“I was just thinking that if I’m going to drop into this halfpipe, I’m going for broke”
by Than Acuff
As his competition fell prey to icy conditions and a tricky halfpipe, Crested Butte native Aaron Blunck remained focused on crushing his second of two runs to win the gold medal in the skier halfpipe at the X Games in Aspen last week.
This was Blunck’s fifth trip to the X Games in Aspen and seventh X Games in his career, but his first X Games gold.
Blunck made a shift both mentally and physically as he prepared for the competition season. While he is a decorated and sponsored professional athlete who made the move to Summit County from Crested Butte years ago to focus on skiing halfpipe, he returned home to Crested Butte prior to the season and has shifted his approach to halfpipe skiing.
“The move back to Crested Butte has been crucial,” explains Blunck. “In years past I’d be on the road four or five weeks and return to Summit County, but the first thing I really wanted to do was to be back in Crested Butte. Home is where your heart is and it’s been nice to come home, see my parents and see my friends. The move back to Crested Butte was one of the biggest moves I’ve made in my career.””
As for the mental side of things, Blunck has a mindset more tuned to skiing as a whole rather than just skiing halfpipe.
“I’m not in the sport for the money, the fame or the comps,” says Blunck. “It’s just another day on the hill, it’s all skiing and it’s all fun and the more I’ve been thinking that way, the easier things are getting.”
Blunck opened the season back in mid-December with the first Grand Prix event of the year and placed third to kick things off on the right foot.
“I couldn’t have been more stoked,” says Blunck. “To start off the season like that was great.”
He drove home to Crested Butte immediately after the event and then proceeded to reap the rewards of snowpocalypse, leaving training in the halfpipe behind and just skiing powder and getting time in the gym with Carrie Jo Hicks.
“The storm cycle rolled in and I didn’t leave until January 12,” says Blunck. “There were some thoughts about getting back to the pipe but the storm just kept coming and coming. I just had to trust that my training last spring, over the summer and this fall would pay off.”
Eventually Blunck had to make it back to Summit County to train with the U.S. Ski Team and return to the halfpipe. But again, with a different focus and a more seasoned approach, the lead-up to the X Games was much more relaxed than in the past.
“In past years I’ve thought about tricks and worked on those and waited until the last minute to add new ones in,” explains Blunck. “Going into the X Games this year I was way less stressed. This year I knew I have the tricks and so I decided to just go day by day and just ski. Leading up I was just having fun and just skied the halfpipe for fun.”
On competition day Aspen was in the midst of a cold snap, for Aspen, with temperatures never getting above 10 degrees the entire day. Prior to the men’s skier halfpipe competition, athletes were getting ready and watching the women’s comp and saw the women going higher than usual. It was then that they realized the pipe was hard and fast.
Blunck headed to the top and after a relaxed build-up to the event, Blunck admits the nerves hit hard, resulting in a crash in his first run and leaving him in eighth place with one run to go.
After some words with his coaches at the bottom, Blunck returned to the top for his final run and set his mind to the task at hand.
“I was just thinking if I’m going to drop into this halfpipe, I’m going for broke,” says Blunck. “Whatever happens, happens, it’s just another day on the hill.”
In the end Blunck threw down a smooth run while the majority of his competition continued to struggle with the conditions and crashed. With the top score on the board, Blunck then had to watch the final five skiers, who all struggled with the halfpipe and Blunck sealed his first gold medal.
“The fact that it was so icy and fast, people were going seven to ten feet higher and it just came down to who could adjust the best to it,” says Blunck. “It’s a huge highlight of my career and I’m stoked, but at the end of the day we’re all just skiers and anyone can win any day.”
Blunck is now out in Mammoth, Calif. for the Mammoth Grand Prix February 1-4, which is also the first Olympic qualifier for the 2018 Winter Games in South Korea.