“I just reset and recharged the batteries”
[ by Than Acuff ]
Aaron Blunck’s quest to compete in the ski halfpipe at the Winter Olympics in China in February started last March with a bang when Blunck won the first Olympic qualifier event, the U.S. Grand Prix in Aspen.
It set him up well for the start of this season this year as he jumped back into Olympic qualifier fray at the Toyota U.S. Grand Prix at Copper Mountain the first week of December. It’s the second of five Olympic qualifier events and with a win under his belt in the first one, things were looking good for Blunck heading into Copper.
“The whole week leading up I was feeling really good and skiing really well,” says Blunck.
But, Blunck suffered a couple big crashes during practice runs heading into the event and his struggles continued in the finals as he crashed on all three runs to end up in 10th place in the end, including popping out of his ski on his first hit during his second and third run.
“That was on me,” says Blunck. “I didn’t check my bindings and my forward pressure was off just a marginal amount. Hard to have that happen but live and learn.”
Blunck admits that the pressure of qualifying for the Olympics weighed heavy on him at that first Copper event so he stepped back before the next qualifying event, the Dew Tour at Copper Mountain December 15-19.
“That was the issue with the first event at Copper,” says Blunck. “There was just so much pressure and I needed to stop thinking about the Olympics.”
Rather than remain at Copper for the week and dwell on what happened and prepare for the Dew Tour event, he hit the road to head to Vail.
“It’s tough when you’re tubed up in Summit for two weeks,” says Blunck. “I went back to my high school roots in Vail, revisited some of my favorite places and paid homage to a teacher there who had passed away. I just reset and recharged the batteries. I wanted to bring more of a spiritual feeling into the next event.”
It just so happens that the Dew Tour events are also some of Blunck’s favorites and when he returned to Copper, the energy around the event ramped Blunck up even more to compete on his terms.
“Dew Tour is such a rad event because of the people who make it happen,” says Blunck. “I wanted to take that energy and put it into my skiing. Stop thinking about the Olympics and just go ski for the love of it.”
The mind shift played out as hoped as Blunck had a solid day of qualifying on Wednesday and then two days off before the finals on Saturday, December 18.
The first run of the three-run final on Saturday didn’t pan out, but Blunck scored high enough to move into fourth place after two runs. He then sealed his podium finish on his third and final run to place second at the Dew Tour event for his second podium out of three Olympic qualifying events.
“I was just so charged but so relaxed at the same time,” says Blunck.
The Olympic qualifier competition calendar takes athletes to Calgary this week but Blunck is opting out of the event to keep the bigger picture in focus. After years of pinning it all season long, Blunck has opted for quality over quantity and a commitment to remain rested and healthy.
“I’m sitting in a great position right now with two podiums,” says Blunck. “I haven’t made it through an entire season because I get so banged up and it’s important to me to make it through a season healthy and happy.”
In addition, with COVID ramping back up, a positive COVID test could end Blunck’s goal to make his third Olympic games so he’s playing it safe.
“I’m going to stay stateside, stay safe and make it to the Olympics,” says Blunck. “I’m very competitive and I hate to sit out an event but health is a priority here. This is a serious matter and I want to play it safe.”
His commitment includes missing time with his family over the holidays and living out of his van for a week while he continues training at Copper as he prepares for the final Olympic qualifier event of the year, the Toyota U.S. Grand Prix at Mammoth Mountain January 6-9.
“It’s tough but I’ll do what I have to do, stay safe, get to Mammoth and hope for the best,” says Blunck.