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Parade set for pipe princess

Nate Peterson
The winners of the FIS World Cup Snowboard Half-Pipe competition celebrate on the podium Saturday, March 11, 2006 at Whiteface Mountain in Lake Placid, N.Y. They are, second place Manuela Laura Pesko of France, first place Gretchen Bleiler of the USA, and third place Paulina Ligocka of Poland. (AP Photo/Todd Bissonette)
AP | AP

For Aspen’s pipe princess, only the finest chariot will do.

Local Gretchen Bleiler, who rode to silver in the women’s Olympic halfpipe final last month in Italy, will ride atop an antique fire engine through the streets of Aspen on March 25 in a parade the Aspen Skiing Co. and city officials are organizing.

The city and Skico have yet to iron out a parade route, but they have set a 3:30 p.m. departure time from Paepcke Park, followed by a ceremony at the Gondola Plaza at 4.

The ceremony will include speeches from Mayor Helen Klanderud and Skico President and CEO Pat O’Donnell. Mitzi Rapkin, the director of community relations and communications for the city, said the ceremony will be similar to the one for local Olympic bronze medalist Chris Klug in 2002.

“During the ceremony, the mayor will be making a proclamation, and then Gretchen will be presented with a gift,” Rapkin said. “I can’t say what the gift is because it’s a surprise.”

Rapkin is looking to have past local Olympians, like Klug, participate in the parade if they are available. She also said Basalt snowboarder Jason Smith, who finished sixth in the inaugural Olympic boardercross last month, will be invited to participate, although the ceremony will focus on Bleiler. Basalt held a parade and ceremony for Smith on March 3.

“He’ll be invited, but it’s really for Gretchen, because he had his day in Basalt,” Rapkin said. “We want to give her a special day in her hometown. But we’re equally as proud of Jason.”

Rapkin is also coordinating with officials from Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club to arrange for some local athletes to march in the parade. Bleiler’s family will also be in the parade, riding atop a donated snowcat.

Bleiler won her silver medal on Feb. 13 in Bardonecchia, Italy, but has been in town only for a few days the last four weeks because of a busy competition schedule. On Saturday, she won a World Cup halfpipe competition in Lake Placid, N.Y. She is in Stratton, Vt., preparing for this weekend’s U.S. Open.

“I don’t really know what they’re planning,” Bleiler said by phone Tuesday. “I’m just really excited.”

There was discussion of having the parade after Bleiler returned to Aspen on Feb. 21, but local officials nixed that idea because they thought the ceremony might be rushed.

“We’ve been discussing it with her for a while now,” said Derik Gunshor, Skico’s event marketing manager. “She’s really honored. When she came home after the Olympics, it was only for two or three days. We found out the night before she came home. She and her agent were like, ‘Can we do it this weekend?’ We just told her that we couldn’t plan it in three days. She was OK waiting until the end of March.”

“She’s been competing and winning, which is what we want her to do,” Rapkin added. “That’s the reason we’re honoring her.”

Nate Peterson’s e-mail address is npeterson@aspentimes.com


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