Bleiler competing less, giving back more: Four-time X Games winner enters hometown event as defending women’s champ
Gretchen Bleiler’s season was supposed to be pillared around two events — the Winter X Games in Aspen this weekend and the European Winter X Games in March. She wanted to ride more, compete less; try new things more, stress less.
Things were all well and good as she skipped the first major halfpipe contest of the season, the opening U.S. Grand Prix event in Copper Mountain, Colo., even though she was actually in town at the time. The first Dew Tour stop in Breckenridge, Colo., came and went as well.
But the 29-year-old’s innate competitiveness started to creep out as the X Games crept closer. The event always means a lot to Bleiler, who wasn’t born in Aspen, but was raised there. She’d been progressing on her newest move this season — the backside 900 — but sticking it in front of the hometown crowd is a little different than throwing it in training.
So she entered last week’s Dew Tour contest in Killington, Vt., and took second place. She landed that backside 900 in both runs of the finals.
“Competition is so different from just snowboarding training with your friends,” Bleiler says. “So I figured it made a lot of sense just to go to Killington and get one event under my belt before this big one. And I’m really glad I did.
“The conditions in Killington were tough; it was one of the iciest pipes I’ve ever ridden and it was freezing cold. I said, ‘If you can pull out a good run in those conditions, you can do it anywhere.’ So I think that event only made me stronger, which is exactly what I was looking for.”
Now, Bleiler’s goal for the X Games is back-to-back 900s. On top of that self-laid pressure is the aspect of competing in front of her hometown, something she says doesn’t get any easier even though it’s an annual showcase. But now that the first-contest jitters are out of the way, expect Bleiler to perform as well as she has at past X Games — she’s won the superpipe event four times, including last year.
Then, don’t expect to hear much from her again until March. She’s serious about that competing less mantra.
Few women have gained as much exposure from snowboarding as Bleiler, even though she has yet to achieve the ultimate goal — an Olympic gold medal. She took silver in 2006, and after falling on both of her runs in the 2010 finals, she finished last out of the 11 women.
A result like that on the world stage might drive many athletes to train harder, compete more, and focus even more intently on the next Olympics. Bleiler, however, won’t commit to another season, let alone another Olympics.
“I can’t really be about results anymore because I’ve accomplished almost all of the goals that I’ve had,” she says.
She realizes how accomplished she already is, and how fortunate. So it’s her time to give back.
Since the Vancouver Games, Bleiler has done signature sessions — guest-host snowboard camps for kids — in Mt. Hood, Ore., and Copper Mountain; traveled with her sponsor Oakley to a South African township called Mamelodi and volunteered at a clinic that gave 10,000 people free eye exams and prescription eyewear; gave presentations on the environment and climate change at the Universities of Colorado at Boulder and Denver, at which she created a movement called “The 21-day Reusable Challenge,” which dared the students to live without plastic water bottles, plastic grocery bags or plastic carry-out food containers for 21 days; took that movement to Facebook, where the winner of the 21-day challenge received a K2 Eco Pop snowboard (a sustainable snowboard) and an eco jacket from the Gretchen Bleiler Oakley line; and she started a stainless steel reusable water bottle company with her family called Alex. Not bad for one offseason.
To some, it may appear Bleiler is beginning to distance herself from competitive snowboarding. She says this is the year to figure all that out.
“There’s definitely not a date or a time where I’m going to say I’m done,” she says. “Really, I’m taking this season just to have this new plan and try out these things to figure out that longer-term plan… Honestly, I think with this renewed mentality (about) competing, I think it’s going to be a lot of fun for me. As long as I’m having fun and pushing my snowboarding and pushing women’s snowboarding, then I will keep doing it.”
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