Gretchen Bleiler Interview
Source: SHRED BETTIES
With a Silver Medal in the Olympics, and a series of wins and podiums at the X-Games, Grand Prix, and World Cup events, Gretchen has made a name for herself as one of the most influential halfpipe riders in the world. This month, she added an ESPY for the top female action sports athlete to her list of awards, and is also up for a Teen Choice Award (more info on how to vote for her at gretchenbleiler.com ). With her progressive riding, and involvement in product development at Oakley and K2, she is pushing women’s snowboarding to a new level. This spring, her brainchild, the Covergirl Snow Angels Invitational, showcased some of the most progressive female riding of the season.
Last month, our art director, Julie Verone, had an opportunity to interview her and ask her about her riding, her new outerwear, and more. Read the interview below, or listen to it here:
Shred Betties: So how are you doing?
Gretchen Bleiler: I’m doing well. I’m in Mammoth right now, riding with the US Team.
SB: I’m in New York, we have absolutely no snow here.
GB: [laughs] Yeah, actually it’s definitely spring or even summertime conditions up here, but there’s still a bunch of snow, and a pipe with that’s got a few hits in it. I’m just getting some springtime riding in, working on some things, and finishing off the season.
SB: Very nice. You had a pretty awesome season as it is. We wanted to really congratulate you on getting gold at the X-Games.
GB: Thank you!
SB: So the one really cool thing about the X-Games that we noticed was that the crowd really seemed like they were behind you. Do you think that helped you stomp your win?
GB: Yeah I think so. The X-Games have been in Aspen since 2002, and Aspen, of course, is my home town so I get a lot of community support, so it’s always a really exciting event because of that. The first few years, it actually intimidated more me more than it helped me, but I’ve figured out how to use all the energy and support that I get to my advantage. I just go out there and try to ride my best and give everyone a good show.
SB: That’s awesome. Would you consider that one of your biggest career highlights.
GB: Yeah. I mean, this is the third time I’ve won X-Games. Just as I was starting snowboarding, the X-Games was the biggest event in the whole sport and was one of those things that I held up on a pedestal. It still is. It’s the biggest event every year, along with the Olympics, which is obviously a different scenario, being a different platform, and only coming around every four years. Both of those two accomplishments are the definitely highlights of my career.
SB: How do you feel the coverage for women in these sort of events is, in general?
GB: Of the X-Games?
SB: The X-Games or any other major competition.
GB: First of all, in general, we don’t get as much airtime as the guys, but every year it’s getting better and better. I think it’s because of the progression of women in snowboarding. It’s still not equal, but it’s getting better, and we’re all pushing for it to even out one of these days. Within X-Games, our coverage is pretty amazing. We have live coverage, and after the event this year, I was on Sports Center. I think the X-Games does a great job of covering the women’s half pipe, at least. Some events are better that others, but overall over the past few years it’s gotten better.
SB: One of the things that a lot of my friends, particularly my guy friends, were commenting on was that it was more enjoyable for them to watch women’s pipe than guys pipe, just because the women were doing more interesting things and it didn’t seem like it had just become a big spinning competition.
GB: That’s definitely a valid point, and it’s something I’ve heard more and more. I think it’s a really exciting time in women’s snowboarding because the progression is so enormous right now, while the guys, pretty much, are doing back-to-back 10’s. You can only spin so far and do so many combos. The girls haven’t gotten to that plateau yet, so it’s explosive, everyone’s doing something different. It’s really exciting to watch the women’s events right now.
SB: Definitely. So in addition to the insane crippler we saw from you in the X-Games, we couldn’t help but notice your awesome bright yellow outerwear. I understand that’s part of your new line with Oakley. Did you have fun developing that?
GB: Oh my gosh, yeah. I’ve always been very opinionated about how I look on the mountain, and so when I got the opportunity to work with Oakley on my own signature collection, I was ecstatic. I just finished up the design for Fall ‘09, so now I’ve designed two seasons worth of outerwear and apparel. The process has been amazing. It takes a lot of time, because I’m so involved in every step, from the design to the fit, fabric, color, where the buttons are, what zippers we use, the finishes. It’s totally involved, but I love it. It’s the best feeling in the world when I’m wearing it up on the mountain and I get a compliment on it. I love that!
SB: We really really loved everything we saw, especially the straps going across the zippers on the pants, that was pretty awesome.
GB: Thank you! I’m so excited for next year. This year’s is amazing and I loved it, and now I’m already moving on to next year’s stuff. We just got the first prototypes in. I think it’s just getting better and better; I’m learning more, and it’s just a really fun project for me.
SB: That’s fantastic. We always like seeing new women’s outerwear, especially when it’s going outside of the box a little and when it’s designed by women, because that’s just fantastic. You’re also part of the K2 alliance, so how is it working with that team and helping to develop gear on the more technical end of things?
GB: Well first, of all, it’s just so fun. When I first started snowboarding, it was all about snowboarding and working on my tricks and doing well in contests. But now, with all the success I’ve had, it’s opened up opportunities to design my own collection with Oakley, and work with K2 on designing graphics for boards and work on the way boards, bindings and boots ride. These are all great opportunities that I really enjoy, so I feel very lucky. It’s great working with K2. They’re such visionaries when it comes to product. The idea is to bring together women from all different sides of the spectrum: different ages, types of snowboarders, and backgrounds. We all give our feedback on all of the women’s products, and because of that we’re creating amazing women’s specific boards, boots, and bindings, and it’s covering all ends of the spectrum. So it’s always fun to get together in these groups and hear everyone’s opinion on the way this board rides or the way that binding looks. I think it’s a great group of people and I think it’s really helping with the progression of the product as well.
SB: It’s really nice to see boards that aren’t just painted pink and a little bit smaller.
GB: Exactly! And it’s the same feeling as when I get compliments on the Oakley outerwear, or when I see a girl up on the mountain riding the Mix or riding the Affair boot that I ride, it’s always cool. I feel like we have a connection, so I go up and talk to them. It’s like we have a little club.
SB: Speaking of little clubs, your current brainchild is the Snow Angels Invitational. Do you want to tell us a little bit about how you came up with that?
GB: When I first thought about doing this contest was when I was doing a photo shoot with Oakley right after the Olympics in 2006 in April at Buttermilk. I had this perfectly cut half pipe all to myself. It was warm, sunny, the conditions were soft, and I thought, “How amazing would it be to have all of my best girlfriends out here riding with me?” It was such a fun session, but I was all alone. And I love riding with my friends, and it’s always more progressive when everyone is riding together and pushing each other. That was the first time I thought we should have a contest in Aspen, and have it be an end of the season wind-down. At that time of year, sometimes we’re feeling burnt out on contests, and the last thing we want to do is go and compete in another event. So, we made this more about fun and relaxation, but also progressive at the same time. That was the initial idea. I was talking to Aspen Snowmass about creating an event together anyway. I started working with my agent, and she was really into making that happen. She’s all about working with women athletes and helping raise the profile of women’s sports in general. It was a great combined effort. It took two years to make it happen, because we wanted it to be perfect and exactly the way we wanted it from the start. This year, it happened and it was above and beyond all of my expectations.
SB: So does that mean we’ll see one next year?
GB: Absolutely. Cover Girl was the title sponsor this year, and they actually signed on for three years, which is amazing. So it’s definitely going to be happening the next two years. I got amazing feedback, everyone loved it. I actually heard from Paulina, who was there, that it was the best contest she’d ever been to, which made me feel good. It was a lot of work. Aspen Snowmass and my agent Amy did the grunt work and made it all happen. I had a lot riding on it, because I believed in it so much and was talking it up to all of my friends, so I wanted it to be perfect. And it was! It was amazing half pipe conditions. All of the riders were just going off and doing tricks they’d never done before. It was really progressive. Besides that, all of the girls got massages and facials. We had a cooking clinic and an environmental workshop, a yoga session, and all of the girls got free lodging and these amazing, fabulous gift baskets. Everyone was really pampered and got the VIP treatment besides just great snowboarding.
SB: We had some people there this year and they said it was great, so we’re really looking forward to next year’s also.
GB: Good! Well I really want to thank Aspen Snowmass and my agent, because without them it would not have been pulled of and definitely wouldn’t have been pulled off at the caliber it at which it was, so I owe a lot to those guys.
SB: We understand that you are involved with Aspen’s Save Snow campaign. Can you tell us a little bit about you got involved with them?
GB: Yeah, being a professional snowboarder, obviously global warming is a huge issue. I mean, if we don’t have snow in the next years, I’m going to be out of a job. I’ve been very athletic my entire life and have always enjoyed being outdoors, so the environment has always been very important to me. After the Olympics, I realized I had a platform to talk about causes I believed in, and the environment and climate change was definitely at the top of the list. So, I’ve been working with Aspen Snowmass to raise awareness. I’ve been working with a website called stopglobalwarming.org and just talking about it in the media, and doing environmental workshops like at the Snow Angels Invitational to get people more aware, and give them the tools so they can go and affect people in their world as well. It’s definitely a huge initiative for everyone in this world, but I think if everyone gets on board and starts making steps, we’re all going to be a lot better off.
SB: Yeah, that’s definitely for sure. The environment has been such a big issue, you can’t turn around without reading about it, so it seems like people are finally willing to make changes in their lives that will help us out in the long run.
GB: Yeah, exactly. Small things, big things, voting for political figures who are behind it, there are so many things that we can all do. Also, for me, when I was working with Oakley on my signature collection, I let them know about some of my beliefs, and we actually have an outfit, an eco-jacket and eco-pants made of 100% recycled and recyclable materials. It’s a great step in the right direction. The fact that the garment is recyclable kind of closes the loop on the whole process. If the fabric is recycled, that’s great, but then it just kind of dies there. With this, once you’re done with the jacket or pants, you send it back to Oakley, and then they send it back to the factory, and break it down, and they can turn it into something else. So it’s all about re-using, and it cuts down on energy used to make it, which then cuts down into emissions into the atmosphere. You know, small steps, but I think it’s all about raising awareness and making the right moves in the right direction.
SB: That’s really cool that you can send the stuff back to Oakley, because I think a lot of times people’s problem is they don’t know what to do with the things they have and it ends up going into the trash.
GB: Exactly. It shows Oakley’s commitment because some clothes are maybe made of recycled materials, but they’re not recyclable. It has to be made of a certain material to be recycled into something else. I think that’s a big step, too. It’s not just about using something that’s recycled, but something that’s recyclable too. Slowly. slowly making changes.
SB: Well I don’t think there’s anyone better in the industry to be working as a spokesperson for all that than you because you definitely have the respect and coverage to do it.
GB: Yeah, and it feels good. Snowboarding is amazing and I love doing it, but it also helps when you can put more meaning behind it. It gives you a better sense of something good.
SB: So what do you see going on in the next season for you?
GB: Well, next season is the year when every country has to start earning their quota spots for the Olympics, so it’s kind of the beginning of the Olympic qualifying process. There won’t be a ton of obligations, but we do have to think about that. In order to get the maximum quota spots for our country four women, four men have to get a top 25 in the World Cup, so I’ll be doing my best to get a quota spot for the US for the women. The X-Games is also a big one, and of course Snow Angels again. This year I took some time to get myself in the backcountry, to get myself out of the half pipe scene that I’ve been so involved in for most of my career. I’m just pushing myself outside of my comfort zone, learning new things. I’ve always wanted to spend more time in the backcountry, riding powder, shooting photos, and filming. I got a taste of that this year and want to continue that next year as well.
SB: That’s great, we’d all like to see a good video part for you.
GB: Yeah for sure. I worked Oakley all season on a video part for an all girls DVD that they’re putting together. It’s going to be a huge distribution, like a million copies. They’re going to give it out for free at certain Oakley stores and in magazines, so hopefully it will turn out well! We worked hard this season, but it was definitely my first year to really get into it. I’m really excited about this year and pushing myself even further and really honing in on certain things even more.
SB: That’s great. So what’s in heavy rotation on your iPod right now?
GB: I’ve been listening to the new Jack Johnson CD a lot. I love Jack Johnson. It totally mellows me out and makes me happy.
SB: What was your favorite vacation ever?
GB: That is a tough one, because there have been many. I’ve been going to Costa Rica with my boyfriend for the past four years. I surf, and I think the surfing there is unbelievable. And it’s just a very slow-paced, simple life down there. So I think I would say Costa Rica.
SB: And that has to be a good antithesis to your regular life since it’s in the warm, sunny beach.
GB: Exactly! I love being warm, and I love laying on the beach, and working on my tan, and I love to surf. It’s like the exact opposite of what I do for most of the season, so it’s a good balance.
SB: Do you like mittens or gloves?
SB: What’s your favorite snowboarding movie?
GB: I would say the Neoproto video People.
SB: Who would win, pirates or ninjas?
GB: Pirates for sure.
SB: All right, well I just wanted to thank you again for the interview. Do you have anything else you want to add?
GB: Nope, that’s about it!