Aspen’s Bleiler ditches skin shots for backcountry rides | SummitDaily.com

Aspen’s Bleiler ditches skin shots for backcountry rides

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

ASPEN ” Go ahead, fellas. Take a good, long look.

That sliver of hip, those taut forearms, the slender fingers on the Jan. 28 cover of ESPN The Magazine are all the flesh you’re going to get when it comes to Gretchen Bleiler from here on out.

It’s time to move on.

That’s what Bleiler plans to do, anyway: turn the page. Two years after winning the Olympic silver medal in halfpipe, the 26-year-old snowboarder from Aspen is starting a new chapter in her life, both on and off the snow.

The recent ESPN cover photo is far from her 2004 debut in the magazine, where she posed nude behind a strategically placed snowboard for a single-page story. The same year she showed up wearing nothing but a body-paint bikini alongside other action-sports women on the cover of the men’s magazine FHM; she shed even that for a more revealing 2006 spread in Jane magazine.

These days, Bleiler wants to show substance beyond skin, and the shift in attitude is the first signal that she has begun to transcend the sport.

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“I feel like in the past I felt pressured to bring exposure to myself as well as my sport. I had those opportunities and maybe didn’t have the best advice and went along with it and never really felt like it was ‘me,'” she said. “But now I’ve come so far and am so much more confident in who I am and the path I need to follow, and I won’t be a part of those types of opportunities anymore.

“It’s cool, though. It shows that I have come a long way. It’s too bad that when you are a woman in sports that those are the opportunities you get, to show your skin. But it’s a fact of life, and I’ve learned about it along the way. It won’t happen again.”

As the first woman from the world of action sports to be featured on the cover of ESPN The Magazine, the name “Gretchen” may soon hold the same clout as “Serena” or “Danica,” two among a very exclusive club of cover girls in a traditionally male medium.

“It’s an incredible honor,” Bleiler said of her cover placement just a week before the Super Bowl. “I’ve worked so hard to get to where I am now, and I’m just excited to take advantage of the opportunities that come with it. It’s a dream come true.” There are other signs, too, a checklist of dreams fulfilled and opportunities formerly reserved for action-sports icons with names like Hawk, Slater or White. After becoming the first woman to sign a head-to-toe deal with Oakley in 2000, Bleiler became the first Oakley athlete to design a signature clothing line for the company, the GB Collection, which launches this fall.

Beyond the snowsports-specific deals she’s signed with K2, Giro and Aspen/Snowmass, the list of sponsors at GretchenBleiler.com (her new Web site) includes the unlikely pairing of Nike and Harley-Davidson, further testament to the mass-marketing appeal that has pushed Bleiler into mainstream status and the six-figure income that comes along with it.

“I have fun expanding from just being a snowboarder,” she said.

Most important, though, the notoriety and, for lack of a better term, “job security” she’s achieved as a multiple medalist throwing the biggest tricks of any woman on her sport’s biggest stages have allowed Bleiler to be a bit more selective about the opportunities she is presented.

In the world of action sports, Bleiler’s trajectory has been somewhat akin to watching a childhood star grow up on screen. After making her Winter X Games debut in Crested Butte nine years ago, she recently claimed her third snowboarding superpipe gold medal before an adoring hometown audience, shaking hands and signing autographs while flashing a million-dollar smile.

Indeed, her next move is into the movies, she said. Not the Hollywood type, but the annual snowboard flicks filmed far from the fans in places like Alaska and the Utah backcountry. Although her dedication to competition has kept her from branching out to that aspect of the industry in the past, Bleiler said she’s excited to learn more about that side of snowboarding.

“I think there’s just so many different aspects of the sport. I think there’s something to be said for going into the backcountry and riding big mountain lines or dropping cliffs,” she said. “That’s something totally different and unique, and I think it takes a different mentality and it’s a different type of riding.”

Bleiler doesn’t intend to abandon competition. The annual U.S. Open in Vermont is too big to pass up, and an Olympic gold medal at the Vancouver Olympics looms large on her radar. But now that the luster of another X Games has come and gone, she’s ready to get back to what she considers the “core” of snowboarding, not to mention the core of Gretchen Bleiler.

“I love to compete, and I think I always will love to compete. But the filming and photo shoots, that is like the heart of snowboarding. I feel like last year and the past couple years it’s gotten a little commercial because of the Olympics, and I really just want to bring it back to the core,” she said. “This is something that kind of makes me nervous ” going into the backcountry ” it’s like starting over again, really. I don’t have a ton of experience. There are a lot of girls out there who have been doing it a lot longer than I have, so it’s a huge risk. But I think with a lot of hard work I can be successful in that area, too.”