Aspen athletes Bleiler, Davenport reveal their ‘flow’
Olympic snowboarder Gretchen Bleiler and ski mountaineer Chris Davenport acknowledge that hours of training took them a long way in their successful careers, but a mental state called flow gave them the edge needed for their greatest achievements.
Bleiler said she was so intent early in her career on making the U.S. women’s snowboarding team and living up to hype going into the Winter X Games that she almost let it derail her career. A major, self-prescribed attitude adjustment during a half-pipe competition at Buttermilk turned things around.
Davenport was prepared for retirement from big-mountain competition and racing around the globe to ski competitions nine months of the year when he rediscovered the flame that pushed him to one of the greatest ski-mountaineering feats of all time.
The Aspen athletes shared their stories in a presentation at the Aspen Ideas Festival on Tuesday called “Passion to Flow: Innovation in the Mountains and in Life.”
“Flow is a big buzzword going around these days,” Davenport said. For him and Bleiler, flow is more of a process than a temporary state of mind. A big part of flow is “being in the zone” with a hyper-focus to achieve your goals, Davenport said. But both athletes said flow starts by identifying your passion and purpose.
Davenport said he realized as a young teenager he wanted to ski everyday. He attended college in Colorado, moved to Aspen and established himself as one of the best big-mountain skiers on the planet.
“That led me into a time in around 2005 where I felt that I had achieved almost everything that I wanted to achieve in the sport of skiing. I had won a couple of world championships, an X medal, a number of other big competitions, I had been featured in like 30 movies,” Davenport said. “It felt like it had all gone the way it was supposed to go. I was married now and by 2005 I already had two kids. Maybe it was time now to transition out of being a professional athlete and focus more on the business side of things.”
He got a job offer in the finance world and figured he was headed that way when a solo bicycle ride in Old Snowmass changed his mind.
“As I was riding along, I literally had this epiphany,” Davenport said. “The words ‘Colorado Fourteeners’ came into my head out of nowhere. It hadn’t been something that I had been thinking of at that point.”
He tossed the idea around and decided he was going to climb and ski all 54 of the peaks in Colorado above 14,000 feet in elevation in one year.
“I completely shifted from this mode of almost going into retirement, taking this different job and changing my life altogether,” he said. “I had to come back to the curiosity, the passion and the purpose, and realized, ‘No, I can’t do that. I have to stick with who I am as an individual. Who is it that I am? I’m a skier.’”
He achieved his goal the next year and is recognized in the ski-mountaineering world as the first to accomplish the feat.
“It reinvigorated my career. The last 10 years has been better than the previous 20 had been,” Davenport said.
His passion for the mountains spurs him to create new challenges. This spring he teamed with Ted and Christy Mahon of Aspen to finish climbing and skiing all of the Centennial Peaks of Colorado, the highest 100.
Bleiler knew while watching the Winter Olympics at the age of 4 while growing up in Ohio that she wanted to be an Olympian. She moved to Aspen at age 10 and soon learned her calling was as a snowboarder.
“There was something about snowboarding that sparked a whole other curiosity,” she said.
She was on the same course as many of her Aspen High School friends in 1999 to go to a good college and pursue a great career when she decided to pursue her passion. She worked at Main Street Bakery to save money to focus on snowboard training during winters. A lot of people thought she was throwing her life away.
“The fear of not trying was so much stronger than the fear of failing,” she said.
She was fighting in the early 2000s for a spot on the 2002 women’s Olympic snowboarding team and felt she positioned herself well by mastering a move dubbed by others as “The Crippler,” a combination of spinning and flipping that no other woman was completing. But she couldn’t nail it in the qualifying competition and failed to make the team.
“The problem is, I was so caught up in becoming an Olympian that I was trying this trick in a very constricted state,” Bleiler said. It was the opposite of flow.
The experience convinced her to change her outlook on life. Instead of shooting for a goal that paralyzed her, she chose “joy” — being thankful for being able to make a living and competing in the sport she loved.
“The shift in consciousness opened everything for me,” she said. She started nailing The Crippler. When she entered the Winter X Games at Buttermilk in 2003, there were whispers that she was the favorite to win the women’s halfpipe. Performing in front of her hometown fans, Bleiler fell on the first trick of her first qualifying run. Pre-game elation sunk to despair.
Bleiler avoided her coaches and friends upon her return to the top of the superpipe. She gazed down at Panda Peak where she had learned to snowboard. She looked upslope to terrain parks where she mastered her craft. She realized her purpose was doing her best and giving people the best possible show, not winning a gold medal. It gave her a surge of confidence and energy.
“I was going to have the time of my life — win, lose or draw,” she said. “It didn’t matter.”
She nailed her moves and went from last to first in the qualifying runs. She earned her first Winter X Games gold medal. She qualified in the 2006 Olympics and earned a silver medal.
Bleiler continued to drive her destiny with a surprise announcement in January 2014 that she was retiring from professional snowboarding despite remaining a top competitor.
Both athletes said they are now applying their flow into other pursuits in their lives.
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