Gretchen Bleiler’s Snow Angels look to make a difference
This past weekend, 15 of the best female snowboarders in the world dropped into Aspen, Colo., for the second-annual Snow Angels Invitational, a women’s-only halfpipe contest created and hosted by 2002 Olympic silver medalist Gretchen Bleiler. The event was designed as a season-ending opportunity for the women to compete in a chill environment (the contest agenda is peppered with spa treatments and massages) with top billing (read: the guys aren’t there) and in a progression-promoting format (a 70-minute jam).
Climate change is a cause close to the hearts — and the paychecks — of Bleiler and her peers, so the event is bookended by workshops on global warming, including a closing talk by a representative from the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC). The weekend is viewed as a sort of sports summit where the most influential female athletes in snowboarding can discuss issues important to each of them, as well as what they’d like to see improved upon within their sport.
We wanted to know what those issues are, so we asked each of the women, “If you could run ESPN The Magazine for one issue, what would you write about?”
Molly Aguirre, 24, Mammoth Lakes, Calif.
Global warming. I’d like to see more stories about the effects it’s having on our sport. Thanks to Gretchen carrying around her An Inconvenient Truth DVD two years ago, we all know more about it and try to stay educated. It is directly affecting our sport. If it continues to happen, snowboarding won’t be here anymore. I grew up in Minnesota with crazy snowstorms. We don’t have them anymore. It makes me think, “What is the world going to be like in 10 years?”
Kelly Clark, 25, Mammoth Lakes, Calif.
I have always been a fan of the behind-the-athlete stories. I want to know what makes a person tick. With us girls, we share a common bond, but we have unique passions and lives, things we are interested in and support. I want to know what people stand for.
Right now, I am in the middle of filing for 501C3 status. I’m starting the Kelly Clark Foundation, a scholarship program for low-income families to send their children to mountain schools. I was fortunate to be able to go to one of those schools, Mount Snow Academy, and I recently became aware that they are unaffordable for the average family. I want everyone to have the opportunities I had. The selection process will not be based off of talent. It will be based off of need, desire and dreams. I don’t care if we find the next Shaun White or Kelly Clark. I want to give kids who never would have had a chance the opportunity to be amazing.
Clair Bidez, 21, Minturn, Colo.
Lately, I’ve been really into backcountry powder riding, but only in Colorado. ESPN Mag should fly me and a few girls out to interior British Columbia for a Cat trip and write a feature about our first experience in B.C. It would be cool to get a bunch of us halfpipe girls out there. Next year will be tough, because it’s an Olympic year, so we could do it toward the end of the season, after Vancouver. The Olympics is my dream. I am going to go after it with everything I have.
Lizzy Beerman, 17, Weston, Vermont
Women’s progression. If you compare the tricks women were doing three or four years ago to now, it’s insane. I’m most impressed by a lot of the switch tricks. Ellery [Hollingsworth]’s cab 9. 14-year-old Maddy [Schaffrick]’s switch backside seven — those are harder tricks than anyone has ever done, and they are becoming more popular. Women are getting closer to the men and pushing the envelope, and it’s cool to be a part of that.
Ellery Hollingsworth, 17, Darien, Conn.
It would be cool to see a feature on us up-and-coming riders. This weekend, we saw Maddy Schaffrick, who is 14, doing tricks that haven’t been done before, and that deserves credit. Me, Lizzy [Beerman] and Kaitlyn [Farrington] … we’ve been chasing Gretchen [Bleiler] and the top riders and they have been great role models. There have been tons of features on the top girls and how they are great role models for the young girls. But it would be cool to have a piece that focuses on us.
Gretchen Bleiler, 28, Aspen, Colorado
With the Olympics just 10 months away, I think there needs to be talk about Cypress Mountain, where the halfpipe contest will be held. At the test event, there were a lot of issues, and there isn’t much time to fix them. In Italy at this time last Olympics — a year out — the pipe was awesome and everyone was riding amazingly. Cypress is already dealing with hard factors, like bad weather and poor visibility, to begin with. On top of that, they put the halfpipe in the wrong part of the mountain, set against the fall line. Because it doesn’t go with the fall line, one wall is higher than the other and it’s easier to go bigger on one wall than the other. These things should never be an issue with an Olympic halfpipe or an Olympic venue.
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