No. 4: Gretchen Bleiler | AspenTimes.com

No. 4: Gretchen Bleiler

Nate Peterson

Mark Fox/Aspen Times Weekly

Gretchen Bleiler didn’t waste any time making news in 2005. The local snowboarding goddess made a triumphant return to the Winter X Games in January to reclaim gold in the women’s superpipe final. The win came 13 months after a knee injury derailed her 2003-04 season, and prohibited her from defending her halfpipe crown.

After the Winter X Games, Bleiler traveled to Bardonecchia, Italy, to win a World Cup in the same pipe that will be used in February’s Winter Olympic Games. She then returned to Colorado to take gold in the Winter Gravity Games’ halfpipe at Copper Mountain.All of her success last season can be traced back to her winning run in the women’s superpipe final at Buttermilk, Bleiler says. Before the Winter X Games, she was struggling to trust her surgically repaired knee, which led to two fourth-place finishes in her first two competitions of the season.But, with a home crowd behind her, and the ESPN cameras capturing the action live, it all came together at Buttermilk.”I think that having the X Games in Aspen is huge for me,” says Bleiler, who grew up in Snowmass Village and now lives in Aspen. “I know that personally, I put more pressure on myself. In the last few years I’ve been able to take the community support and use that to my advantage. Just listen to the crowd and just get excited.”

Bleiler looks to make even bigger news this year at the Winter Olympics, if all goes as planned. The women’s halfpipe final in Bardonecchia falls on Feb. 13, just a little more than two weeks after this year’s Winter X Games.To make it to the Olympics, Bleiler has to earn one of three spots allotted by U.S. Snowboarding officials.

Earlier this week, she finished second at a Grand Prix in Breckenridge – the first of five Olympic qualifiers. Hannah Teter, who won the 2004 Winter X superpipe final in Bleiler’s absence, finished first after Bleiler fell on her second run. Teter and Bleiler both expect the lead up to the Olympics to be a spirited battle between the two best women’s pipe specialists in the world.”It’s all about the qualifiers,” Bleiler says. “I had a great season last year, so I feel pretty confident going into this year.”