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Bleiler gets her day

Nate Peterson
Olympic silver medalist Gretchen Bleiler parades through town during a celebration Saturday afternoon. (Mark Fox/The Aspen Times)
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Snowboarder Gretchen Bleiler went to the Olympics, made a dream come true and won a silver medal, but Saturday’s outpouring from a few hundred fans and local dignitaries was what really got to her. “This is pretty overwhelming,” Bleiler said as Aspen honored its hometown hero with a parade and ceremony. “I haven’t cried yet. … But this is getting me.”Mayor Helen Klanderud proclaimed March 25 Gretchen Bleiler Day in the city of Aspen. Aspen Skiing Co. President Pat O’Donnell presented Bleiler with a lifetime Aspen/Snowmass season pass. Oakley representative Matty Swanson presented Bleiler with a check and two free plane tickets to anywhere in the world. “Wow,” Bleiler said. “Oh my gosh. Thank you guys, everybody, so, so, so, so very much.”Bleiler and Klanderud rode atop an antique red fire engine in the parade, which began at Paepcke Park just before 4 p.m. and wound up Main Street before turning onto Mill Street and heading toward the gondola plaza. Bleiler’s family rode behind her atop a vintage Snowcat from T-Lazy 7 ranch, followed by a group of marching youths from the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club.

Basalt Olympian Jason Smith, who finished sixth in the inaugural men’s boardercross in Turin, Italy, brought up the rear, riding atop a giant pickle of all things. Smith’s chariot was the vintage Volkswagen Beatle from local deli Johnny McGuire’s, which has a giant pickle on top.”I totally came out just to support Gretchen,” Smith said before the parade. “It’s great to be back in town. I already had my parade, which was great.”Three other Olympians with local ties – John Callahan, Stefan Kaeline and Jeanne Golay – were brought up on stage with Smith at the gondola plaza before Bleiler was introduced.County Commissioner Patty Clapper and AVSC Executive Director Mark Cole also made presentations.Cole noted that in 69 years, AVSC has “produced some two dozen Olympic athletes, but Gretchen is the first alum to win an Olympic medal.”

Bleiler won her halfpipe silver medal on Feb. 13 in Bardonecchia, Italy.After her proclamation, Klanderud presented Bleiler with a bowl from the city with an imprint of an Aspen leaf in the middle and noted that the city had also made a donation in her name to the new Aspen/Pitkin County Animal Shelter.”It’s an honor to be mayor of a city where Gretchen Bleiler represents us so well around the world,” Klanderud said.O’Donnell cracked a few light jokes before presenting Bleiler with her lifetime season pass.”On behalf of the 3,400 men and women who work for the Aspen Skiing Company, we have no proclamation because we’re not authorized,” O’Donnell said. “We have no resolution. If we passed one, someone would take issue with it. So we haven’t got that, but what we do have, because it’s been so fun watching you, and you’re a fantastic role model for all of our kids and our adults, as well, is a small piece of plastic, which was just delivered over here by a Briggs armored car.”

After presenting Bleiler with the pass, O’Donnell added, “We want you to stick around Aspen. You can’t leave. You can’t go to any other resorts.”Bleiler has been in Aspen sparingly in the past five weeks because of a busy competition schedule. She won a World Cup halfpipe competition in Lake Placid, N.Y., earlier this month and finished second at the U.S. Open women’s halfpipe final in Stratton, Vt., on March 19.After the ceremony, Bleiler took a seat at a table to autograph posters for fans.Nate Peterson’s e-mail address is npeterson@aspentimes.com


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