CRESTED BUTTE — The post-Olympic hangover from the 2014 Sochi Olympics hit Aaron Blunck hard.
The Crested Butte native worked through a couple of injuries in 2015. He struggled to regain the halfpipe prowess that landed him on the first-ever U.S. Freeskiing team at 17. He slipped in the rankings. He lost a major sponsor.
“It was just a really hard year. I thought maybe the Olympics had ruined what I loved about skiing. I was wondering if it was worth it, am I doing the right thing risking my entire life for this,” said the 21-year-old Blunck, who first skied at 18 months, shepherded by skiing parents and a grandfather who started the ski school at Crested Butte Mountain Resort.
His older brother, Nolan, noted the funk and took him out skiing on their home hill. It was snowing hard and he asked his younger brother a simple question.
“What did you love about skiing when you were a little kid?” Blunck remembers Nolan saying as they rode the chair together. “I told him, it was following you around the mountain, catching air and just, well, skiing. He was like, ‘Find that and bring that back. Think about it like you are a little kid again. Don’t do it for sponsors or contests or medals. Don’t ski for other people. Ski for yourself because you love it and it’s what you live for.”
Within one run, Blunck said, “I could feel the difference.”
And that difference was immediately evidenced in Blunck’s skiing. Last season was the best of his career as a sponsored, professional skier, with several podiums including gold at the 2017 Aspen X Games and a gold at the world championships in Spain last February. He’s arriving red hot for the intense Olympic qualification process, which started late last season in Mammoth and launches Thursday at Copper Mountain with four high-consequence competitions in six weeks.
He’s more mature now. At 21, he’s not the wide-eyed rookie he was in Sochi, when he joined his longtime pals Basalt’s Torin Yater Wallace and Boulder’s Lyman Currier on the first-ever, teenager-heavy U.S. Olympic Skiing halfpipe team.
Having weathered the grueling road to Sochi, Blunck feels mentally and physically ready. He’s training hard, of course, but this time, he’s embracing the whole “skiing is fun” thing as a sort of mantra. In the course of a recent afternoon in his hometown of…