White, Bleiler trailblazers of big-time snowboarding
Toledo in Midwestern Ohio and San Diego in sunny Southern California are not exactly the hotbeds of winter sports.
– especially those in the mountains.
But they have produced two of the giants of the snowboard halfpipe world and two of the biggest personalities in the sport – Shaun White and Gretchen Bleiler.
The American duo have taken snowboard from trendy speciality sport magazines to the forefront of the media world in the United States – not to mention making the sport a big draw in the business world.
‘Snowboard stands out. It stands out no matter what,’ said Bleiler. ‘I think snowboarding, it sells itself.’
Bleiler has done more than her part. Just before the 2006 Turino Olympics started, sexy pictures of the beautiful blonde appeared in the men’s entertainment magazine FHM, giving many men their first glimpse of a snowboarder – and a fine picture at that.
Since taking silver at 2006 Turin, Bleiler has created the first-ever all-girls halfpipe competition and photo shoot called the Snow Angels Invitational. She also has designed a signature apparel line with Oakley.
She has also graced sports and lifestyle publications such as ESPN The Magazine, Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Times, New York Times and USA Today as well as making appearances on numerous U.S. national TV programmes including the Today Show, Good Morning America, and Tonight Show with Jay Leno.
Bleiler was born in Toledo but grew up in Dayton, Ohio, and picked up snowboarding shortly after her family moved to Aspen, Colorado, when she was 10 years old. She had ‘Avalanche Danger’ days that kept her from going to school and climbing and snowboarding down the 4.27km high peaks became part of her education.
‘After growing up in the middle of traditional sports, I loved the free aspect of the sport,’ Bleiler said of snowboarding.
Bleiler has also used her added popularity and success as a platform to voice the causes important to her, being involved in the Women’s Sports Foundation and an active spokeswoman for www.stopglobalwarming.org.
Still, while Bleiler has been one of the leaders in pushing women’s snowboard in terms of extra rotation and improved amplitude and style of tricks, the absolute forerunner in the entire sport has been White.
One of the reasons White has been able to push himself and the sport is the fact that he is the closest thing that snowboarding – or even winter sports in the US – has to a rock star.
The 23-year-old has become practically a business mogul – especially since winning the 2006 Olympic snowboard halfpipe gold. He went from an action sports superstar to a money-making machine.
His video games have sold more than three million copies. He has a popular line of Target clothing as well as sponsorship and advertising deals with such giants as American Express, Burton Snowboards, HP computers, Oakley and Red Bull.
Fortune magazine ranks his annual income at 9 million U.S. dollars, and he was rated No. 51 in the Power 100 rankings of the most powerful athletes by BusinessWeek.
White, however, insists the money hasn’t spoiled him.
‘Money hasn’t changed me. I have to go home and clean up after the dog. I’m just a relaxed normal guy,’ said White, who was born with Tetralogy of Fallot, a congenital heart defect for which he needed two open-heart operations before the age of one.
Those business millions and popularity allowed him to work with Red Bull in creating the sport’s first-ever on-mountain foam pit, which allowed White to attempt tricks previously believed to be impossible.
After one month of the ‘Red Bull Project X’, White came up with an arsenal of new tricks, which he unveiled in New Zealand in August 2009, performing the first ever back-to-back double cork variations – a double back flip combined with a triple twist.
At Cypress Mountain, White is expected to attempt a 1260 Double McTwist – which he landed in late January to win his 10th X Games gold medal.
‘The Double McTwist is the toughest trick I’ve ever attempted,’ said White of the move in which he flips head over heels twice while spinning 3 1/2 times and holding the board.
‘You take off and on the second one you go into it blind. You just pray.’
If those prayers are answered, White, his business partners and the sport of snowboarding could very well take another huge leap forward.