Bleiler brings winning ways home
There are hometown favorites, and then there are favorites period.
Gretchen Bleiler, the Snowmass Village snowboarding dominatrix, happens to be both.
Bleiler, who turns 22 on April 10, enters Sunday’s halfpipe contest in the U.S. Snowboard Grand Prix Finals at Buttermilk looking for her eighth-straight win this season.
The streak began Jan. 21 at a comparatively small-time American Snowboard Tour event at June Mountain in Mammoth, Calif., then went on to include the two “majors” of the sport: the X Games, also at Buttermilk in early February, and the U.S. Open at Stratton, Vt., most recently.
The success, Bleiler says, has been wonderful, leading to an extended film shoot with Warren Miller crews and fellow local Chris Klug, the Olympic bronze medalist snowboarder who is racing today and Saturday at Aspen Highlands, and a trip to the Silverton Ski Area with a Transworld Snowboarding magazine team.
But Bleiler still has trouble trying to make sense of the hot streak.
“In snowboarding that happens a lot, like Kelly [Clark] last year, and J.J. [Thomas] was riding super-well too. I think people just get hot,” she said.
“Sometimes it’s their year, sometimes it’s not, and this year all the things that I’ve been working really hard on are just coming together. I don’t really know why they’re all coming together now, but it’s happening, and the more I win and do well, the more confidence I have in myself.
“I don’t question myself anymore – I just go out and do it, which is huge. To get rid of all the thoughts in your head is probably 50 to 70 percent of it.”
Bleiler, who missed the cut for the 2002 U.S. Olympic team after a wrenching tie-breaking calculation, is caught in a similar knot with 16-year-old Hannah Teter of Belmont, Vt., in the Grand Prix overall standings.
The two riders are on top, Teter at No. 1 and Bleiler at No. 2, and after Sunday’s contest, one will drive away in a new Chevy Truck with U.S. National Champion distinction.
“She’s had two firsts [in Grand Prix events] and a second, and I’ve had two seconds and a first – so it’s tight. But I don’t really know how it all works; all I know is that I have to win it to win it,” Bleiler said with a chuckle.
And Bleiler says she feels no pressure.
If she had something to prove this season, consider it proven.
“It’s supermellow right now,” she said. “And I like that feeling. I just want to ride well. It’s hard to win every contest.”
Teter leads a legion of top riders from the Green Mountain State competing this weekend, including older brothers Abe and Elijah; 2002 Olympic champion Kelly Clark; and the Jacobellises, a snowboarding family with close ties to the Teters.
Lindsey Jacobellis won Thursday’s boardercross event at Buttermilk (and won the X Games boardercross), and plans to compete in the three other Grand Prix disciplines: slalom, parallel giant slalom, and halfpipe. Lindsey’s older brother Ben is another multidisciplinary talent, and, of course, there’s Ross Power, the other Vermonter who won gold at the Olympics last winter.
Bleiler’s rise to the top of the snowboarding world can be chronicled, in part, by the progression of her technical tricks, including her signature Crippler. It’s an ambitious trick, a flip with one-and-a-half rotations off the wall of the pipe, that had given her problems in past years This year, however, Bleiler’s mastery of it distinguished her from rivals.
She landed two Cripplers on her winning run at the X Games and debuted a Crippler 7 (an additional half-rotation, compared to the standard Crippler 540) at the U.S. Open, a run she plans to pull out Sunday at the ‘Milk.
“The ideal run, which I landed at the Open, is a Crippler first hit to a backside 540 to frontside 540 to straight air to Crippler 7,” she said. “It was awesome when I landed it at the Open, like the best I’d ever done it, and hopefully I can work on that here and land it again.”
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