s own Aaron Blunck won the skier halfpipe national championship in Park City, Utah last weekend and is currently ranked number one in the World Cup standings.
Two years ago Blunck rocketed into the limelight, including appearances in both the X Games and the Olympics. But the frantic schedule took its toll as Blunck suffered injuries, including a couple of bulging discs in his back, and suffered through the 2015 season coming up short of expectations.
“He had an all right year but had back issues and was struggling with that,” says coach Ben Verge. ”He didn’t feel good enough to really push himself.”
“Last season was definitely a struggle,” says Blunck. “I’ve never had to accept so much failure in so little time. It was tough having to accept the fact that I was hurt.”
Hampered by pain, Blunck made a conscious decision to get his body back in shape using the off-season for rest, rehab and strengthening. The move is paying off as Blunck is in the midst of one of his most successful seasons.
“Last summer I was like, I’m just going to go to the gym and do a bunch of rehab,” says Blunck.
“I think he took his personal health more seriously,” adds Verge.
Following a rigorous program here in Crested Butte set by Carrie Jo Hicks with some additional help from Tim Poppe, Blunck returned to full strength and was ready to get back mentally and jump back onto the podium.
“Midway through the summer I started feeling better and by the beginning of the season, I was back to being well,” says Blunck. “I needed to get my competition mindset back.”
Once Blunck was back to full health, he set his sights on improving one major aspect of his halfpipe run as well as adding something new.
“He wanted to figure out how to go bigger out of the pipe,” says Verge. “He started in September, working on his run in Switzerland.”
He got his first chance to debut his new halfpipe run at the start of the Dew Tour and stumbled in his opening competition. While the hiccup was disappointing, it opened Blunck’s eyes to a new aspect of his mental game.
“I was thinking too far ahead, thinking about the X Games, and after Dew Tour I just decided I needed to take it one event at a time,” says Blunck. “Not even worry about X Games.”
Things turned for the better for Blunck at the Visa U.S. Grand Prix at Mammoth Mountain, Calif. in January. But, as luck would have it, Mother Nature put a damper on the competition and athletes realized they needed to adjust their strategy accordingly.
“Everybody knew they had to ski qualifiers like it was the finals,” says Verge. “The plan was to ski his run with one thing left out in case there was a finals.”
“It was the highest level of skiing I’d ever seen in a qualifying,” says Blunck. “We had to do what we had to do.”
Blunck busted out his newest trick at Mammoth, a switch double down the pipe 900, which he had just learned a week prior to the event, and the move paid off as he finished qualifiers in third place. Finals were ultimately cancelled and Blunck finished the competition back on the podium.
“It was kind of a bummer finals were cancelled but at the same time I was super stoked because I was on the podium,” says Blunck.
Blunck ended up getting the call to the X Games and while he didn’t land his finals run, the experience paid off in spades mentally.
“It ended up being the funnest X Games ever,” says Blunck. “At least I went down sending it and that gave me good momentum heading into Park City.”
The Visa U.S. National Championships in Park City is where everything came together for Blunck. While racked with illness during the competition, Blunck rallied to put down his complete run in the first run of the finals to take the national title.
“Right as the competition started I got into my competition mindset,” says Blunck. “Going into the finals I had to remind myself why I ski and just do what I did as a little kid: have fun. It was the most relaxed I’ve ever been.”
“It was cool to see six months of work all come together,” says Verge.
Blunck continues to keep himself focused with gym training every day and a focus on the here and now as he prepares for the end of the season.
“This year I’m focused on training, training, training,” says Blunck. “Mentally I’m in a better state than I’ve ever been.”
“At such a young age, he’s got a veteran competition mind,” adds Verge. “He definitely has a drive that not anybody else has.”
Blunck heads across the pond the end of February to compete in the European X Games in Oslo, Norway and then looks to take the World Cup title at the World Cup finals in Tignes, France.
“Right now I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been,” says Blunck.