Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Blunck sets halfpipe world on fire

First athlete ever to land switch dub cork 1440

by Than Acuff

It’s been a long-standing reality in the winter sports world that champions are made in the summer. With that in mind, Aaron Blunck spends a lot of his time in the summer training in and out of the gym as well as on snow in the Northwest and in New Zealand.

But, with the onset of COVID-19, Blunck’s last three months have been different, much like for everyone else. Yet, amid the COVID chaos, he also just set the halfpipe world on fire as the first athlete to ever land a switch dub cork 1440.

Or, in layman’s terms: Starting out backwards before launching 12 to 15 feet out of the halfpipe, then spinning four times, flipping twice and landing forwards.

“That was the first time I’d done a trick that no one else had even tried or done before,” says Blunck. “I was kind of confused when I landed on my feet. Shaun White [as in X Games and Olympic multiple gold medal winner] was there and came up to me and said ‘You just beat the snowboarders to the switch 14.’”

The trick came at the end of a three-week U.S. Ski Team training camp on Mt. Hood and at the end of a wild ride for Blunck.

It all started when it did for all of us back in March. Blunck was fresh off of winning the World Cup Crystal Globe in halfpipe skiing and had plans for several filming projects. His initial trip took him back east for some filming and while he was there, the pandemic hit. While he was at Jay Peak, the world started shutting down and it became obvious it was time for him to come home.

“Things were hitting the fan and we were all stressing out,” says Blunck.

The pandemic put the kibosh on everything for Blunck but he settled into the new reality.

“Everything I had planned got shut down but I was okay with it,” says Blunck. “Things were just crazy.”

Then Blunck received an email from the U.S. Ski Team in the beginning of June saying the training camp on Mt. Hood was on, but with some stipulations.

In order to get permission to train and remain insured, the halfpipe team had to meet in Utah and quarantine as a team for five days with strict oversight including several tests to make sure everyone remained negative for COVID-19. Once the team was cleared, they caravanned to Mt. Hood as a team and were required to remain as one group, separate from the rest of the U.S. athletes training.

“Even if you had a problem with someone in the group, we had to do it and we had to do it together,” says Blunck. “It was definitely weird but everyone was just so grateful to get on the snow and everyone went into training charged up.”

Ironically, while the team followed all of the protocols to the letter, they were thrown into the public at Timberline ski area on Mt. Hood since the resort was still open, albeit limited, to the public.

“There were lift lines and everyone was wearing masks but there was no social distancing in the lines,” explains Blunck. “That part was a little iffy.”

Nevertheless, once on snow, Blunck was recharged and set his sights on the switch dub cork 1440.

“Part of my focus at the camp was to work on it, not to do it,” says Blunck. “Everything just fell into place.”

Blunck had tried the same trick back in November in Austria and admits it was a big mistake.

“I was 12 feet above the deck knowing I was supposed to dip into a second flip and hadn’t even done the first one,” says Blunck. “I had a really bad crash and was lucky to walk away from it. That’s when I was like, ‘This trick is going to take some time.’”

Fast-forward to June and Mt. Hood and the time and place to practice. Days and days of 1080s led to inspiration to give it a try but it wasn’t without massive trepidation.

“Going into it I was thinking if I crash it’s going to be worse than the last time,” explains Blunck. “In my head it was chaos but once I dropped in I was so locked and loaded.”

Blunck vividly recalls coming out of his second flip and seeing his friend filming and got a sense for how it was going.

“I saw him and he wasn’t freaking out so I thought I must be good,” says Blunck.

The feedback from his feat has been a mix of congratulations and some consternation as the bar has been raised to a point potentially unreachable for some halfpipe skiers.

“One kid said to me, ‘Not a lot of people are going to like you because you did it,’” says Blunck. “Others said that I just offered inspiration to a lot of skiers and that I may have taken the sport to a whole new level. Now that it’s been done, people can see how to do it. It’ll just take a lot of time.”

So after all of the chaos and confusion, the wild ride ended on a high note. Not only did Blunck turn the halfpipe world on its head with the new trick, Blunck and his Head ski teammates opened a door for a younger athlete from Vermont. It just so happens, the kid has spent the past couple of years training under Hans Von Briesen, who used to live in Crested Butte and coached Blunck during his formative early teenage years. Blunck skied with the kid back in March when he was in Vermont and helping pave the way for him to get on the Head ski team.

“That definitely added to the whole trip,” says Blunck. “Among all of the chaos, there were some cool things that happened.”

Now back in Crested Butte, Blunck is in wait-and-see mode as the pandemic continues to play out. The U.S. Ski Team applied for visas for the athletes such as Blunck to travel to Europe and train in the fall. In addition, there’s the question if there will even be a season of competition.

“We’ll have to see what happens with contests,” says Blunck. “This year is the start of qualifying for the Olympics, so it’s a pretty big year.”

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