At 6:30 PM on Friday night, Annalisa Drew was another X-Games rookie halfpipe competitor just a step out of the limelight. An hour later, and a narrowly missed world record, she took a step forward saying she is here to progress the sport. Drew was inches away from landing the first ever 1260 (12) in a women’s halfpipe competition during two of her three runs.
A Massachusetts transplant, Drew moved out to Vail this season to train with Ski & Snowboard Club Vail’s elite freesking coach Elana Chase. Chase is no stranger to the X-Games and has coached athletes like David Wise, Torin Yater Wallace, Jen Hudak, and Tucker Perkins with impressive results. Perkins was in fact back in action at X-Games after undergoing knee surgery with doctor Steadman himself roughly 10 months ago. Perkins and numerous other athletes competing in the X-Games have had good things to say about Chase, including Drew.
Drew had tried a 12 in practice two days before and some of the other competitors wondered if she was going to unveil the big trick in the finals. She had never even tried the trick before X-Games. “After I put down my first run, I went back up to the top of the pipe and asked Elana if she knew what I was thinking. She simply said 12. It is nice to see that my coach can read my mind,” said Drew. Chase knew it was a call that depended on the circumstances. “I think she was the safest and most confidant in that moment. She had a great first run and was in third place. She had just won North Face Open last weekend, which secured her spot for X-Games. I knew that she had to do something extraordinary to win in this field. She really went for the 12, which is a very hard trick to land. It is difficult to setup a landing on a trick like that. Once she gets a few kinks worked out in her run she is going to be an unstoppable force, ” said Chase.
Drew boldly expressed her can do attitude at the bottom of the pipe after her first unsuccessful 12 attempt during an ESPN interview. When asked, “are you going to try that again for your final run”, drew quickly grabbed the microphone and said, “Yeah, and I’m going to land it this time.” Unfortunately she was unsuccessful in her attempt at landing the trick, but there is plenty of time left in the season to hone the skills needed to get that perfect run down. She placed 6th overall in the women’s pipe competition.
Alongside of Drew, and also under the coaching prowess of Chase, there was Aaron Blunck who clearly stepped up his game for the event. Blunck told his teachers at Vail Ski & Snowboard Academy to cut back on his homework load for the week, because he was headed to the X-Games. After making the finals with a few veteran athletes like Wise, and Wallace, Blunck knew he was in the big leagues. Chase explained to him that the flow of X-Games is a bit different due to the live telecast. “I told both Annalisa and Aaron to expect delays. Sometimes athletes are ready to drop into the pipe for their run and are forced to wait due to a commercial break. The X-Games is really the only place where athletes play the hurry up and wait game and it can be tricky to get used to,” said Chase.
Blunck was perfecting a new trick that he recently learned, the double flat spin 900. He had a technical run planned leading up to back-to-back double flips. On his first “hit” out of the pipe he did a right 900, to a mirrored left 900. After the first two tricks his run got technical, with a double cork 1260 to the double flat spin 900. “I’m really just stoked to be here and it is huge for me to make finals. That was the first time I have ever thrown doubles back to back and I’m really just pumped to have done it,” said Blunck.
Blunck was landing the double cork backseat during his runs, but he fearlessly charged into the second double on the right wall of the halfpipe without question. It was remarkable to see the strength of the young athlete landing the first double on his tails and then quickly standing up while maintaining speed and preparing for the second double. “He is a warrior. There were so many people that came up to Aaron and complimented him on his ability to push so hard, and at such a young age too it is really awesome to see such dedication,” said Chase. Blunck had an unfortunate crash on his third run from eagerly pushing so hard to land his new double flip. “I hurt my shoulder and my back a bit but it’s all good,” said Blunck.
Although the big show is over for these athletes this season, there is still a jam-packed competition season that remains. Blunck, and Drew, along with other teammates, are headed out to Park City Utah to compete in the FIS World Cup starting on January 28th. As with most disciplines of competitive skiing and snowboarding, when the competition season starts it doesn’t stop until the mountain closes. With not much time to heal the bumps and bruises sustained by these athletes, the road to glory is full of obstacles and quick recovery times.