Who’s who on the local X Games circuit
The ESPN Winter X Games return to Buttermilk Mountain in 10 days (or nine days counting the Jan. 27 practice day), and the field of athletes includes a host of local residents, some well-known, some not so much.In no particular order, the list of locals slated to compete:Gretchen Bleiler, 23, of Snowmass Village, captured the 2003 snowboarding superpipe X Games gold medal during a string of eight consecutive victories during the 2002-03 campaign. Then Bleiler missed all of last season with a knee injury, surgery and rehab. Well, now, she’s back. Her signature move? The Crippler 540.Chris Klug’s story made headlines around the world when he won the bronze medal in snowboarding parallel giant slalom at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. Oh, yeah, and that came some 19 months after the Aspen resident, now 32, underwent liver transplant surgery. Klug made his X Games debut in boardercross last year and was none too pleased with his 12th-place result. Look out.Casey Puckett, 32, of Old Snowmass, hardly “retired” after a 12-year career with the U.S. Ski Team, one that included four appearances in the Winter Olympics. No, Puckett went on to win the 24 Hours of Aspen in 2002, then he entered his first X Games in skiercross, in 2003. Bitter after a 13th-place finish, Puckett returned last season and won – in just his third-ever skiercross race.Peter Olenick, 20, of Carbondale, got into last year’s X Games on the sly – with top finishes at so-called Last Chance X Qualifier events in skiing slopestyle and skiing superpipe. Turns out, the Colorado Rocky Mountain School graduate more than belonged in the X Games. Olenick took second in slopestyle and third in superpipe. Enough said.Steele Spence, 21, of Snowmass Village, took fourth in skiing slopestyle in 2003 after taking the circuitous “last chance” route into the X Games for a second straight year. (He was seventh in his X debut.) Last year was a serious bummer. Spence had to ski his second qualifying run in a total whiteout. He finished 12th. Think he’s hopping mad? Just wait and see how high he hops.Tyler Williams, 34, of Aspen, has two 24 Hours of Aspen titles (1994 and 1998), but in five tries in skiercross at the X Games, William’s best mark is a seventh (1999). His most memorable Winter X moment – in the inaugural skiercross in 1998 in Crested Butte, Williams soared off the first berm, landed hard on his side and dislocated his hip.Jason Smith, 23, of Basalt, has competed in boardercross and ultracross since the X Games first came to Aspen, in 2002. His best finishes – an eighth in ultracross and a ninth in boardercross in 2003, and a ninth in ultracross last year. He’s now in his second season as a U.S. Snowboard Team rider for boardercross – “the biggest thing that’s ever happened to me,” he said.Justin Glick, 29, a native of Saginaw, Mich., moved to Aspen last month. He’ll be competing in the skiercross. Jen Hudak, 18, a competitor in the women’s ski superpipe, grew up in Hamden, Conn., and has ties to Basalt. And there’s up-and-comer Jordie Karlinski, 15, of Snowmass Village, who just qualified for the X Games on Sunday (see related story).
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