Take 5: Front Range phenom Aaron Blunck is taking the freeski halfpipe world by storm
December 20, 2016
Aaron Blunck has come a long way from Englewood.
In 2014, the Front Range native proved his worth to the U.S. Ski Team and earned an invite to the Winter Olympics in Sochi. While there, at 18 years old, he proved his worth all over again by making the first-ever Olympic freeski halfpipe finals. He took seventh overall on the world's biggest stage, proving that even a youngster from the suburbs can reach the highest level of a mountain-town sport.
These days, the 20-year-old lives fulltime in Crested Butte, where he trains in the halfpipe on chilly bluebird mornings and charges the big, bad, Butte-approved backcountry on powder days. Last season, he met up with a Warren Miller film crew for a few days of invite-only filming at his home mountain for the company's latest film, "Here, There and Everywhere."
Yes, you read that right: Long before Blunck could order a drink or rent a car, he'd competed in the Olympics, moved to Crested Butte and filmed with Warren Miller. What more can a kid ask for?
Plenty. Blunck was in Summit County earlier this month for the first major competitions of the season. When Dew Tour canceled the freeski superpipe contest on Dec. 10, he turned his focus to the U.S. Grand Prix superpipe on Dec. 15 and Dec. 17. After fighting with sub-zero temperatures one day and blowing snow the next, Blunck ended the weekend in third overall behind the French duo of Kevin Rolland and Benoit Valentin. Next up: X Games, where he'll face the same international field he dominated at the U.S. Grand Prix for the biggest accolades this side of an Olympic medal.
Shortly before Dew Tour, the Summit Daily sports desk caught up with Blunck to talk about his unrelenting travel schedule and what it was like to film with the Warren Miller pros in his backyard.
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Summit Daily News: "Here, There and Everywhere" is your first Warren Miller film. Did you grow up watching classics like "Steep and Deep" or "Endless Winter?"
Aaron Blunck: I kind of grew up watching them a little bit. I really enjoyed watching ski movies as a kid, but I was watching every ski movie I could. I'd get totally mixed up with what company was putting it out because I was watching so many. I remember that Warren Miller came to crested butte one winter — I think it was '07, when we had an insane winter — and they did an entire segment in Crested Butte. I remember that so well: They didn't open some of the back bowls that year, places where it had snowed two feet in six hours, and I remember thinking, "What? Why can't we go back there?" But then I found out it was Warren Miller, and we did the same thing so I can't complain.
SDN: What was going through your head when the company first approached you to be part of the film?
AB: Actually, they were already in town with Ingrid Backstrom and some others, and the people at Crested Butte told them that Aaron Blunck would be coming back soon. I was in Canada at the time filming for another movie, and I was emailing with them, saying, "I might make it, I might extend my Canadian trip," but the snow wasn't the best up there. Crested Butte was getting hammered and the guys were still in town. It was perfect timing, perfect place.
SDN: What was going through your head when you heard it was Warren Miller? That's such an iconic name in the industry.
AB: I was stoked. I'd been traveling all over the place that winter, so I was pretty run down, but since it was Warren Miller and I might never have a chance to do this again, I said yes. You have to do it at least once.
It was perfect that they were at Crested Butte. I know this mountain like the back of my hand: the features, what's cool and what's not, and I've been wanting to put out content from Crested Butte for a long time. The locals realize there is stuff out there, but no one else has really been showing what Crested Butte has to offer. I wanted to prove that skiing is what this town is about — there is so much out there to hit.
SDN: Most of your segment is filmed at the resort itself. Was that your choice, or did they come to you specifically for halfpipe footage?
AB: We were at this place called Teocalli Bowl, and it had just opened for the first time two seasons ago. This past season, they only opened it for us with Warren Miller. It's side-country terrain — you have to hike out — but it was all resort property. Then the rest was filmed in the park there.
SDN: How was filming for this movie different than other ski films you've done?
AB: It was a little different. Most of the films I've done so far are with other people, with friends, so the level of skiing is different. You're progressing yourself, and a lot of those other films are park skiing, or building jumps in the backcountry. This, though, was freeskiing.
SDN: Was there any pressure to push it harder or go bigger than a typical film?
AB: I wouldn't say there was any pressure. I always come to Crested Butte between competitions because there really is no pressure. Here, I can just go and ski — not worry about anything else, just have me and the mountains. The town itself is already so small and everyone knows everyone else, so it's not like I'm even getting hounded about the competition season. It was about the freedom when we were filming there.
SDN: For the first time in a decade or two, Warren Miller himself is a big part of this latest release. Did you get a chance to meet the legend?
AB: No, Warren Miller himself wasn't there. He sold the company a while ago, so they have taken it over and now took him back for this season. For a couple of years I think they had a falling out, but now they're back together. I wasn't able to meet him at all. That would've been sweet.
SDN: I'm guessing you've seen the film already. What segment is your favorite?
AB: I really enjoyed watching mine — it was cool how they put it together — but I'd say, for me, the one that blew me away was the Greenland segment with Seth Westcott. They showed how gnarly it actually is out there and how hard it is to get to a place like that. You can have weather come in, the snow conditions can be awful — it was just a huge segment showing how gnarly this sport is. Skiing and snowboarding are getting to the point that viewers need to be reminded how gnarly these sports can be because films these days are showing that it seems easy to get into the backcountry. You don't see the six hours of hiking through blizzards and everything else. That segment really hit it home for me.
SDN: Think you'll have the chance to work with Warren Miller again?
AB: Yeah, I would really hope so. It was a cool experience, and I hope that it works out that I can film again. Each film company is changing — sometimes one company will put out the sickest film you've seen, and then the next season, another company will put out an even sicker film. But, with Warren Miller, regardless of how the film comes out, the company is so large and so diverse that they show all sides of the sport. I'd love to keep working with them.
SDN: The competition season is just getting started. What are your big goals for the winter?
AB: After X Games gets started, that's when the season kicks off with Mammoth for the first Olympic qualifier, then to South Korea of the Olympic test event, then France for the World Cup, and then end in Spain for the World Champs. Hopefully I'll get some filming in there in the meantime.
SDN: Is competition the season before the Winter Olympics tougher than the other in-between years?
AB: The last year before the Olympics, the Games are on your mind a lot more. You realize that you're close. We're two years out right now and it can actually be a little more mellow than the year of the Olympics. That's the biggest year we have, and then it slows down for two years. This year, right now, scores start to count, people come back into the comp scene who have taken time off, and so this becomes a preparation season for the next year. When you're in an Olympic year, you hardly have any time off until March. Those two years can be gnarly.
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