Freeski icon Peter Olenick of Aspen guides next gen through nonprofit team
IF YOU GO....
What: P.R.O. Team movie benefit with screenings of Back to Life and Romance
When: Wednesday, Nov. 6, 6:30 p.m.
Where: Wheeler Opera House
Cost: $15. Tickets can be purchased through aspenshowtix.com.
Before Peter Olenick became a freeskiing pioneer and X Games star, he was simply another young Aspen kid desperately looking for a few dollars so he could chase his skiing dreams.
“When I was an athlete and trying to come up and ski and compete, I was trying to go to a summer camp with my brother at Whistler and we didn’t have any money to go,” Olenick recalled. “We went around town asking people for donations and money and Boogie overheard us.”
A donation from Aspen business icon Leonard “Boogie” Weinglass opened a few doors for the Olenick kids, who would go on to rewrite — or in many ways, create — the freeskiing history books. Had Weinglass never intervened, Olenick may have never gotten his career off the ground.
“Boogie paid for us to go to summer camp, and at the camp I learned a bunch of stuff that kind of got me on the scene and sponsored. Then people like Chris Davenport and Klaus Obermeyer took really good care of us,” Olenick said, making note of a couple other Aspen skiing icons. “Obermeyer was a big supporter of my brother and I and our skiing career. We were lucky enough that we could start skiing and traveling and competing and filming movies because of their support.”
Now 35 and a professional coach, Olenick said the ski industry has changed a lot since he made a name for himself in the mid 2000s, winning four X Games medals, including gold in 2010. What he sees is an avenue for younger club skiers and for the high-level World Cup athletes, but there’s a void for those in between to make ends meet.
For this reason, Olenick started the P.R.O. Team Foundation last year. A clever use of his initials — Peter Ryan Olenick — the nonprofit ski team is a way to help those athletes who may not yet have the national team’s support or big sponsorship dollars coming in.
“These kids need something in the middle,” Olenick said. “So my idea of the foundation is to raise money through fundraisers and private donations to support the travel and elite coaching and everything the athletes need so they can try and be as good as the guys on the national team.”
Olenick said he got the nonprofit idea from the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club, which supports snowsports for 2,400 kids in the Roaring Fork Valley and beyond. The foundation relies mostly on donations to help keep the team members financially afloat.
Olenick has six skiers on his P.R.O. Team this year, including Aspen up-and-comers Cassidy Jarrell and Tristan Feinberg. Mammoth’s Aaron Durlester is another, along with a pair of South Koreans in Yujin Jang and Kangbok Lee. Olenick has a close relationship with the South Korean team, having coached their halfpipe skiers at the 2018 Winter Olympics, which the country hosted.
The sixth member of Olenick’s team is Crested Butte’s Aaron Blunck. While Blunck already is a national team member and established star in the ski world, he wanted Olenick’s coaching and has become a good role model for the younger athletes.
“Working with all sorts of people, it’s crazy,” Jarrell said. “I’ve become such good friends with the Koreans and call them some of my best friends now and what Peter is doing is super amazing.”
Later this month, Olenick is taking his crew to Austria for a private training camp. The World Cup season officially got underway with an August competition in New Zealand, with the next major contest being the Copper Grand Prix in early December.
Before the P.R.O. Team hits the road, they will host an event Wednesday at the Wheeler Opera House in Aspen. They will show “Back to Life: The Torin Yater-Wallace Story” and premier Level 1’s “Romance” with some of the stars being on hand. Both Yater-Wallace, another valley local and longtime X Games star, and Blunck will be there signing autographs.
Tickets are $15 and will go toward the foundation. Show time is 6:30 p.m. There will be a pre-film party next door at Public House beginning at 5:30 p.m., with free beer advertised.
“The ski industry has kind of changed for competitive athletes who are trying to go to the Olympics,” Olenick said. “Just trying to be the missing piece for the athletes that are ready to go to the next level.”
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Mountain Rescue Aspen is expanding its education efforts to try to keep people safe in the backcountry during winters and summers. It will host a workshop on Dec. 8 titled, “How to Plan a Backcountry Tour.”